Darrell Hammond Book: Comedian Reveals Childhood Abuse, Psychiatric Treatment
In God, If You're Not Up There, I'm F*cked, Darrell Hammond offers an unbelievably raw and powerfully honest account of his life. The gifted comedian, who became famous on "Saturday Night Live" for his brilliant impressions of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Chris Matthews and Sean Connery, has also led a life filled with hardship and despair.
Raised by a mother who was physically and emotionally abusive, Hammond spent decades in and out of psychiatric hospitals, being misdiagnosed while self-medicating with copious amounts of alcohol and drugs. His new book is alternately hilarious, heartbreaking and emotional and Hammond spoke about his trials and tribulations with The Huffington Post.
Someone else with your problems could have ended up losing their job, their home and ended up homeless. How did you avoid that fate?
I'm sure it was a tricky thing for ["SNL" producer] Lorne Michaels. He knew on one hand, I needed this show and the time to survive the trauma therapy that I was going through. Then on the other hand, he wanted to protect his show and I was sick. We actually had a conference in his office. We all decided that if this didn't level off, I would leave the show for my own health. But the fact is I was putting together solid performances at that time. I never went out there drunk or on drugs -- at least during the show -- and big things were happening for me and the show at the time while I was going through flashbacks and trauma therapy.
You had flashbacks because your mother was extremely abusive while you were growing up.
I think the psychological component of it was the most abusive. Saying to me, "I know what you did and I know who you are." That's a way of saying, "I've hurt you, but I'll kill you." I think I wanted to write a book about the relationship between the victim and perpetrator in which the victim agrees to remain silent.
Do you think your dad knew about the abuse?
I don't know. He was mired over the torment of serving in World War II and all the guys he killed. I grew up in a house where the head of the house was obsessed with Nazis. Fighting Nazis kind of drove him mad, in a way.
As an adult, weren't you angry with him?
[I was] absolutely furious at him for a number of years, even rageful, at both parents. On his deathbed, he had laid his war medals across his chest and he said, "I'm sorry I wasn't a better dad." Every fiber of my being knew at that moment he had done his best and even if his apology was ... let's say heavy-handed ... it was an apology. He was trying to say, "I was a soldier and it cost me everything."
You also used to cut yourself?
In my case, it was a signpost; it was a billboard. It was saying, "Something's horribly wrong here and I'm afraid of my oppressor. I'm afraid of my torturer."
Your last rehab stint was for three months and that's when you say you hit a turning point?
I ran into an extraordinary doctor. He got up inside my head and figured out how my brain processed things, what my core values were, what my inner dialogue was. He stressed the high price of staying angry and what that cost me. He helped me understand the concept of forgiveness. ... It was the breakthrough.
How were you misdiagnosed throughout your life?
Yes, schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, bipolar...
But really, you are a child abuse survivor.
It's funny, when I went to these major mental health institutions, they put me in with prisoners of war and people who had been tortured and raped. Everyone always told me that I had the symptoms of a P.O.W. I called my mother up and I said, "You know, I've been to the best doctors in the world and I've spent almost half a million dollars and they're telling me I have symptoms of a P.O.W. and all I did was grow up in your home." She dropped her Southern accent and in a very husky tone said, "Don't ever call us again." I didn't speak to her again until she was on her deathbed, seven or eight years later.
During one "SNL" show, why were you taken away in a straight jacket?
They were doing a Mother's Day show and they were dressing me to look like my mother and when they started lowering the wig on my head I flipped out. The thing was, they felt I was disorientated and didn't know where I was and I think that was the truth.
Moving on to lighter topics. Your most famous impersonation is probably Bill Clinton. I loved the thumbs up and lip biting you'd do.
I know, which I never saw him do. I did it one night in Greenwich Village and the audience responded to is so hugely that I knew I was onto something.
I think because it summed up his "Slick Willie" persona.
Maybe so. The thing is with Clinton, he was really gifted. He was a really good guy who had gotten himself into some trouble that the rest of us could have gotten into. He was always really nice to me, as well.
Well, it's flattering to be impersonated.
I don't know if it's flattering or not. I played him during the Lewinsky scandal as a man, a gifted man, a sensitive man, who had done something that anyone else in the world would do and who regretted it. I always try to give all those guys a fair shake that I'm playing.
You were once told by a reporter that your Al Gore impression cost him the election.
Yeah, I was devastated. I liked him very much and I knew that he had been overcoached and that's all. There was no pathology there. There was nothing weird about him. There's a photo of him out dancing with his wife and he has a sweaty brow and his tie loosened and a Heineken in his hand. If the country had seen that, not the product of overcoaching ... I'm fascinated with what the results would have been.