The Washington Post published an extensive piece today on SNL veteran Darrell Hammond, a friend of mine whom I met back in 80s. Normally, I would hesitate to call him a friend, in that we were on the road together 30 years ago when no one knew our names, and today he is one of the best-known comedians and impressionists in the world. But whenever we connect, he acts like its 1984 and we’re eating breakfast at a Denny’s in some unknown town in some forgettable part of America. He treats me not only like a peer, but also as a friend. And considering what he’s been through, I find this more emotional and meaningful than flattering. Despite his fame, he’s still the same sweet, complex guy. And he’s been through a lot.
Comedy is not for the faint of heart. And for many, like Darrell, it comes from a place of great pain. As the Post article reveals, Darrell has weathered some horrible periods. But for all I can tell, his soul is amazingly intact. I only see him every four to five years, but he always remembers to ask me about my life, my kids, my career. He says things like, “it’s remarkable how much success we’ve had,” as if we are entertainment peers. That’s how he makes you feel. Once, backstage after an SNL episode, I saw Chris Matthews fawning all over Darrell, and you could just tell that it made him uncomfortable. But he was a real pro. He went along with it all. Afterward, my wife and I went to the post-show party, and Darrell wasn’t there. It made me sad.
You will read a lot of things about him in the article. For example, Darrell has survived abuse and battled mental illness his whole life. The stories will shock you. And his sudden departure from SNL caused him great angst, not simply because of the rejection, but he believed he knew a Trump beyond the popular characture. Darrell is a remarkable impressionist, but his art consists of more than just mimicking sounds and faces. It reveals an understanding of people, of human nature. I know because he once did an impression of me when I first met him. I had only known him a few weeks, but he picked up on this thing I do when I’m unsure of myself. A little twitch. It blew me away. His is a real art, in a way few understand.
I got together with Darrell last spring, and discovered he was still dealing with the pain of being replaced by Alec Baldwin as Trump on SNL. But as usual, we had a cup of coffee, and mused about the past, our lives, and things that really matter. I still shake my head to think that, in the whirlwind that is his life, Darrell still remembers me. I’ve been very fortunate in my career and along the way I’ve been close to some tremendously talented people. I’ve learned from some, collaborated with others, and some have simply been my friend.