A favorite of generations of viewers on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," Darrell Hammond's life was not always a lot of laughs. His 2011 book, "God, If You're Not Up There I'm F***ed," revealed a childhood of abuse by his mother. It never derailed his dreams of being a comic whose specialty is dead-on impersonations of Bill Clinton and others. With 14 years on "SNL," he is credited with being the longest-running cast member. The 58-year-old comic is a judge on ABC's new series, "Sing Your Face Off," which premieres Saturday at 9 p.m.
You're famous for your impersonations. Will that help you as a judge on "Sing Your Face Off"?
The contestants are doing impersonations and I know a couple of things about doing them, so hopefully it will help. I actually do demonstrate a couple of times how to do Dr. Phil or how to do Sonny Bono or Sonny and Cher.
Who is the first famous person you mimicked?
Porky Pig. I used to do it for my mom. My mom did impressions, too. I was maybe 7 or 8.
You were so candid in your book. Any regrets about putting it all out there?
No, why? Something happened to me that was really bad and I didn't have anything to do with it. It happened to me. It's a story that I always wanted to tell. I wanted to wait until I wasn't on "SNL" anymore because I didn't want to embarrass the producers there who had been really good to me over the years. I also wanted to wait until my mom died because I was really scared of her.
What kind of reaction did you get from your parents when you became a "SNL" cast member and a well-known personality?
All of a sudden they were all about me for the first time. Well, actually, my dad had always been all about me, but it was hard for him to show a lot of - he was a great soldier, you know? He was a decorated war hero and he brought the battle wounds home with him. He was shell-shocked, but he was very proud. When I actually got "SNL," I invited them both to New York City and Tom Hanks gave us his hotel room at the Paramount Hotel. They stayed there and had a very good time.
So it was a completely different relationship, especially with your mother, once you made it.
I think so, although as my therapy shifted from "Oh, he's a depressed guy" to "Wow, he's a trauma patient." I got in with the trauma doctors at Cornell Hospital, then it became impossible to talk to them. We began to try to figure out exactly why what happened to me happened, you know? That took several years.
You do say in the book that your mother did not want to talk about the abuse she had inflicted on you.
When I tried to talk to her about it, she said, "Don't ever call us again. We are certainly never going to call you again." And she hung up on me. That was it until 9/11.
Considering what you went through, how do you think you were able to develop such a great sense of humor?
I don't really know. The truth is making a crowd of strangers laugh hard is like a drug. I mean, that's part of it. I guess I was kind of funny. My dad was a really funny guy. He was a funny guy when he wasn't miserable. I got the humor from him and I got the impressions from my mom. She could talk like other people probably better than I could.
Do you remember the first time you got a positive reaction from a large group and made them laugh?
I always got it from my friends and fellow athletes in high school and that would be six or seven people. But one night I got the nerve to go on stage at Bonkerz Comedy Club in Orlando [Fla.] You know, I killed the first night. I went on and that was it. I was hooked.
Was becoming a professional ballplayer ever a career path you considered?
I would have taken it in a heartbeat, in a heartbeat over anything else [laughs]. You know, I'm a Yankee fan and when I watch the game I still fantasize about it. I really do. I actually filmed a pilot for TBS three years ago in New Orleans. I got to take batting practice at a minor league park and I almost hit one out.
I was a really good hitter, but I couldn't hit a curveball. As Bob Costas told me one time, "You and about 10 million other guys." You know, the curveball in baseball is the one that separates the children from the adults. It's like when you are playing with a cat with a feather and you are waving it in front of the cat's face. Once the cat understands the game, he will beat you every time. If your reflexes aren't that fast, you can't play at Yankee Stadium.
I'm guessing school and athletics was a kind of sanctuary for you growing up.
Baseball was the escape, man.
And comedy became another form of escape?
Yeah, loved it, loved it, loved it.
The book is disturbing because you went through some horrible things. Was writing it cathartic or hard to do?
I've been to so many doctors trying to figure out what was wrong with me and it wasn't until really the last several years. While I was on "SNL," someone started the ball rolling that something had happened that was really bad. Then I went to this famous doctor almost four years ago and figured it out - cracked the code that 40 other doctors couldn't crack.
You didn't tell anybody at "SNL," so who figured it out?
They found out because of the episodes. I was having flashbacks while I was working there. It wasn't a mental illness. It was a mental injury. Injury is a better word. It is what soldiers go through. My dad went through it. My memories were just repressed until I met a doctor who was ahead of his time and could get up inside there and figure out what happened.
It seems the person who was mentally ill was your mother, really. You were just a victim.
Yeah, I mean, the main thing this guy did was help me understand that monsters can't make themselves. Someone has to make a monster. So for my mother to be a monster, someone had to turn her into that and that was her father. She was hideously abused by this old dude and it's all in the book.
Well, a lot of people may not have not read it yet, but they probably will now.
It is a New York Times best-seller. I'm just saying.
So do you believe in God considering everything?
Absolutely. To be honest with you, when my daughter was born that was so breathtakingly impressive, I believed in God. When you think about the ecosystem in a mother's belly - there's climate control, there's food, there's all kinds of enzymes, there's nurturing - there is a small biosphere inside of a woman! When I saw my daughter being born, I thought, a man can't make that. That just proves it. Then I went to the planetarium in New York City to see about the universe and I thought, well, a man can't make that either. But yes, I absolutely believe in God. I was raised Methodist.
I look forward to seeing you on television again.
I will say there is a young lady on "Sing Your Face Off" who is better than I ever was. As impressionists evolve, she is the next level, the next generation. You will enjoy her immeasurably. She is breathtaking.
Patricia Sheridan: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2613 or follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pasheridan.