April 12, 2004 10:21 AM

Janet Jackson’s much-ballyhooed appearance on “Saturday Night Live” started off with a bang this weekend, with the Super Bowl star proving herself a good sport — and a deft mimic.

In the show’s opening skit, Jackson — who hosted the show and served as musical guest — parodied last Thursday’s testimony of national security advisor Condoleezza Rice before the 9/11 Commission as well as her own “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl halftime show.

With “SNL” regular Darrell Hammond playing Vice President Dick Cheney, Rice (Jackson, replete with a gap between her two front teeth) was advised by the Veep to “flash a boob” in order to distract the public from her testimony.

“Just one headlight, real quick,” suggested Cheney/Hammond. “It does two things: You win over the liberals, plus, it’s a distraction for the press. I guarantee that’s going to be the headline, not the bin Laden thing.”

The Rice character refuses, saying in response: “I am not a prude, sir, but this hearing is not the forum for that kind of lewd conduct. There are other forums, like pay television or national sporting championships. That would be fine, but I am the national security adviser.”

Cheney reluctantly agreed. “It was Ashcroft’s idea,” he admitted.

But during the next scene, which spoofed the actual commission hearing, a flustered Rice opened her blouse and pretended to reveal her right breast — though carefully blurred, so the home audience couldn’t see anything. Jackson then declared: “Live from New York, it’s ‘Saturday Night!'”

In Monday’s Washington Post, TV critic Tom Shales applauded Jackson and the show — Jackson for her gifts of comedy, and “SNL” for sharpening its humor after a long, dull patch. He also applauded both parties for giving the Federal Communications Commission, which has been cracking down on free expression ever since Jackson’s Bowl baring incident, a well-deserved nose-thumbing.

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