It started with a star-spangled outfit and a bloodcurdling scream over the “MOTHA-FUCKIN’ RELAAAAAAAAY!”
Leslie Jones — comedian, Saturday Night Live cast member, Ghostbusters star, and a celebrity who has every reason to steer clear of the internet — is the first Olympic commentator to earn the job the new-fashioned way. When the 2016 Summer Olympic Games began in Rio de Janeiro on August 5, Jones started offering up her take on the festivities on Twitter and Snapchat, cracking jokes through the opening ceremony and detailing the first competitions with filter-free enthusiasm. Plenty of people were sporting flag-printed apparel, flashing plastic medals, and shrieking their thoughts on Ralph Lauren’s fashions for the American athletes during the Parade of Nations, sure. But few possess Jones’s skills when it comes to aiming for the funny bone, and she quickly elevated the seemingly boring, solitary act of tuning in to the Olympics to doing so next to its biggest, most boisterous fan.
She didn’t simply check in every few hours with a quip or a word of encouragement, but proceeded to mount a one-woman broadcast from her own living room, dedicating her feeds and multiple screens to the games and losing her mind while cheering on through cycling, swimming, gymnastics, and field hockey with abandon. Watching Jones watch the Olympics became a sport in and of itself, and soon thousands were following her every thought to see what she was saying about handball (which, yeah, is basically hardcore Four Square), what she thought about the water polo uniforms (she, rightly, thinks they look goofy as hell), her guess for who Michael Phelps was blasting through his headphones pre-swim (Drake), and who she was idolizing in that moment (chances are it was Simone Biles or Katie Ledecky). She trolled Bob Costas and straight-up compared the male gymnasts to pieces of toast. If there was a medal for Olympic cheerleading, Jones would’ve nabbed the gold.
“Slay all day! USA!” became a quick catchphrase, and one she’d holler at the TV (or one of the laptops she was streaming from to make sure she didn’t miss a single event). Three days into her DIY Olympics coverage, a producer from NBC invited her to Rio, and within hours she was on her way to the Brazilian cultural capital to catch the games in person.
If Jones at home was at a nine on the energy scale, she was a 27 in Rio, a bottomless supply of positive vibes that made a point to soak up as much of the action as she could while she was in town. She met Béla Károlyi — the man who managed members of the gold-winning 1996 U.S. women’s gymnastics team — and the famed coach gave her a few cartwheeling pointers backstage, much to Shaun White’s (and our) amusement. She high-fived Matthew McConaughey, and buddied up with sportscaster and tennis pro Mary Carillo to hop between venues and figure out what a velodrome even is, anyway. She lost her ever-living shit when she saw synchronized swimming for the first time. She compared track and field events to Game of Thrones. She basically said what all of us were thinking every time an athlete succeeded in blowing our minds or confusing us in regards to what they were actually doing.
She realized every superfan’s dream when members of the U.S. swim team found her and brought her into their fold to cheer on Phelps and Simone Manuel, and then again when she met up with the Final Five and offered her congrats to the gymnasts in their dressing room, and then again when Kerri Walsh Jennings pinned her after the women’s volleyball team trounced Italy. Unlike Costas, Corillo, and the rest of the crew narrating the games and offering athletic insight to viewers at home, Jones tapped into the sheer joy of following the action as a fan first, and a VIP second. She worked that experience into a 360-degree, all-access view from the spectator’s seat in Rio, and her uncensored, unscripted musings gave what could’ve been a run-of-the-mill Olympics a hilarious edge and a jolt of adrenaline-spiking positivity.
The truth is, Rio needed Jones, in that her perspective provided a release not only to viewers, but to people who turned to her Twitter and Snapchat for much-needed laughs during a particularly tumultuous time. The two weeks that corresponded with the 2016 Summer Olympics saw plenty of drama in Rio, from Ryan Lochte’s embarrassing misadventures of a bro abroad to homophobic think pieces pinned on Olympic Village dating app usage to health concerns stemming from the conditions athletes faced before and during the games. At home, headlines took a turn for the vitriolic, as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign veered in a dumbfoundingly dangerous direction, the seared visage of a bloody, rubble-dusted child became the new face of the Syrian conflict, and Louisiana, once again, drowned. (It wasn’t all bad, though. We did get Frank Ocean’s Endless and Blonde out of the last two weeks, too.)
One could argue that the Olympics are little more than a distraction from more pressing matters, a flashy display of superhuman strength and discipline that forces a bunch of countries that can’t stand each other to shake hands and play nice for a spell. Jones, with her pure, voracious appetite for Olympic excitement, gave us a refreshing reminder that inspiration can be found in the unfamiliar, that a joke can revive you, and that uncensored, unfiltered joy really is a contagious condition. She reminded us that games can, and should, be fun — and right now, fun feels as valuable as gold.