Jean Smart’s Wicked Family Connection Inspired Hilarious ‘Hacks’ Salem Witch Trial Joke

Teresa Breaux | Last Updated : March 28, 2024

In the critically acclaimed HBO Max comedy series ‘Hacks,’ Jean Smart plays legendary Las Vegas comic Deborah Vance. Throughout the show’s two seasons, Deborah’s brash, provocative on-stage persona is filled with plenty of sharp-witted, pull-no-punches punchlines. However, one joke in particular from early in Season 2 stood out as being rather personal for the veteran actress. 

The line comes when Deborah is riffing about the Salem witch trials, quipping “My family’s from there – on both sides!” It’s a sly reference to her ancestor actually being accused of witchcraft during the infamous 1692 witch hunt in colonial Massachusetts. As Smart revealed in a recent interview, that throwaway gag was directly inspired by her own family’s long-standing heritage and connection to the Salem witch trials.

“I have ancestors who were accused of being witches back in Salem,” the 71-year-old Emmy winner confirmed. “On my mother’s side, it was a woman named Susannah Martin. And on my dad’s side, it was a man from the Towne family. So I definitely have a streak of witchcraft in my lineage!”

With her trademark dry wit, Smart says the line managed to make it into the ‘Hacks’ script after she brought up the fun fact about her ancestral ties to the writers’ room. “They thought it was hilarious that I’m basically a double witch descendant. So they wrote that joke for Deborah as a fun wink to my own personal story.”

Jean Smart’s Deep Ties to the Salem Witch Trials

While the wildly popular period of hysteria and deadly persecutions may have occurred over 300 years ago, its legacy still looms large in parts of Massachusetts – including in Smart’s own family history. The actress was born in Seattle but her parents’ families had roots tracing back to two of the alleged “witches” caught up in the frenzy.

On her mother’s side, Smart is a direct descendant of Susannah Martin, who was accused, convicted, and ultimately executed by hanging as a witch in 1692 at the age of 71. Martin was described as having a “harsh rambling fancy” and “Churlish disposition” – traits that certainly could have been seen as threatening to the God-fearing Puritans of the era. She stood accused of killing a woman with her “devilish practices” after a brief dispute.

Meanwhile, Jean’s paternal ancestry traces back to the Towne family, who lived in nearby Topsfield at the time. It was the Towne’s sensational accusations of witchcraft against their wife/mother, Mary Eastey, that kicked the entire spiral of hysteria into high gear. Mary was eventually arrested, found guilty of witchcraft at a controversial trial, and sentenced to death by hanging that same year.

“It’s such a crazy part of American history that my own ancestors were wrapped up in,” Smart mused. “I have to imagine Susannah and the Townes would get a kick out of having a descendant playing a sharp-tongued comedian on one of the biggest TV shows today. Just maybe not the witch part.”

Using Her Heritage to Get Into Character

While the Salem trials were a deadly serious matter at the time, Smart has always maintained her signature sense of humor about her ancestors’ eerie part in the events. That whimsical mentality helped inspire her instantly iconic turn as the flinty, foul-mouthed Deborah Vance on ‘Hacks.’

“Tapping into the spirit of those bold, brash women from my family tree was definitely an inspiration when crafting Deborah’s take-no-prisoners comedian persona,” Smart explained. “Like them, she’s not afraid to stir the pot and spark controversy through her humor. Though maybe they’d object to some of her more raunchy material!”

Teresa Breaux

Teresa Breaux is a renowned health practitioner who serves as a social worker. She expertized in treating eating disorders and focuses mainly on family-based treatments. Apart from working as a health practitioner, she even provides public awareness through her writings and blogs. Her content includes methods by which you can make delicious and healthy recipes. She is so passionate about writing, especially on issues with eating habits and the importance of eating healthy. If you are someone who loves healthy tips to make your life better, then you must have run across her blogs. You can visit her website and even follow her on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

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