Jackie Tohn grew up in the entertainment industry and understands the business — and she also understands that, right now, the business is being very good to her.
She worked last year on the film Sisters with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, wrapped up a Netflix film earlier this year playing late comedian Gilda Radner of Saturday Night Live fame, and is currently filming G.L.O.W., a series for Netflix with Orange is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan serving as executive producer.
Dude,” she says in a phone interview, letting the “u” flow for several beats. “It’s a cool time right now. I can’t say otherwise. I’ve been acting since I was a little kid, so I know what the slow years are and when it’s not going like this. I have this extra little seed of perspective where I’m like, ‘Whoa, dude, this is cool.’”
During her upcoming appearance at the Tryon Fine Arts Center, the former American Idol contestant says she plans to do one 45-minute set of her musical comedy show and another set of her singer/songwriter tunes and cover songs. Tohn’s lone day off recently had her walking to her local grocery store in Los Angeles. The almost-out-of-breath actor plopped down on someone’s stoop to talk to Bold Life about her suddenly burgeoning career.
Fifteen-hour days are the norm on the set of G.L.O.W., based on the ’80s TV show of the same name: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. She and the other actors spent four weeks in August learning to take back bumps, run the ring ropes, and execute basic maneuvers. The plan, she reveals, is to do many of the wrestling spots themselves, but have stuntwomen there to pull off the crazier moves.
“The hardest part has been getting over my fear,” she says. “I thought, ‘I can’t go from standing to fall flat on my back. That’s absurd. I’m going to fall five feet? That’s insane.’ Then they teach you how to do it right, where you take the impact evenly through your whole body, and you think, ‘I guess I am going to do it.’
“We start really small and get bigger and bigger … [doing] each small thing incrementally,” she explains. “By the time you need to do the big stuff, you know all of the pieces that go into it, so the fear dissipates.”
Tohn, who grew up in Oceanside, New York, began to act at age 9, and then was cast in the popular ’90s show The Nanny, starring Fran Drescher. After two episodes, she moved on to other roles in major dramas including The Sopranos, Veronica Mars, The Closer, and CSI: NY, and in the sitcoms It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Rules of Engagement.
She’s also had parts in movies like Jem and the Holograms, Bad Roomies, and in the upcoming CHiPS remake, expected to be released next August. To prepare for the role of Radner, the 36-year-old read her autobiography and watched old clips. A Futile & Stupid Gesture depicts the rise of National Lampoon to a media empire and showcases Gilda before her Saturday Night Live heyday.
Tohn has a gritty voice similar to Radner’s, but added a Detroit accent and made her “S” a bit lazier to sound more like the beloved comedian. “I wasn’t playing Roseanne Roseannadanna, and I wasn’t playing the [other] characters you’ve seen Gilda play, so it was a different experience,” she says. “I wasn’t doing those characters I was raised imitating. I was just playing Gilda Radner the person, and that was cool and interesting … she’s one of my idols. But, I guess, she’s one of every female comic’s idol.”
Stand-up comedy has always been part of Tohn’s career. She got on the mic as a teen and brought her guitar along as part of the show. Years later, she appeared on the 2009 season of American Idol, advancing to Hollywood before being eliminated, and she’s self-released two records — Beguiling in 2009 and Jackie Tohn 2.Yo in 2010.
When she gets rare time off, Tohn relaxes and watches TV. Amusingly, her show choices tend to be on the serious side.
“I love Dateline and Forensic Files,” she says. “In my life, all of my friends are stand-up comics or writers or actors. I’m in a super-funny community of humans. I’m on comedy shows and go to comedy shows all the time. I don’t want my escape to be what I do for a living.”
Tohn performs at 8pm on Saturday, November 12, on the Veh Stage at the Tryon Fine Art Jackies Center (34 Melrose Ave.). Tickets are $35/general, $17/students. Visit tryonarts.org or call 828-859-8322.