Photo by Giulio Sciorio.
Victoria Jackson hurtles through intersections and down side streets while using her left hand to hold a Flip cam to her face. The inside of her car — a weathered Honda Civic with "Nobama," Marco Rubio, and Tea Party bumper stickers — smells like it's been fumigated with sweet incense. Steering with elbows and the occasional pinkie, she opens a Bible inscribed with her name and quotes scripture in her inimitable high-pitched voice. Then she turns the camera on a reporter riding shotgun. She suspects he's a socialist. "Don't you think that some people are on welfare from cradle to grave," she demands, "because the government is encouraging them never to work?"
"Leaving on a Jet Plane," her ringtone, blares from the recesses of her purse, and she's suddenly burrowing through loads of makeup cases to find it. "What if we crashed and died on video?" she says, laughing wildly. "That would be the most viral video of the world! You'd be dead, but you'd have a really viral video!"
At age 52, Victoria Jackson bears little resemblance to that lithe and sweetly dopey girl with the grating voice on Saturday Night Live. And you might not recognize her from those eight mostly forgettable '80s and '90s feature films such as I Love You to Death and No More Baths.
Her comedy career, which took her from Johnny Carson's stage in Burbank to 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, long ago squeaked its last breath. These days she's a Miami-area suburban grandmother and wife of a buff local cop with a Bad Boys-esque career full of shootouts and commendations. And to some Christian conservatives, she is a seer of truth. The Washington Post once described her thusly: "If you opened her head, it would be filled with cotton candy." Now the former daffy actress is a bizarrely riveting semiregular political pundit on Fox News.
She's no Keyboard Cat. But videos uploaded of her — on cable news programs, on her online talk show, or filmed by her own erratic hand — have in just the past few months amassed more than 1 million page views. She has strummed a ukulele while harmonizing that Muslims "like beheadings and pedophile weddings." Even Bill O'Reilly laughed at her when she compared Barack Obama to "Castro in Cuba, or the guy in China, or Saddam Hussein." She has declared, in protest of a gay kiss on Glee, that homosexual children need to "pray the gay away" and that there's a "spiritual war in America."
But calling her the lunatic fringe is at most half right. She has been invited to the office of Republican Florida Congressman Bill Posey, who commiserated when she said Obama has "the fakest birth certificate I've ever seen in my life." She has gained a sympathetic audience with nearly every GOP candidate of the 2012 presidential campaign (excluding the guy she calls a "fake conservative," Mitt Romney). She rode the Tea Party Express bus with Herman Cain and joined Michele Bachmann at a D.C. rally where the crowd chanted, "There's a communist living in the White House!" If not the captain of the S.S. Tea Party, she's at least the screeching mermaid strapped to its bow.
Victoria's 76-year-old mom, Marlene, giggly and moon-faced, pulls out a throne-like seat when her daughter arrives at the family's Miami Shores home with a male visitor. "That's the master's chair," she says cheerily, gesturing for the visitor to sit, before delivering cookies and Coca-Cola in glass bottles. "The man is the master."
Jim Jackson appears. He is a strapping, boyish 83-year-old former gymnast in thick spectacles. A squiggly triangle of pale flesh, left over from a melanoma graft, mars his left cheek. Victoria stands by, barefoot with cherry-red toenail polish and, as always, filming with her Flip cam. The little family gathers around a high-top table.
Soon, Jim begins with booming recollections of his youth as a champion gymnast. "I'm homophobic," he announces while describing why he doesn't like to strip in male locker rooms. "I also don't like fat people. Every time I see a 300-to-400-pound lady or a man sit down to stuff her face, I want to say, 'No, you fool! You're killing yourself!' "
Then he adds for good measure: "Our son is 300 pounds."
Marlene and Jim met around 1950 in Chicago, where he was raised and she was studying to be a nurse. Victoria's mom was from a family of Baptist zealots near Windom, Minn., a plains town about three hours southwest of the Twin Cities. During the Great Depression, the whole family went door-to-door preaching the evils of alcohol, caffeine, movies, music, dancing, dice, and cards.
Marlene's much-adored sister, Angeline Rose, developed schizophrenia as a teenager and died in a state hospital. Marlene blamed God, and in revenge she married the happy-go-lucky gymnastics-obsessed Jim, whose only religion was Fred Astaire and Burt Lancaster movies. They moved to Miami in the early '50s, partly because Jim was inspired by Clark Gable's Mutiny on the Bounty.
Born in 1959, Victoria lived in the shadow of her tormented aunt. Marlene was convinced her daughter could avoid schizophrenia only if she became an extreme extrovert. So Victoria was banished from doing any "woman's work," her mom says — no household chores or cooking.
She became attached to her dad, a physical education teacher at North Glades Elementary, near Carol City, where they lived. Jim Jackson believed his family had a gene that inclined them toward obesity. "He said I was 'genetically inferior,' " Victoria says. "I think it made me nuts. That's probably where my eating disorders came from."
Her childhood was spent on balance beams and parallel bars. From age 4, she could do a handstand, a move that would make her famous on SNL.
Nearly every hour that wasn't spent in school or church, she practiced in their yard or at a nearby gym. She would tumble on gravel until her hands were bloody. "I did not like gymnastics at all," Victoria says. "My hands were ripped. My hip bones had bruises on them. My knees are permanently injured. My neck got cracked once. I mean, doing 200 situps is not fun."