SNL star Jan Hooks sadly passed away on October 9th. Stephen Tropiano, author of Saturday Night Live FAQ, wrote a fitting tribute to this talented woman. Thank you for the laughs, Jan.
A Tribute to Jan Hooks
The recent death of Saturday Night Live of cast member Jan Hooks from an “undisclosed illness” took everyone by surprise last week. The fact she had been ill was never made public and she hasn’t been seen on television since 2010, when she appeared on the prime time special, The Women of SNL, and two episodes of 30 Rock as Jenna’s Maroney’s (Jane Krakowski) mother, Verna.
We often read stories about Method film actors like Robert DeNiro, Daniel Day Lewis, and Christian Bale getting “lost in a film role” and walking away in the end with an Oscar. Over Saturday Night Live’s forty year history, Jan Hooks was part of a select group of cast members—a list that also includes Dan Aykroyd, Nora Dunn, Mike Myers, and Cheri Oteri—who were the sketch comedy equivalent of Method actors. What separated Hooks and the others from most SNL performers is how they embodied the roles they played to the point where you felt like you really never knew the real person behind the comic persona.
A former member of the Los Angeles based comedy troupe, The Groundlings, Hooks never broke character because she was always in way too deep. She will be best remembered on SNL as Candy Sweeney, half of the meagerly talented singing duo, the Sweeney Sisters. They were high-energy and their performances were peppered with plenty of playful patter, yet musically Candy and her sister Liz (Dunn) always seemed like they were having an off-night.
Hooks created a few other original characters (Marge Keister and Anita), but she was also the show’s resident female impressionist for the six seasons (1986-1991) she appeared on the show. She was given the chance to play an array of famous women, like Hillary Clinton, Diane Sawyer, Sinead O’Connor, Jessica Hahn, and Tammy Faye Baker (to name a few). For five of the six seasons, Hooks, Dunn, and Victoria Jackson were the only women on the show. When Dunn left in 1990, it was only Hooks, Jackson, and newcomer Julia Sweeney.
It was talented performers like Hooks who paved the way for the other funny women who followed. Kristin Wiig, who was also in the spotlight during her seven seasons on the show (when Amy Poehler left in 2008, she was the only female regular on the show). Wiig paid tribute to Hooks on last week’s show. “She was one of the best that ever was,” Wiig remarked, “and her influence was clear in everyone one of us who has been here since.”