Darrell Hammond has worn many faces: Bill Clinton, John Travolta, Sean Connery, Jay Leno and Donald Trump, to name a few.
Known for his versatile and accurate impersonations, Hammond was the longest-running cast member on Saturday Night Live, performing on the show from 1995-2009. Yet off camera, the comedian struggled with serious issues of addictions and trauma as a result of childhood abuse.
Hammond detailed his journey to recovery in a bestselling book that is now being adapted into a Broadway play. We caught up with Hammond to discuss his career, motivation and inspiration.
You had a long-standing career on SNL. What’s one of your favorite memories from being on the show?
Being bear hugged by John McCain and working with Peyton Manning.
Which of your impressions on SNL has been your favorite to perform and why?
Chris Matthews. He’s not just a colorful guy; his personality lends itself to delivering snappy, quick one-liners that get the kind of explosion that makes you feel like you’ve done your job as a comedian. Hands down one of the funniest dudes I’ve ever met in person.
Were you always an impressionist growing up, even as a kid? If so, what was your earliest impression?
The earliest was Popeye. I always enjoyed talking like other people, but I didn’t consider them impressions; I was just trying to be as funny as that person.
As a child, what or whom did you turn to for hope or happiness to get through difficult times?
I was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. [and] his words “truth crushed to Earth will rise again.” It made me hope that one day it would be safe to tell my story.
In your opinion, what can be done to change the culture of childhood abuse?
Promoting the idea that mental illness is not an airborne virus. It comes from somewhere specific. Whenever you see a monster, you should look for the other monster who created him/her. Monsters cannot make themselves.
Who’s your hero?
What’s your life motto?
Remain teachable and open minded. There’s always something new to learn.
What else would you like to achieve before you die?
I want to live in New Orleans full time and raise awareness and money for children’s advocacy groups.