Image from source, TV Squad
The other day, a co-worker of mine said that he didn't find hardly anybody from the cast of Saturday Night Live funny, past or present. Though he conceded Gilda Radner and Eddie Murphy, there were very few others we could agree on.
As a long-time fan of the show (watching live for the premiere in 1975), I couldn't wrap my head around it. Sure, the show has had zeniths and nadirs (deep, deep nadirs), there has usually been a pretty strong bench worth of talent there. Some funny people on the show never got to shine, like Janeane Garofalo, Chris Elliot, Jay Mohr and Chris Rock. Some unfunny people got too much time (Norm MacDonald and Colin Quinn). But even in the depths of bad seasons, there have been standouts. The very bad Saturday Night Live '80 had a roster of stars that would rise later, like the late Charles Rocket, Denny Dillon (Tobi from HBO's Dream On) and Gilbert Gottfried. Not to mention Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo.
The oh-so-bad 1985 season, when Lorne Michaels returned as producer, produced Jon Lovitz and Nora Dunn, who would go on to appear in several other (much funnier) seasons. And since then--even though there have still been bad seasons--the casts have ebbed and flowed more, and even "bad" performers have turned out to be favorites.
But if there was ever a comeback year, it was 1986. That was the year that Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks joined the cast. I had--for years--the premiere episode on VHS, which was hosted by Sigourney Weaver and Christopher Durang. It was one of the few SNL episodes that was funny nearly all the way through. It had the Church Lady, "Choppin' Broccoli," and Alienses, a fantastic parody of Aliens ("We're grated cheese, man! We're stewed tomatoes, man!"). Even the 1975-1980 heyday of the show couldn't boast too many consistantly funny episodes, no matter what you remember.
1986 was good to SNL for the happenings in the news that lead to great parody. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's fall from grace. Jimmy Swaggert's fall from grace. Donna Rice. Fawn Hall. It was a parody bonanza, and Jan Hooks was right in the thick of it. Hooks was hilarious, and perfect in these roles. And it was serendipity that Dana Carvey brought his Church Lady character, Enid Strict to the show, to highlight those roles.
Hooks' obvious rapport with Hartman lead to many good skits, and she quickly became one of my favorites. I'll always remember her line as Tammy Faye (mascara running) cried, "Back, demonic raisins, I rebuke you!!!" After she left SNL, Hooks took a role on Designing Women after Delta Burke left the show. DW never recovered, and as talented as Hooks is, she never took the spotlight again.
Outside of Martin Short's Jimminy Glick, I haven't seen Hooks in much of anything. And it's sort of distressing. Why didn't her career take off? Then I happened upon the excerpted article below, and found out that I'm not the only one who wondered.
Why isn't Jan Hooks famous?
Suffice it to say, the number of women who became famous on Saturday Night Live before graduating to solo success is few and far between. Sure, Gilda Radner can be considered a pioneer in the art of sketch comedy. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus undoubtedly honed her comedic skills before becoming a sitcom icon on Seinfeld. And, yes, Tina Fey can easily be considered a heroine to comedy nerds everywhere who have witnessed her climb from Weekend Update anchor to Mean Girls scribe to single-handedly decimating the vice presidential chances of one certain gun-wieldin', six-pack-totin' Alaskan governor. . .
Read more at: TV Squad
And here's a classic Jan Hooks skit.