Reading Darrell Hammond’s harrowing memoir God, If You’re Not Up There I’m F*cked is difficult in light of Robin Williams’ recent death. Like Williams, Hammond is a talented comedian who also struggles with substance abuse and depression. While many would like saddle Hammond with the “sad clown” cliché – the trope that a comedian is depressed because he’s so busy making other people happy, he doesn’t have time to make himself happy – the story is much more complex. Hammond’s story is one of recovery and creativity. A book like this is both disturbing and illuminating. Hammond’s willingness to share is bracing and impressive.
Known for his prodigious talent for impressions, Hammond’s celebrity is mainly due to his 14 years on Saturday Night Live. Interestingly enough, though he did celebrities like Phil Donahue, Sean Connery or Ted Koppel, his most popular and most noteworthy work was his politician impressions: Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John McCain, Fred Thompson, Donald Trump, and Dick Cheney in particular. By his own admission, Hammond’s comedy was largely relegated to impressions, leaving his other work on SNL, limited to minor roles. One would assume that because of his focus on Washington, Hammond would be politically astute. Even though he enjoyed warm friendships with his targets, Hammond openly admits political indifference and ignorance. His apolitical posturing, while noble, does make a lot of his writing seem toothless and safe.
Thankfully when he shifts focus from show business, the writing becomes much more urgent and passionate, reflecting the witty title. Hammond’s childhood was wretched: an army vet dad who suffered from PTSD and was largely emotionally distant from his son. And worse than that, a physically abusive mother would mete out acts of torture on her son. In this awful environment, Hammond found his love for baseball, but injuries kept him from becoming pro. He then turned to drama and found his way. The damage, though, was done – even though he found his calling in comedy, his life was perpetually sidelined by his demons and addictions.
When describing his stints in rehab, Hammond shows a genuine talent for writing. He writes about the other patients with love and care – these characters had personal stories that were just as frightening as Hammond’s: the abused and neglected of society who often remain invisible are instead blessed with dignity and grace with Hammond’s pen. He doesn’t create heroes or role models; instead, he makes them human beings. Too often addicts are painted as self-involved and self-indulgent – what Hammond does is he places these people in a larger context, by sharing backstories that give some clues as to why people become ill. He doesn’t claim to be the voice of addiction, but by telling his story as well as the stories of his friends, he gives much-needed complexity to popular conceptions of addictions.
Not all of the book works- his name dropping doesn’t do anything for his narrative because, save for Paris Hilton, all of the celebrities he runs into are gracious and polite according to Hammond. He doesn’t go into much depth when writing about his star encounters, other than that said celebrity was game and receptive and got along well with the cast and the writers. If one is looking for dish, then Hammond’s book will not suffice – better look into former cast member Jay Mohr’s Gasping for Air Time or Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s excellent Life from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live for tales of spoiled celebrities who abuse their fame. Hammond’s a gentleman, and rarely goes into any detail when writing about the stars who hosted the show.
When writing about addiction and fame, often the stories take on faux-heroic tones – professional survivors are endemic in showbiz. Thankfully, Hammond stays clear from self-pity or self aggrandizement. He successfully imparts his struggles and his journey without indulging in any sort of pop psycho-babble: instead he uses clear language with some beautiful writing (I loved the detail and care he gives when he writes about his fellow patients in the rehab centers). God, If You’re Not There, I’m F*cked is a tremendous accomplishment.
Click here to buy Darrell Hammond’s God, If You’re Not There, I’m F*cked on amazon.com.