For Jackson, quirky works fine

All in all, her squeaky voice, gym­nast­ic abil­it­ies, and her will­ing­ness to laugh at her­self all con­trib­uted to Vic­tor­ia Jack­son’s ca­reer.

Now she’s re­unit­ing with fel­low Sat­urday Night Live alum­nus Joe Pis­copo at Club Pis­copo, the new night­spot at the Re­sorts Casino Hotel in At­lantic City, through Aug. 7.

Jack­son spent six sea­sons — 1986 to 1992 — on SNL and be­came most fam­ous for her ap­pear­ances on the com­edy show’s Week­end Up­date with cast mem­ber Den­nis Miller, re­cit­ing po­etry while do­ing back­bends and hand­stands on the an­chor desk.

Born in 1959, Jack­son, a Miami nat­ive, was raised in a “Bible-be­liev­ing, pi­ano-play­ing, gym­nast­ic home with no TV.”

“My dad was a gym coach, so I was in the gym about five hours a day do­ing sit-ups and walk­ing on bal­ance beams from the ages of five to eight­een,” she said.

“That was my life, so I nev­er gave any thought to go­ing in­to show busi­ness.”

But after at­tend­ing Flor­ida Bible Col­lege, she went on to re­ceive a gym­nast­ic schol­ar­ship to Fur­man Uni­versity in South Car­o­lina.

“It was at Fur­man that I ap­peared in my first play,” Jack­son re­called. “I played a Ro­man slave and had a feath­er dust­er and was flirt­ing with an­oth­er Ro­man slave with the dust­er. And that made the audi­ence laugh. I had nev­er had that feel­ing be­fore. I couldn’t be­lieve I was con­trolling the whole audi­ence and mak­ing them laugh. And as soon as that happened to me, I was hooked. I just wanted to have that feel­ing again and again, and I’ve been try­ing to get it back the whole rest of my life.”

In the late 1970s, at age 19, Jack­son was spot­ted by Johnny Craw­ford, a co-star of the late-’50s tele­vi­sion series The Rifle­man, and he promptly put her in the chor­us of his nightclub act, even send­ing her a one-way tick­et to Los Angeles. 

Later, Craw­ford in­tro­duced Jack­son to his agent, and she went on to do some com­mer­cials. But to make ends meet, she also had to sup­port her­self as a ci­gar­ette girl, a typ­ist at the Amer­ic­an Can­cer So­ci­ety and a wait­ress at a re­tire­ment hotel.

And then came her big break. Johnny Car­son saw Jack­son and she was booked to ap­pear on his To­night Show. 

“Be­fore that,” she ex­plained, “I was do­ing a com­edy act around town that was a new art form in those days, and it was es­pe­cially rare to find a wo­man do­ing it. The wo­men who were do­ing it were mostly bru­nettes who hated men, and I was a blonde who loved men, so I stood out in the crowd.”

So did her strange antics.

“I didn’t know how to write jokes, but I knew some poems I wrote, and I could stand up­side-down longer than any­one I ever met be­cause of my gym­nast­ic back­ground,” Jack­son said.

“So I tried my act out at the Com­edy Store. I didn’t get laughs, but I got stunned si­lence, kind of like shock and awe. But I figured that was bet­ter than get­ting booed or hav­ing to­ma­toes thrown at me.”

After some 20 ap­pear­ances on Car­son’s show, Jack­son made the jump to sev­er­al movies and ap­pear­ances on TV shows, and she even­tu­ally landed on SNL — even though an au­di­tion for pro­du­cer Lorne Mi­chaels got a luke­warm re­cep­tion. She did an­oth­er “au­di­tion” for Mi­chaels while she was on The To­night Show — with Car­son’s un­der­stand­ing and per­mis­sion — and Mi­chaels agreed to hire her.

“SNL was cer­tainly the high­light of my ca­reer,” Jack­son said. “After that, you’re spoiled and noth­ing else is ever as much fun.”

Today, Jack­son is heav­ily in­to polit­ics and con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ism, but she can still earn a laugh or two when she does per­form.

“Joe and I have a cute little act,” she said. “I sing, play the ukulele, tell jokes, and even though I’m now a grand­moth­er, the crowd really likes when I do my head­stand be­cause, at my age, it doesn’t seem hu­manly pos­sible.” ••

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