Hammond gets serious but remains hilarious

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First Posted: 2/4/2014

Darrell Hammond is best known as the longest running cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” but there has always been more to the comedian than just his spot-on impressions of Bill Clinton, Sean Connery, Jesse Jackson, Donald Trump, and countless other celebrities.

He’s also an actor and the author of an acclaimed memoir, “God If You’re Not Up There, I’m F—ked: Misadventures with Fake Noses, Funny Accents, Addiction, and Saturday Night Live,” which chronicles his painful childhood, alcoholism, hospitalizations, meltdowns, and more. Hammond has survived it all and only come out stronger and funnier, and he’ll bring that wit to Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs on Saturday, Feb. 8, talking to The Weekender first about why he’s returning to Wilkes-Barre, how he ended up on television, and future plans to adapt his amazing life story.

THE WEEKENDER: You started doing impressions at any early age. When did you know you wanted to do this for a living?

DARRELL HAMMOND: It was never what I wanted to do for a living. I wanted to play baseball for a living, and when it was clear that that I didn’t have the slimmest chance of that happening, I started looking for the thing that I enjoyed to do other than that, and that was perform. I was in New York trying to be a stand-up. I had one line in my act, I had one impression in my act, and I got called into “Saturday Night Live” and they asked me if I could do other impressions, and I could, and they offered me a career. “This is the job. You won’t do original characters and you won’t write; you’ll do impressions. You want it?” I said, “Yeah, I do. Of course I do.” That was a fabulous job and I’m grateful to have (had) it.

W: Were you a fan of the show before that?

DH: I was in love with the show for forever. … The interesting part about it was I had auditioned for them twice and been turned down, so I thought, “All right. I tried,” and then someone sees me on stage at Carolines (on Broadway) and I get called in and then I got it. But I had auditioned twice and I had sort of given up on that dream.

W: You were at Mohegan Sun back in October when they announced their partnership with Wise Crackers Comedy Club. What brings you back to the area?

DH: I do these shows sometimes, and I’m doing this for (Wise Crackers co-owner) Scott Bruce, who’s producing this show, because he’s an old friend. But mainly I have a lecture series I do on the book that I wrote, and he asked me if I’d come and do my “SNL” characters, Clinton and Sean Connery and Trump and all that. I knew him from way back, and I was like, “Yeah,” and it sounds like a fun night to me. Shows like that that pay well and are fun. I mean, I don’t know how you turn that stuff down. I don’t. … I really like this guy, Scott Bruce. I’ve known him for 20 years. He’s a great guy.

I know when people know how to do comedy. … I guess you can get so rich that someone offers you a great job and you’re like, “Oh, f—k that.” I’m not that guy, and I love to do good work, and they do great work, so let’s have some fun and have some laughs and make a couple of bucks. It sounds good to me.

W: What topics do you touch on in your stand-up, or is it just impressions?

DH: It’s a stand-up act that I’ve inserted the “SNL” impressions into because it’s sort of like being in a rock band and you show up and go, “Hooray! I want to try something new! We’re going to do some jazz!” It’s not long before the audience goes, “Well, where’s Clinton? I thought you were going to do jazz, but Clinton was going to be doing jazz. You’re really doing f—king jazz?” Yeah, I thought I’d do some jazz. “No! Clinton!”

He’s such a fascinating guy; I could do three hours of the guy. I was once offered an entire Broadway show just to be him the whole show – that’s how interesting this guy is. And it could not be more fun.

W: We read that the story of your life is being adapted into a Broadway play. What is the status of that show?

DH: I go to meetings about this almost every day. There’s other media that are interested too, but yeah. I can’t talk about it because they won’t let me. … For two years, I’ve been going to meetings with people from Hollywood, from New York and Los Angeles, who want to convert this into something, and then they say, “And mum’s the word!”

W: Does the kind of blunt honesty you shared in your memoir come from being a comic or was it very hard for you to get those feelings out there?

DH: Well, A, I’ve always wanted to tell that story, and now I’m able to for a couple of different reasons, and B, in comedy, honesty is funnier. And C, I don’t have nothing to hide.

I’ve wanted to tell that story for 20 years. I just wanted to wait until I wasn’t involved with “SNL” because I don’t want to embarrass anybody over there by telling these stories. I want to wait until we’re done working together, as much or not at all, and the other thing was the people in my childhood that I’m writing about were scary to me and I wanted them to be gone. I wanted to tell that story for a long time, but when you’re honest in comedy, you’re funnier. That’s just the way it’s worked out for me anyway.