Jan Hooks: Comedy actress known for depiction of Nancy Reagan on Saturday Night Live

 

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The Independent Online

While Spitting Image was satirising the Thatcher era on British TV, Jan Hooks was one of those on the other side of the Atlantic parodying Ronald Reagan's United States in the comedy series Saturday Night Live.

As the President's wife Nancy she donned a wig and blazers that brought her take on the First Lady to life. She was also seen as one half of the excruciating lounge-bar singing duo the Sweeney Sisters, complete with big hair and gowns (she played Candy while Nora Dunn portrayed Liz), as well as the television evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, wearing thick mascara, with Phil Hartman as her disgraced husband, Jim.

Further laughs came from Hooks's take on Sinead O'Connor, wearing a bald cap, leather jacket and tinted glasses. Although she made the Irish singer a principled human being to the point of being humourless, there was no malice or meanness in the portrayal – a quality noted by critics of all her characters. She was a regular on SNL from 1986 to 1991 but returned on and off for another three years, adding Hillary Clinton to her repertoire.

She insisted that she was not a stand-up comedian but a comedy actress – and admitted to suffering stage fright in front of a Saturday Night Live audience. However, she said she had a natural affinity for satire. "I can look around a room and watch a weak point in someone and build a character on that," she said.

Hooks was born outside Atlanta, moving to Fort Myers, Florida, when her father, who worked for Sears, was relocated. She acted at high school and studied drama at Edison Community College, Fort Myers, and the University of West Florida. She left the latter course for an acting job, playing a Native American princess in an outdoor production in Livingston, Texas. She then began her comedy apprenticeship with the New Wits End Players, an Atlanta nightclub act, and the Los Angeles-based comedy troupe the Groundlings, noted for its improvisation. She gained her first television exposure in the sketch show Tush (1978-79).

Appearances in the first two series (1983-84) of Not Necessarily the News – based on Not the Nine O'Clock News – led to Hooks joining Saturday Night Live. After that she took the role of dim-witted divorcée Carlene Frazier Dobber (1991-93) in Designing Women, a sitcom about an Atlanta interior design firm. She also appeared (1996-2000) in the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun as Vicki Dubcek, who dates Harry Solomon but has a baby with another extra-terrestrial, The Big Giant Head, and she voiced Manjula Nahasapeemapetilon (1997-2002), who gives birth to octuplets in The Simpsons.

Hooks's film roles included that of a tour guide in Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) and Jen, one of the Penguin's image consultants, in Batman Returns (1992).

ANTHONY HAYWARD

Janice Hooks, actress: born Decatur, Georgia 23 April 1957; died New York 9 October 2014.

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