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Alive in New York … It’s Saturday Night

Longtime SNL cast member Hammond shares his experiences and recovery in autobiography

By Michael Shashoua / Jester editor-in-chief

I remember seeing Darrell Hammond, Saturday Night Live’s master impressionist, performing at Caroline’s in New York about eight years ago, and seeming drunk onstage – still very funny, but very obviously drunk. At the time, I just thought it was sort of unprofessional, but he still pulled off the show.

With his new memoir, “God, If You're Not Up There, I'm F*cked: Tales of Stand-Up, Saturday Night Live, and Other Mind-Altering Mayhem,” Hammond reveals that there was a lot more to times like that one than just a little irresponsibility. The general public, or even comedy fans or SNL fans, probably had no idea of the severe childhood traumas Hammond had experienced at the hands of his parents, and how these mushroomed for him as an adult into alcoholism, drug addiction, a penchant for cutting himself, and other psychiatric issues.

Hammond’s talent, we learn, came from the same well as his personal pain. Performing voices was something his mother also did, and young Darrell learned that emulating this was a way to keep her abuse at bay. The abuse was not just a couple spankings – it was so severe that Hammond repressed it and only recalled all the details later during rehab and psychiatric treatment. This was – prepare yourself – actions like cutting his tongue and slamming his hand in a car door. Which Hammond recalls skillfully in the telling as brief paragraphs describing each instance, evocative of how each instance must have resurfaced in his mind.

Still, Hammond’s autobiography is not all darkness. There’s plenty in here for comedy nerds who want a behind-the-scenes look at SNL and Hammond’s performances. Some of the memories are related to his issues and how he had to pull himself together against all odds to make it on the air or make it back to the studio for a show, however.

It’s admirable that Hammond’s real aim with this book is to express contrition for all the bad behavior and take responsibility for it – as well as to be thankful for all the good fortune he has had with his career. Toward the end, he writes, alluding to his troubles, “How in the same lifetime could I have had Tom Hanks telling me he’d been honored to work with me on my final show?”

So while Hammond provides the enjoyment of his experiences performing privately for some of the politicians he’s portrayed, as an honor, as well as the mechanics of developing impressions such as Al Gore, Donald Trump and many others, and fun moments like getting through a crack-up in a live SNL sketch because his fake mustache fell off,  he is up to something more with this book. Without resorting to the sort of self-pitying prose that would be made fun of at a “Celebrity Autobiography” reading, Hammond recounts his struggles honestly and in a straightforward way that earns readers’ respect and makes one hopeful that the recovery he recounts is real and lasting.

 

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Feedback? Email michael.shashoua@jesterjournal.com

© 2005-2017 Michael Shashoua