“You’re not this way by accident. It’s not a mental illness – it is a mental injury.”
Cracked Up: The Darrell Hammond Story on Netflix. Much of the documentary is taken up with Hammond speaking at different mental health associations, sharing his story.
I knew that Hammond had had years of drug and alcohol abuse and that Lorne Michaels had made sure he checked into various facilities like Hazelden (Michaels in the documentary says that he feels it is his job to take care of his cast’s weaknesses).
Hammond has written a memoir detailing his mother’s physical abuse of him and his father’s rages. The 2011 book is called God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F*cked: Tales of Stand-Up, Saturday Night Live, and Other Mind-Altering Mayhem. We watch him work on a one-play based on the book, which premiered in San Diego. They want to bring it to Broadway but Hammond wants someone else to play him – he had to be hospitalized four times during its run.
In the documentary he mentions his sister once and I immediately wanted to know what had happened to her. Turns out someone wrote a “what happened to…” article about her on May 6th and she said that they would give her money to leave the house before the abuse happened, which is something Hammond never knew about.
Hammond finds out early in his life that he has the same talent as his mother – mimicry. And it is the only time she shows him any love. Each voice is a color to him – Popeye is blue; Porky Pig is yellow. But no voice for his entire life is ever red. There is no red in his life.
At college he starts having flashbacks to his childhood and they start as huge red balls in his sight. To get rid of them he starts cutting himself. That is an immediate pain that he can clearly deal with. Eventually he goes to the university health center and they have no idea what to do with him or for him. Through the years he is diagnosed as bipolar, schizophrenic, having multiple personality disorder, and borderline personality. He is given every type of drug there is to deal with mental health issues. He is hospitalized numerous times and sees many psychiatrists.
For a Mother’s Day sketch at SNL, the cast members are told to invite their mothers and Hammond says he will not. They suggest he dress as his mother. Looking at himself in the mirror, dressed as his mother, he collapses and his blood pressure goes up to 200. One time he leaves an SNL rehearsal in a straitjacket.
When his daughter is born, for the first time in his life, he feels what it is to truly love someone. His mother calls his wife and his mother tells his wife that she’ll need breaks and the mother will take care of her granddaughter. Everything turns red for Hammond as he feels the most intense and complete flashbacks (where before it was snippets) he has ever felt. He is not going to let his mother near his daughter.
After he tries to cut off his right arm, his friends get him to a psychiatric hospital where for the first time the psychiatrist diagnoses childhood trauma, takes him off all the meds treating him for illnesses he does not have, and they delve deep into Hammond’s past.
The documentary is a story of survival. He is not 100% and knows he never will be. But being able to remember and confront what has happened to him has made him stronger. And telling his story is worth it to him just to hear someone say that the book saved their life.
By Carene Lydia Lopez