Lena Dunham: How Leslie Jones Triumphed Over Internet Trolls

Lena Dunham Appreciation of Leslie Jones
Vince Bucci/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images

For Variety’s latest issue, we asked Lena Dunham to write a tribute for “SNL” regular Leslie Jones, one of 50 people to make our New Power of New York list. Here’s why Jones represents a new generation of movers and shakers that capture the best of Manhattan.  

I first met Leslie Jones at “SNL.” She was a new writer and I was a terrified first-time host, being shuttled from office to office to hear pitches. Every conversation was a blur of clever puns and Harvard dude ingenuity (not knocking that approach, but it was different than mine). When I sat down in Leslie’s office my entire body breathed a sigh of relief: she was open about her own anxieties but so funny it didn’t matter, and she pitched a sketch in which I played Jesus’s prospective publicist.

While that never made it to air, I had no doubt that Leslie herself soon would. Everything about her presence was witty, wise and utterly original. It’s telling that in our current society a woman — and a woman of color especially — can be called radical just for daring to exist publicly. But Leslie took to her new job with so much grace, power and style that she should be called radical. She knows and embodies the voices and hopes of many.

Now she’s a full-on star: between scene-stealing moments in “Top Five,” her job as an “SNL” regular and every comedy nerd’s dream role in “Ghostbusters,” she’s become a household name and she’s done it with joy and authenticity. But as she’s brought us so much delight as viewers, she’s also exposed the darkest underbelly of the internet; the racism and misogyny being stoked by the hatred embedded in current American discourse, even as it tries to hide behind the anonymity of a screen.

She has endured more negativity and verbal violence than any person should ever be subjected to, and she’s taken it on with her trademark vulnerability, humor and wisdom. She’s leading the way for bullied teens, victims of abuse, and anyone who has ever felt silenced by judgment. She has embraced the power she has to change the dialogue. She has forced us all to look within at what would be needed, from us and our neighbors, to live in a kinder and more just society, one where we can just let Leslie Jones thrive. Because this woman was born to thrive and we are so lucky to watch her.

Lena Dunham is the executive producer and star of “Girls.” Read our full New Power of New York list here, as well as tributes for Lena Dunham (by Jenni Konner), Chelsea Clinton (by Bill Clinton) and Megyn Kelly (by Judge Judy).