Behind all the jokes that made Darrell Hammond a star was the suffering caused by an abusive childhood.
Hammond, 59, a stand-up comedian and writer and the longest-tenured cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” lived with drug and alcohol addictions and the self abuse of cutting.
He believes telling his story may help others survive mental illness and trauma.
“Growing up, I didn’t have anyone to help me,” he said from New York. “Maybe there are other people like that.”
Hammond is the featured speaker for the Mental Health Association for Greater Baton Rouge’s 60th Anniversary Celebration on Nov. 4 at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
“Watching Darrell Hammond throughout the years on ‘SNL,’ you never would have guessed he was silently suffering,” said Melissa Silva, executive director of the Mental Health Association.
The Mental Health Association promotes advocacy and education on mental illness and includes services like a day program for adults with mental illness and a living facility for those dealing with substance abuse.
Those kinds of programs could have helped, Hammond said.
“I sure wish I had it,” he said. “I didn’t have nothing but ‘He’s a crazy son-of-a-bitch,’ as if I had something to do with it, as if I had chosen it.”
Raised in Florida, Hammond’s mother inflicted regular abuse on him, Hammond wrote in his memoir, “God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F*cked.”
His impersonations of President Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Sean Connery and 100 other celebrities made Hammond a memorable part of 14 seasons of “Saturday Night Live.”
“I did function at a high level,” he said. “I didn’t drink when I worked, but I did have this whole other illness I was living with, and when people were asking how I could work at such a high level — it’s pretty fun to do my job. It must be fun to get paid to hit a baseball, but it’s certainly fun to get paid to perform.”
For years, doctors misdiagnosed him as suffering from bipolar and borderline personality disorders and chemical imbalances.
Treatment for these never helped him.
“What was wrong with me had a story,” he said, “and I wasn’t the only person involved in that story.”
In the last five years, he received treatment as a trauma patient and has made progress, Hammond said.
He now appears often in public to speak in very frank terms often about mental illness and alcohol and drug addiction.
This season, Hammond took over as the announcer for “Saturday Night Live” following the death of longtime announcer Don Pardo, and he is working with the La Jolla Playhouse in California to turn his memoir into a Broadway play.