For 14 seasons, “Saturday Night Live’s” Darrell Hammond delighted crowds with his uncanny impersonations of Sean Connery, Regis Philbin, and (most notably) former President Bill Clinton. Mimicking over 107 celebrities, Hammond found fame on the sketch show, appearing on films and even performing at the White House Correspondents’ dinner. But behind-the-scenes, the comedian suffered.
Plagued by incapacitating flashbacks, Hammond struggled to cope, eventually turning to substance abuse and self-harm. After 50 years of pain and misdiagnoses, he discovered the root of his ailments: repressed memories from his youth. Documentarian Michelle Esrick captured Hammond’s story in the film “Cracked Up.”
Esrick, who met Hammond via mutual friends years ago, could tell they were both on a healing path and wanted to tell the actor’s story with a balance of comedic clips, interviews, and the intricate sculptures from the artist Dustin Yellin.
“[Hammond] said something to me that really stood out,” Esrick explains to Variety. “His doctor told him not to call what he had a mental illness rather a mental injury.” Esrick says that descriptor blew her mind. “I felt this huge wave of compassion rush through my body and go out to everybody.”
Esrick hopes “Cracked Up” can lift the stigma of shame around mental injury or illness. “Like Darrell says, ‘If you got hit by a car you wouldn’t be ashamed or if you broke your leg you wouldn’t be ashamed.’ But somehow if you have things you can’t explain, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, addictions you feel ashamed.. It’s Darrell’s story, but it’s a bigger story that we both wanted to tell.”
Also featured in the documentary are Lorne Michaels, Steve Higgins, Christopher Ashley, Dr. Nabil Kotbi, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Whoopi Goldberg, and Larry Laskowski.
The world premiere of “Cracked Up” takes place Wednesday, Nov. 14 in New York.