Darrell Hammond: ‘You know, I’ve had my life saved by cops since I was on SNL’

Darrell Hammond: ‘You know, I’ve had my life saved by cops since I was on SNL’

By Stephen Owsinsk

Although it is a deeply personal story, uber-talented impersonator Darrel Hammond from “Saturday Night Live” fame is the subject matter regarding his life journey, candidly shared by him in “Cracked Up: The Darrell Hammond Story” (2018) which I recently watched on Netflix.

I was intrigued by the entirety of this man’s story, exposing many grotesque details which I had never known about him, especially one particular moment when Hammond draws upon his many recollections having to do with law enforcement officers in his life. (More on that in a moment.)

I did a deep dig and came across Nicki Swift’s article titled “The Tragic Real-Life Story of Darrell Hammond” in which his saga was recounted, mostly with revelations surrounding his internalized torment while simultaneously putting on the proverbial contrary outward appearance during his years on “Saturday Night Live.”

As is often said, “You never know what goes on behind closed doors.” Cops know this quite well, their souls rife with experiences derived from unfortunate constructs between humans, and they carry such episodes of trauma around, nary having reasonable moments to process matters as they go from call to call, trying feverishly to help others mired in dire straits.

It was near the latter half of “Cracked Up” that I caught a deeply sentimental moment of Mr. Hammond explaining his life journey to reporters at a book-release presser, during which he navigates emotional pools, recounting unspeakable things perpetrated by his physically-abusive mother and his emotionally- scarring alcoholic father.

(As is often said, police officers are exponentially exposed to child abuses, one of the most difficult calls for cops to mitigate and process for both the victim and themselves—I recall each case clearly and can still see sets of young eyes imploring salvation from matters they could hardly comprehend.)

For many reasons, Hammond’s story resonated… 

At one point during a press conference before his book-signing event, Hammond’s retrospective deepens, is raw and spontaneous, evidenced when he is talking about life matters, incongruously landing on the experiences he has had with cops. He pauses in his thoughts and words, pensively paddles into those emotional waters again: “I remember my father was dying…a military funeral…depressed, and I thought, You know what, I am gonna write that book.”

Weeping and wiping with Kleenex, he goes on to say that the book he eventually did write, chronicling his life journey, resulted in a family in Sarasota, Florida writing him to say his memoirs saved their daughter’s life.

With tonal change reflective of reverence, Hammond reveals: “I felt like…anyone that’s ever known…if you’ve ever known a soldier, someone has to do this job. Same with cops. You know, I’ve had my life saved by cops since I was on SNL. I mean, one of the reasons I had to leave was…”

It was at that moment that a seeming publicist or event staffer leaned in and told him they were exceeding scheduled time and needed to get going, abruptly cutting short the presser while Mr. Hammond was bearing his soul and expressing gratitude toward numerous occasions where cops were there to help him through his mental collapses stemming from lifelong trauma.

Hammond becomes visibly annoyed by the unexpected disruption, noticeably shaking his head while uplifting from his studio seat. He goes backstage to the “Green Room” and vents to others how dismayed he was to have his dignity stolen by someone while he was sharing his vulnerability and soul, feeling disrespected by someone who didn’t care about his story.

Well, at various times throughout Hammond’s prime while acting on SNL did law enforcement officers not only care but knew enough to listen, invest time, and situate help for a human pleading for pillars to lean on. Cops catered salvation.

No irony whatsoever that different police officers at varying times saved Hammond from himself…caveated by his book saving someone in Sarasota years later.

And that’s the segue which I drafted in my mind, one which involves me as a 15-year-old having the cold-metal tip of a firearm poked into my right temple after being shoved under a boardwalk in Coney Island, New York.

Against wisdom and parents’ rules, I took the NYC subway to the beach. Hanging out with friends, we found ourselves surrounded by a gang of seeming late-teen males who, I vividly remember, were chock-full of angst…and guns. The glimpse of faces and clothing were about a millisecond before being about-faced.

