Jan Hooks was born in Decatur, Georgia and lived in Atlanta until her family moved to Florida during her high school years. While in high school, her attention turned from cheerleading to school theater productions. She attended the University of West Florida and became active in regional and summer theater productions. Jan returned to Atlanta to work in dinner theater and became a member of the comedy ensemble group The New Wits End Players. She also appeared on WTBS and won the Georgia-area Emmy Award for her performance in "Tush."
Best known for her five season stint as a Saturday Night Live Player from October 1986 through May 1991, Jan portrayed many characters during her run on the show including appearances as Tammy Faye Bakker, Eleanor Clift in The McLaughlin Group, Hilary Clinton, Nadia Comaneci, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Betty Ford, Kathie Lee Gifford, "Attitudes" hosts Nancy Glass and Doe Kelly, Jessica Hahn, Sally Kellerman, Marla Maples, Sinead O'Conner, Sally Jesse Raphael, Nancy Reagan, Diane Sawyer, Nancy Simmons in Wayne's World, Candy in the Sweeney Sisters, and Ivana Trump.
She has also appeared in TV commercials for Nike Zoom Air sneakers (1997), as a regular on the series The Martin Short Show, Designing Women, and The 1/2 Hour Comedy Hour, and in cameo and supporting roles in the feature films A Dangerous Woman, Batman Returns, Coneheads, Simon Birch and Pee-wee's Big Adventure. In the late 1990s, Hooks had a recurring role on NBC's Third Rock from the Sun. Hooks took a hiatus in the mid-2000s due to various health issues, then resumed her career in 2009 with a guest spot on 30 Rock. Hooks died suddenly of unknown causes in October 2014.