You probably know Darrell Hammond and you probably have a favorite “Saturday Night Live” skit that he performed during his tenure of 14 years on the show, the longest of any SNL comedian. He is simply laugh-out-loud funny…whether he is doing his best impersonation of Bill Clinton or George Bush, or asking Will Ferrell to take “The Rapists” for $700 on “Celebrity Jeopardy” (that’s “therapists”), while impersonating Sean Connery.
The guy is just awesome.
With Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor celebrating its 20th season, Hammond will be playing the role of Truman Capote in the play TRU, which will run at the theater from May 31 to June 26. Of course, a lot of people are going to see this show to see Darrell Hammond play the role, and you can get tickets to it in advance should you be so interested.
Hammond, having made his enormous career out of comedy, didn’t start out as a comedian. He was more of a sports guy.
“I grew up in Melbourne, Florida. I was really into baseball when I was a kid. I played outfield, I pitched and I played in the Babe Ruth League. Then, I was known for being an athlete.”
It wasn’t until college that Hammond learned that he had a talent for acting. “I went to the University of Florida, and Brevard Community College, and got a degree in advertising and a minor in theatre. When I was in college I did a play called, When Are You Comin’ Back Red Rider? I sort of just gave it a shot. I had been playing baseball for a lot of years and I don’t know, I just saw a brochure for some theatre classes and needed to fulfill a minor in college, so I decided to give it a try. I got some really positive feedback from it and I decided to see what I could do with it.”
It was at that point that Hammond decided he was going to make the leap and attempt what many fail at, becoming an actor in New York.
“I moved to New York at 21 and did five plays, but I got tired of the lifestyle and moved back to Florida when New York City beat me down in the beginning. I did the classic schedule of waiting tables and living the poor actor’s life. I’d get a job in a play and then would have to quit my job waiting tables. It was really tough. The beginning of an actor’s career is always really tough. I moved back to Florida and it sort of felt like it was the end of my dream. I even moved back in with my parents.”
But what Hammond thought was the end was really just the beginning for him. His move back to Florida lead him towards a career in radio, which led to some name recognition. “While back at home I got a job in radio doing voice-over work and things like that. Eventually I was able to get hired with a big radio station in Orlando called BJ105, which was a pop station. From there, my name started getting really out there. I started doing stand-up and radio and got my confidence back up and moved back to New York. When I moved back, I felt like I could really make something happen there.”
With newfound confidence and back in the big city, opportunities presented themselves and Hammond started getting noticed. “I knew that at the time there was a lot of work in the tri-state area. So I figured that I’d be able to get into one of the comedy clubs there. The first one I got into was the Comedy Cellar, where just about everybody you’ve ever heard of has worked in or started at. I got enough attention there that Caroline’s started using me as a stand-up and that is when SNL spotted me…that was my big break. That was THE break.”
With the power of “Saturday Night Live” and the strength of his personality on camera, Hammond was able to rocket to the top echelon of comedy, a place where very few men have stood. Interestingly, what made Hammond hilarious on SNL wasn’t really part of his act before he got there. Hammond, who is known for his spot-on impressions, was never really that guy until SNL. “I wasn’t really doing impressions anymore by the time SNL found me, but when I went to work for SNL, that became a big part of my life. I enjoyed my time at SNL very much. At the end of every show, if I thought I did well I felt great…99% of working for “Saturday Night Live” is amazing. The hardest part of it would be on Saturday, where the pressure would be really high to perform and that was when I really felt like it was work. The most amazing part of SNL was getting to meet a few of the presidents. I got to shake hands with Bill Clinton and George Bush Senior as well as George Bush Junior, both of whom were very nice guys. Working for SNL feels really special. It’s hard to get on it, it’s hard to leave it and it’s really magic.”
Hammond also loves the East End, especially Sag Harbor, where he enjoys performing at Bay Street. “Years ago I did a couple of plays at Bay Street Theatre and I really enjoyed it. My favorite part of the East End is that little hub area down by the Bay Street Theatre where you can walk along the water or grab an ice cream or a pizza at those little shops. I stayed at the American Hotel recently and I love it there…I like where the gym is by the Bay Street Theatre, and the Corner Bar…I love the Corner Bar! And B. Smiths! It’s no secret, everybody loves it here, it’s a great place, you can’t beat it. I usually rent a house when I’m out here, but it’s pretty much included with what I do for Bay Street. I’ve stayed at some really amazing houses, really nice farmhouses, really nice.”
The only thing that Hammond doesn’t like to do is swim in the ocean. Visit the ocean yes, swim in it, no. “I go down to the beaches on the East End and they are beautiful, but I never jump in the water, I’m not much of a swimmer. When I was 19 in Florida, I saw two hammerheads up close and that was it for me. I’m not able to describe the level of fear that I experienced with that.”
Check out Darrell Hammond as Truman Capote at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor this summer. You aren’t going to want to miss the chance to see this guy on stage.
TRU, written by Jay Presson Allen and directed by Judith Ivey. Bay Street Theatre, 1 Bay St., Sag Harbor. May 31 through June 26, 8 p.m. Box Office: 631-725-9500, [email protected].