Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 35 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member each week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.
Thanksgiving got me into the patriotic spirit, and there’s nothing more American than speaking out against Obama, gay marriage, and the Islamization of America, at least according to SNL alum Victoria Jackson, who helped bring the show out of its mid-80s slump thanks to her go-to status as the show’s squawky-voiced blonde airhead. Who knew she’d go from reciting poetry while doing handstands on the Weekend Update desk to comparing Barack Obama to Hitler and singing about Sharia Law on the ukulele?
Jackson grew up in Miami, Florida in what she calls “a Bible-believing, piano-playing, gymnastic home with no TV.” After stints at Florida Bible College and Auburn University and a gymnastic scholarship to Furman University, Jackson graduated from Palm Beach Atlantic University with a degree in theater, and she developed an act that combined her poetry, singing, ukulele, and gymnastic skills. She was discovered by Johnny Crawford via summer stock in Alabama, and he hired her to perform her handstand poetry act at his night club in Hollywood. While there, Jackson worked as a cigarette girl, waitress, and typist at the American Cancer Society and performed stand-up for two years until her act was picked up by The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in the early 1980s. She appeared on the show over 20 times.
Jackson’s popularity on The Tonight Show landed her a SNL audition, and she was hired for the twelfth season in 1986 alongside newcomers Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon, Phil Hartman, and Jan Hooks. Her strength revolved around her trademark ditzy voice, and even though she had no hit recurring characters on SNL save for a decent Roseanne Barr impression, her sweet but abrasive delivery gave even the smallest and most supporting roles a cartoonish charm.
Jackson also appeared as Brenda Clark from “Toonces the Driving Cat” and Jenny Baker, a Christian girl and frequent guest on “Church Chat” who only vaguely resembles the religious fundamentalist extremist Jackson would become years later. Some of her best SNL performances were her segments on Weekend Update where she sings songs about not being a bimbo, plays home videos of her baby daughter Scarlet instead of reporting on her assignments, and performs her “Update Handstand” act on the Update desk. (Fun Fact: Jackson’s first husband is a fire breather and magician, and her second husband is a police helicopter pilot.) My favorite Jackson SNL moment is her performance in the commercial parody “Handi-Off,” where she plays a woman who has too many fingers.
Jackson left SNL at the end of her fifth season in 1992. Prior to SNL, she also appeared in The Jeffersons (in 1982), The 1/2 Hour Comedy Hour (in 1983), Garfield and Friends (1983-1984), and more, and after her departure, she’s appeared in films, shorts, and television shows including Touched by an Angel, The X-Files, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Strip Mall. She continues to perform stand-up (and has toured with Joe Piscopo in what The A.V. Club called “the most depressing Saturday Night Live reunion ever”) and most recently debuted her web series PolitiChicks, a conservative take on The View in which Jackson and three other women discuss topics like gay marriage, illegal immigration, and Islam, with such gems as “We’re lucky that most Muslims are lukewarm or we’d all be dead” among others. Whether or not Jackson’s just playing some sick lifelong Kaufman-esque joke on all of us, she’s made one of the strangest transitions in SNL cast member history, devolving from a likable bimbo to a Tea Partier mix of Prussian Blue and the mother in Carrie, and if you’re in the mood for more of her ukulele ditties, you can catch them here, here, and here.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.