Old School Americana & Nostalgia


‘The Tonight Show’: SNL Alum Victoria Jackson Looks Back at Her 18 Appearances with Johnny Carson (Exclusive)

‘The Tonight Show’: SNL Alum Victoria Jackson Looks Back at Her 18 Appearances with Johnny Carson (Exclusive)

Saturday Night Live alum Victoria Jackson is looking back on her multiple appearances with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. While promoting her new comedy album, When I Get to Nashville, the comedian and singer chatted with Odometer about her big break with Carson.

Victoria Jackson’s Hollywood journey is unique. From Florida to Los Angeles, she gracefully transitioned from gymnast, trained by her coach father, to a multi-talented comedian. By day, she tackled odd jobs, but by night, she conquered the stage with a stand-up routine that blended her gymnastic prowess and musical charm. Handstands and poetry recitals became her signature, leaving the audience sometimes perplexed, but always laughing.

Not long after Jackson moved to Los Angeles and started performing stand-up in the early 80s, Johnny Carson’s talent scouts noticed her. She was soon summoned to make her The Tonight Show debut. This was an era in which a successful appearance on Carson’s show could make a comedian’s career.

Victoria Jackson Recalls a Johnny Carson Producer Not Being So Sure About Her Stand-Up Act

Though Jackson was confident about her debut, she remembers a The Tonight Show producer not being so sure. “I was backstage for my first Johnny Carson,” Victoria Jackson recalled. “And [The Tonight Show producer, Jim McCauley] was holding the curtain and he was going to open it when they said my name, and I was supposed to walk out to the mark on the center stage, and his hand was shaking.”

“I said, Jim, why is your hand shaking? I’m the one who asked to go out there. And he said, Because if Johnny Carson doesn’t like you, I lose my job.”

Jackson speculates that her act had folks scratching their heads. “People couldn’t figure out if I was dumb or just playing them. Or if I was a bad singer, or if I was a comedian. Nobody could figure it out.”

However, Jackson killed it with her then-signature move of reciting poetry while doing a headstand. “So the good news is, after I finished my six minutes, Johnny gave me the sign,” Jackson explained. “So Jim McCauley kept his job and the rest is history.”

Johnny Carson took to Victoria Jackson, saying “That’s my kind of act” once she sat alongside him. Jackson quickly rose to fame, becoming a household name with an impressive list of TV and film credits. Notably, she showcased her talents on Saturday Night Live, for six seasons. However, The Tonight Show appearances remained a mainstay for her through the 80s. She went on to appear on The Tonight Show twenty times, eighteen of them with Carson as host.

Johnny Carson Had a Hilarious Response to a Care Package Victoria Jackson Sent Him Following a Health Scare

Victoria Jackon’s professional relationship with Johnny Carson waned after he retired from The Tonight Show in 1992. However, she recalls reaching out to the TV legend when he had a severe heart attack in 1999.

“I saw on the tabloids that Johnny Carson had a heart attack, and I still had the phone number of the secretary,” Jackson remembered. She asked the secretary for Carson’s address. Once that was procured, the UHF star then put together a care package for Carson that included play dough, a slinky, and a VHS tape of her new stand-up act. Jackson, a devout Christian, also put an engraved Bible along with instructions on how to be saved in the package. “I wanted him to go to heaven,” she explained.

Johnny Carson, ever the comedian, had the perfect response to Victoria Jackson’s Bible and instructions. Carson sent a thank you letter a couple of weeks later. “Thank you for the care package,” Johnny wrote, according to Jackson. “I hold you personally responsible if it doesn’t work.”

Victoria Jackson’s music-comedy album When I Get to Nashville is available on Amazon and her website.