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.” ••
For times and ticket information, call 1-800-736-1420.