In Pee-wee Herman’s endlessly quotable Big Adventure, Jan Hooks ran away with the most memorable lines of all.
We have all had a friend like Jan Hooks, a person so committed to making us laugh, so hell-bent on exposing what was absurd and ridiculous about the people we were supposed to take seriously. They were the ones standing behind the pious homeroom teacher scrunching up their face. They were making fun of stepparents and Sunday school teachers, docents and pop singers. They were, in short, making our lives bearable.
Hooks, who died Thursday at age 57, was a comic performer whose astounding utility across 100-plus episodes of SaturdayNight Live never diminished her uniqueness and inner fire. To catch her on SNL—and further afield on the cable dial on shows like Not Necessarily The News and Tush—was to catch a glimpse of a sketch comedy future where the girls were more committed, more ridiculous, and more flat-out funny than the boys.
A Groundling by way of Decatur, Georgia, she had a particular facility for skewering American banality—the obsequious Alamo tour guide Tina from 1985’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, for example—in a way that never robbed her subjects of their souls.