Victoria Jackson hurtles through intersections and down side streets while using her left hand to hold a Flip video camera 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 her elbows and the occasional pinkie, Jackson 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 some unknown recess 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 wouldn't recognize her from those eight, mostly forgettable '80s and '90s feature films such as I Love You to Death and No More Baths. She's more plump. Or, as Howard Stern recently put it, she "looks like she ate Victoria Jackson."
Her comedy career, which took her from Johnny Carson's stage in Los Angeles 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 shoot-outs and commendations. And to some Christian conservatives, she is a seer of truth. The Washington Post once described her thus: "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 a 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 Rep. 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.
Jackson's 76-year-old mom, Marlene, giggly and moonfaced, pulls out a thronelike 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 old-timey glass bottles. "The man is the master."
Then 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. His daughter stands by, barefoot with cherry-red toenail polish and, as always, filming with her Flip. 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 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. Jackson's mom is 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 from door to door preaching the evils of alcohol, caffeine, movies, music, dancing, dice and cards.