If you’re of a certain generation, “Saturday Night Live” veteran Darrell Hammond is as familiar as John Belushi was to the show’s audience in the ’70s.
But it wasn’t over-the-top stunts that drew attention to Hammond, who became the show’s longest-running cast member (Kenan Thompson may surpass him this year). Alec Baldwin may wear the sloping red toupee now, but Hammond’s hilarious impressions of President Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and Sean Connery endeared him to viewers for 14 years.
Although he’s the show’s current announcer – remotely, from Hollywood – Hammond’s return to standup gives fans a chance to see his greatest impressions live. In advance of the four shows he’s doing at The Comedy Zone this weekend, Hammond spoke to The Observer Monday about his revealing 2011 memoir, getting back to standup, and, of course, President Trump.
Q. You’ve done a number of political impressions. Now one of the celebrities you played on “SNL” is president. What are your thoughts on Trump?
A. It’s not the person that I knew when I knew him. It’s not the person I spent time with. That’s not weird in any way, though. People change in a different context. Suddenly he’s standing in front of 30,000 adoring, cheering, screaming people, and you change. There is no way that experience doesn’t change you.
I opened for Denis Leary, and hearing 10,000 people laugh at my jokes, within 10 minutes of stepping on stage I was aware I was becoming a different comedian. I was making larger hand gestures, editing on the fly, moving faster. … I saw Trump using lots of new hand gestures. And I never saw him yell before.
Q. Are impressions still a big part of your act?
A. I know people want certain characters. If you see the Rolling Stones, you would rather see them play their hits instead of their new jazz album or medieval waltzes.
Q. You don’t seem to mind.
A. I’m in an enviable position playing great clubs only. Not like when I was in a sports bar and people would be watching the game. I did a job in Vegas where naked women were walking around in the audience.
Q. Has your standup style changed since the early days?
A. There was a time before “SNL”, because New York City dictated it, that I was basically a monologist. That’s what club owners liked. I had to learn to write straight monologues. It was beneficial when all people wanted from me was impressions. I wasn’t left standing there just doing my magic act.
Q. You wrote a very honest account of your struggles with drugs and depression and childhood abuse in your 2011 memoir. Have you had a lot of feedback from fans?
A. There’s that certain section of the world where people exist who’ve had tragedy. Not everyone has had tragedy. Maybe they have. I don’t know. But (there are) people who’ve had bad experiences like your own. People come and tell me what that book did in their world to sort of illuminate a problem and let them get help. I had a girl come up to me with her mom and she showed me the scars on her wrists and arms. Her mom didn’t know why she had been cutting and then found out why, and she’s not doing it now. Moms don’t know about it until it’s brought into their world. Hearing that makes me think writing that book, I did something halfway worthwhile.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, and 7 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Comedy Zone, 900 NC Music Factory Blvd.
Details: 980-321-4702; www.cltcomedyzone.com