Saturday, October 11, 2014

Jan Hooks R.I.P.

I was saddened yesterday morning to learn of the passing of actress Jan Hooks. She is best known for being on Saturday Night Live from 1986-1991, during what has become known as that show's "second golden era." During this era, in addition to Hooks, the show featured the late Phil Hartman and Chris Farley, Dennis Miller, Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon, Victoria Jackson, David Spade, etc. I was very struck by a remembrance of Jan by Sarah Larson that appeared on the website of The New Yorker this morning, which was brought to my attention by a friend via Facebook: "Jan Hooks (1957-2014): An Appreciation."

In her piece, Larson captures Hooks' understated brilliance and the chemistry she had with Phil Hartman, as well as capturing what I can only describe as the "magic" of the show during that era. She also did many wonderful skits with Nora Dunn, on whom I had a crush- before I knew how mean she was to everyone on the show (Dunn left the show in protest, rightly I think, over Andrew Dice Clay guest-hosting). Unlike Larson, I was not a "goofy pre-teen" then, I was a young adult in my early 20s. I remember watching the show almost every Saturday night (it would even run on the television sets of many of the clubs my friends and I frequented in those days). In addition to tremendously funny skits, there were, back then, thoughtful, even poignant vignettes. One favorite of mine is a skit that was set on Thanksgiving, in which Hooks plays the family matriarch, taking care of her guys. I think it was a time during which SNL had what can be called a fairly well-formed social conscience. This held true even when it came to the naughtier skits, like the one in which Hooks played a prostitute and Hartman a "john" trying make her "interested" on personal level- to no avail.

Larson sums up her piece by mentioning that she recently finished reading a Phil Hartman biography, You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman (a book I think I'll read). She observes,
Hartman helped [Hooks] to overcome her stage fright, and Hooks coined his nickname: the Glue. They were both characters who made “SNL,” in an era of brilliant writing, a show both for goofy preteens like me and for adults, combining the simple appeal of sketch comedy with intelligent political and cultural satire. Rather than making adults watch juvenile humor, it welcomed young people into the adult realm of politics and culture. Hooks and Hartman—the Reagans, the Trumps, the Bakkers, the Clintons, and Beauty and the Beast—were a cornerstone of that approach
I am too young to really remember the show's early days with Belushi, Ackroyd, Chase, Jane Curtin, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, and Lariane Newman. While that was stunning television, I really believe the show reached its heights during this era, from the late '80s to early '90s. I have a copy of the book Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, which I haven't read from in a few years. I need to dust it off this weekend.

Larson is quite right to point to the short film Jan Hooks and Phil Hartman performed in for SNL "Love is a dream" as something rather beautiful and worthy of another viewing. So do yourself a favor:

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