SNL's Darrell Hammond Chronicles His Journey To Sobriety In New Doc

By Paul Gaita 11/16/18

"The drinking calmed my nerves and quieted the disturbing images that sprang into my head… when drinking didn't work, I cut myself," Hammond reveals in the documentary. 

Darrell Hammond discussing his journey to sobriety in his new documentary
Photo via YouTube

Former Saturday Night Live cast member, master impressionist and current announcer Darrell Hammond detailed his struggles with mental illness and drug and alcohol dependency in his 2011 memoir, God, If You're Not Up There, I'm F*cked: Tales of Stand-Up, Saturday Night Live, and Other Mind Altering Mayhem.

Now, a new documentary follows Hammond as he transforms his experiences into a one-man show. Cracked Up finds Hammond delving deeper into his past to find the humor in his pain, and in doing so, unearths memoirs of abuse as a child that gave root to his dependency and illness.

The documentary—directed by Michelle Esrick, and co-produced by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker of The War Room fame—provides plenty of examples of Hammond's self-effacing humor. In a stand-up performance, he recounts the story of drinking absinthe in Mexico and a subsequent stay in a south-of-the-border jail, which provided him with the title of his memoir.

Footage of his iconic take on Bill Clinton is also included, but the documentary appears to be less about Hammond's past accomplishments than his present endeavors, and in particular, the years of treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction.

After four decades of diagnoses, Hammond finally met a mental health professional that pointed to childhood trauma as the root of his issues. But as Steve Higgins—a writer and producer on SNL and the announcer for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon—states in the documentary, Hammond could only recall flashes of these experiences.

Through therapy and alternative treatment like meditation, Hammond was able to address his past abuse—which, as he detailed in his memoir, included stabbings, beatings and electric shocks at the hands of his mother—and the self-medicating he previously undertook to subdue those memories.

"I kept a pint of Remy at my desk at work," he wrote. "The drinking calmed my nerves and quieted the disturbing images that sprang into my head… when drinking didn't work, I cut myself." Hammond's condition worsened over the next decade, culminating in a forced hospitalization in 1998 and cocaine and crack cocaine use in the 2000s. Eventually, he found relief from treatment for his various dependencies and the diagnoses of childhood trauma.

The trailer for Cracked Up concludes with Hammond practicing meditation and musing about the meaning of the word namaste. The word has many definitions, depending on one's practice, but a common explanation is, "The divine in me honors the divine in you."

After a pause, he adds, "Do you think there is such a place?" 

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.