With gun to my head, my denim pants pockets were rifled. Finding only change, I was pushed face-forward, landing in the sand. Since it was under the boardwalk, the crash of the ocean waves in the backdrop, no witnesses would have a decent view of or hear an in-progress felony involving multiple victims. The perps took off after admonishing, “Don’t you turn around either! Don’t move!” (I left out the expletives.)

We didn’t; not right away.

Having aspired to be a cop since age 5-6, I immediately knew we had to call police. That wasn’t necessary: a NYPD patrol car happened to be rolling by on the nearest oceanfront street.

We ran to them, waved wildly, and spewed our predicament. I was elated to be in their company after being subjected to armed thuggery. Even more so as a kid enamored with police culture and cop aspirations blanketing my young brain.

One policeman radioed the armed robbery and the need for another cruiser, subsequently driving us around the area to see if these armed thugs were walking the streets, to no avail.

To the precinct house we went. One by one we were interviewed by a robbery detective. I recall that suited policeman, his hip-holstered firearm and shiny gold badge, his measured persona, his calm demeanor intermittently encroached by frustration over what had happened, and his frankness regarding why it is always wise to listen to parents/elders. He was right; we shouldn’t have even been there.

Nevertheless, I know I was safer in their presence—much like Mr. Hammond expressed he felt saved by many cops throughout his rough lifespan.     

Years later, my mom was the victim of an armed robbery. Retrieving mail from the vestibule mailboxes, concentrated and head down, a gunman came up from behind her and pushed what she described as “a cold gun barrel” to the back of her neck. As with Mr. Hammond’s saviors donning police badges and the Coney Island cops and detective exhibiting fidelity to a bunch of terrorized kids, cops responded and gave my mom all the time to settle, tell her story, and assured her they would move mountains to find and arrest the gunman.

Days later, a police detective visited our home and reassured my mom and family they were doing everything possible to achieve justice. I watched the veteran cop exercise utter patience and consolation with my understandably impacted mom, methodically underscoring none of this event was her fault.

Despite police measures and well-intentioned attributes, the suspect was never apprehended, and my mom was soon-after diagnosed with agoraphobia, a secondary born of the primary victimization due to a thief with a gun.

Largely reclusive, my mom filed away the horrific event caused by a gunman yet often opened up about the professionalism and compassion she received from NYPD’s Finest.

Much the same sentiments I harbor regarding the LEOs involved in my victimization.

Although I still wonder how Mr. Hammond would have expounded had he not been interrupted by a clock-watching publicist, it was evident he attributes deserved credit to different cops across varying calendar days saving him from himself during multiple occasions when despair was staring him down. That was more than conjured while viewing the documentary exposing and surviving his life-long trauma. (I also harbor skepticism over the publicist choosing to disrupt him right after he spoke the word “cops” with utter fondness.)

In all of this is gratitude…honoring police officials for their humanity, decency, bravery, compassion,  fidelity, and distinguished service toward answering the cry for help. The stupid, shallow salvos blasted by mainstream media are shameful. And the drivel by dribbler LeBron James is shown for what it is: Idiocy and cowardice.

I know I reconstituted what cops did for me and my family many years ago, reinvesting their attributes and contributions throughout my own career as a cop—it’s all relative.

As a policeman, I had occasion to serve on our department’s Oral Board, screening candidates for potential success as law enforcers in a tough environment. One main staple among most police prospects is their own version(s) of victimization: if not themselves, then someone near and dear to them having been subjected to malice from a malcontent. And it universally factored into their Why, the core motivation toward a lengthy application process, being chosen, being outfitted and equipped with probationary attire/gear, enduring rigorous physical training, molding mental acuity, and ultimately solemnly swearing to embrace every syllable in our beloved Constitution.

Underscoring Mr. Hammond’s enduring ordeal with several cops in the life-saving mix are exponential factors and dividends. Nowadays, he travels around and speaks to groups of mental health professionals, victims, public safety officials, clinicians, and anyone with relevance to overcoming massive odds and providing salvation to others. Candidly and through occasional tears (as seen in the documentary), he courageously and selflessly dissects and offers morsels of his saga.

In that context, I admiringly muse the many similar episodes whereby men and women wearing badges not only aided countless lives but in so doing tendered numbers for the win column, not only fostering but also spreading the wealth of welfare…