Victoria Jackson had never seen an episode of Saturday Night Live before she joined the cast of the late-night sketch comedy show in 1986. “We didn’t have a television, so we spent a lot of time singing musicals,” Victoria tells Closer of her strict upbringing in Florida, where her life revolved around schoolwork, church, gymnastics and singing. “My dad played the piano, and my mother gave me a ukulele when I was 10 for a Christmas present,” she says.
It was an auspicious gift. Victoria’s new album, When I Get to Nashville, features ukulele, original songs and a bit of standup, too. “My songs on this album are mostly funny, although one is very sad,” says Victoria, 64. “And there’s a little Jesus in a couple of them.”
Were you funny growing up?
“No, I was in gymnastics, which was very serious! It’s like, ‘You bent your knee.’ ‘You didn’t point your toes.’ That’s all I heard my whole childhood. There was a lot of seriousness. We had to make straight A’s, and we had no TV. However, my dad was super funny, he loved telling stories, and my mother — nobody realized it — but she was very funny, too.”
You’re famous for your high-pitched voice. Have you always had it?
“Yes. My childhood friends and family never thought my voice was funny because they were used to it. When I got into the real world, people were like, ‘What’s wrong with her voice?’ I was a temporary secretary once for a throat specialist at the University of Miami. He said, ‘Excuse me, can I examine your throat?’ Like a free throat exam! He said I have a congenital palatal insufficiency. My parents were mystified. They were like, ‘What’s wrong with her voice? She’s always sounded like that.’”
When did you start incorporating gymnastics in your act?
“When I went to Hollywood to try and be an actress, I was thinking, ‘What can I do that no one else can do?’ I could hold a handstand longer than anyone because of my gymnastics training. Of course, my agent scolded me and said, ‘How am I supposed to sell you as a serious actress if you’re doing handstands?’”
It definitely made you stand out.
“Yes — and cut to the 1980s — I put my handstand in [my stand-up act] and sang my poetry upside down and played my ukulele. In 1983, I made it onto Johnny Carson. That led to Lorne Michaels seeing me on TV and giving me an audition. I did six years on Saturday Night Live.”
Did you ever get to sing with any SNL guest stars?
“I sang with Willie Nelson. He sang my song called ‘The Boyfriend Song.’ That was one of the highlights of my whole life.”
Who were you closest with on SNL?
“The three who were the nicest to me were Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon. They would let me come into their office when they were trying to think of funny things, and I would laugh for eight hours in a row. They were kind enough to write me into their sketches. Jon Lovitz and I are still in touch. I’m also in touch with Rob Schneider, who does a cameo on my album.”
You’ve been very open about your faith as a Christian. Were you ever asked to do a sketch you found objectionable on SNL?
“One time, there was a sketch they wrote just for me. It was making fun of extreme Christians, like ones who would have Jesus salt-and-pepper shakers. I remember I thought about it really hard. I finally told Lorne, ‘I’m kind of afraid if I do this sketch, either God will strike me with lightning for making fun of prayer or I might start crying.’ I think prayer is talking to God, and I didn’t want to make fun of it. Lorne said he understood.”
Did someone else do the sketch?
“They gave the sketch to Julia Sweeney, but she did it at dress rehearsal and nobody laughed, so it didn’t make it to the show.”
You’re politically conservative. Do you think it’s affected your career?
“When I first went to L.A. in the ’80s, politics weren’t as divisive as they are now. People weren’t trying to kill each other over ideas. Plus, I wasn’t political. I didn’t know anything about politics until I was about 50. I hate politics, but religion and politics are intertwined. It’s what your world view is, and that affects everything.”
You left SNL after your second marriage. What was your post-SNL life like?
“I got reconnected with my high school sweetheart, and I gave up my career so that he could have his. He was a helicopter police pilot in Miami. I moved down there to raise a family. My daughters attended the same Christian school where my husband and I met in seventh grade. My days were filled with motherhood, and I taught my daughters how to harmonize. We sang all the time.”
Your daughters sing on your new album.
“Yes. I have my mother, my daughters and my three granddaughters all singing on ‘You Are My Sunshine.’ I forced them. It was my 59th birthday present to myself. I said, ‘Some day when I’m dead and you’re old, you’re going to real happy that I forced you into this.’ My mother, who is now in heaven, is also on it. It is really fun for me to hear her voice.”
You survived cancer. Did music help you cope with that battle?
“I had breast cancer — double mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy — all in 2016. I’m totally healed now. I wrote ‘It’s a Broken World, Baby’ when I had cancer and was bald. The thing I hated most was being bald. I was trying to create something, like I always do, to cope with the pain.”
What makes your marriage work?
“The reason we’re still together is because we both believe in Jesus Christ and we don’t believe in divorce — even though we’ve both been divorced before. We love our family, our kids and our grandkids. We’re also on the same page politically, and it doesn’t hurt that he has 12-pack abs!”