Victoria Jackson: Funny Begins with Faith
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Victoria Jackson is best known for her six years on Saturday Night Live in the late 1980s as the ditzy blonde with the high pitched voice who occasionally did gymnastics on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Fame from Saturday Night Live paved the way for a career in film as Victoria appeared in several big budget movies including Baby Boom with Diane Keaton, Family Business with Dustin Hoffman, and I Love You to Death with Kevin Kline.
In 1992, Victoria purposefully faded from the limelight to marry her high school sweetheart and subsequently raise their two daughters.
She has recently re-emerged, taking on small roles in Christian theatrical releases and performing her stand-up comedy act in Thou Shalt Laugh: The Deuce, an uproarious night of comedy performed entirely by Christians.
I recently sat down with Victoria to discuss her faith, being funny, and the many pitfalls a Christian faces in show business.
Obviously, you are well known in television and film circles but a lot of people don’t realize you have been a Christian from a very young age and have been strong in your faith for the balance of your life. Please tell me about it.
When I was growing up my father was a Baptist deacon and a women’s gymnastics coach and an elementary school physical education teacher. He was trying to make me and my brother perfect – spiritually, mentally, and physically. We did not achieve it but he gave it his best! I was in the gym every day after school – our backyard had a gym also – and we went to church three times per week. We were Southern Baptists. When I was six the Gospel became clear to me. I was in church all the time but one day when I was six I said, “Ohhhh.” So, that night I said, “Daddy, would you kneel by my bed with me? I want to ask Jesus to come into my heart.” And so I did. I asked Him to forgive me of my sins and I could only think of two sins at the time because I was only six years old. But I got the concept because I was very bright.
How did you get interested in doing comedy? From everything I have read about you, you were training to be a gymnast and even competed at the collegiate level. How did the combination of a strong religious upbringing and sports translate into a career in comedy?
I was in the gym doing gymnastics and I saw Lily Tomlin from ‘Laugh In’ at Miami Dade Junior College setting up a stool and a microphone to perform for the college that night. I thought, ‘That lady is going to tell jokes on a stool and get paid for it. What a weird concept.’ And I enjoyed her. We didn’t have a television set but I had seen Laugh In on my grandmother’s television. And I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I’m over here sweating and doing sit-ups and am in physical pain.’ There is no career in gymnastics unless you are a coach and you don’t get paid anything. And she is over there sitting on a stool, telling jokes, and having fun. People are laughing and she is probably getting a lot of money. I thought that was really interesting.
In the gym you would work out all day long and everything was negative. Your knee was bent – five points off. You toe wasn’t pointed – five points off. I started doing theater. In the theater everything was positive. The applause was all positive. If you were too fat, too skinny, or too tall then you were a character actor. Everyone could laugh at you and it was good. If your knee was bent that was ok. And if you slipped and fell everyone would laugh. I just thought it was so much more fun than the gym.
If we could fast forward a bit, everything I see written about you always seems to have the Saturday Night Live (SNL) tag attached. SNL’s Victoria Jackson -- even though you left the show 15 years ago. I guess you will forever be known for those six years you spent on SNL. What are your thoughts on that? Are they positive, negative, or somewhere in between?
I think it is hilarious because a year after I left the show I thought no one would ever remember that I was on it. It was so amazing. It is really hard to explain. Everything after that is pretty boring. It was an amazing adventure. It was very stressful. It was very competitive. There was a lot of crying. I cried while a lot of other people were cursing. If you are on a regular television show they usually let some smart guy write your lines and then hand them to you. And you still get paid a lot of money. At SNL you have to write your own material.
In doing some research for this interview I discovered a statement where you once said you may be the only Christian to have ever been an SNL cast member. If true, that must have been incredibly tough on you to be in that situation. Your thoughts?
Every job I have ever had I have been the only Christian. I think all Christians are a minority in the workplace. They probably have many of the same trials that I did like fitting in and not cussing. One time I turned down a sketch. I told Lorne (Michaels, SNL executive producer) that I couldn’t do it as a Christian. Basically, I thought the sketch was ok. It was making fun of extremely weirdo Christians. As an example, this character had Jesus salt and pepper shakers. There was one part in the sketch when they wanted me to get on my knees and pray. So, I stood outside Lorne’s office for over an hour because you have to when you see him because he is very important. Finally I went in and I said, “Lorne, I thought about this all night and ….” You know, I was thinking I should pray about it but it’s like when you are a Christian you are kind of in a state of prayer all the time anyway. You know, pray without ceasing. So, the whole night I was sitting at home going, just kind of in a state of thinking and prayer. So I told Lorne, “You know what? I don’t think I can do this because I really believe that prayer is talking to God and I would probably start crying in the middle of that. And I just think it is too sacred to be funny.” He listened. The part went to someone else and was eventually dropped from the show.
In Thou Shalt Laugh: The Deuce, I noticed that there is such an innocence to your comedy act. You are very family friendly without trying to be so. Is this intentional on your part?
The Bible says that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. Of course I just quoted you the King James version. (laughs) I said ‘speaketh’. That is how I memorized it. I think that what comes out of your mouth is what is in your heart. And basically with my act, I’m not a standup comedian. I’m not good at it or anything. All of my jokes are from the perspective of being a Christian. It is a Christian viewpoint.
How do you weave your faith into your comedy performances? Is there anything particular that you try to do?
I think God just puts it in my lap. I was doing all of these clubs and I thought that it was so stupid because all of these people are hanging on my every word and I am telling stupid, dumb blonde jokes when I could be telling them the Gospel or something important. But I thought it wasn’t appropriate in a comedy club to preach. They would fire me. So, I slipped this new song into my act after a couple of years that has areference in it and thought maybe that would plant a little seed. Basically, I think a lot of Christians that I know are starting to evangelize from the point of view that people do not want to be tricked into Christianity and they don’t want you to approach them with an agenda. I try to be respectful of that. Some other Christians and I have recently been talking about how we present the Gospel in our art and in our life and not have a hidden agenda.
You have recently been getting back into show business after many, many years away. What can we be looking for from you in the future?
What I really want to be is an airhead on a sitcom. That has been my goal since I was 20 and I have never actually done it. I have done every other thing in the world but that. That is what I am qualified for. I used to be the new airhead but now I am thinking I could be grandmother airhead on a sitcom. I am old enough to do this because my daughter is 21 and married. Basically, I just came back to Los Angeles three months ago. I started auditioning again and we will see what the year brings. We don’t know so we are just trusting God one day at a time asking, “What do you want us to do God? What is your plan for us?”
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