Just after 6 a.m. last Friday, Darrell Hammond woke up to the rhythmic pinging of his cellphone. President Trump, in the process of tweeting an attack on actor Alec Baldwin, had invoked the name of the master impressionist and onetime “Saturday Night Live” star.
“Agony,” Trump described Baldwin’s portrayal of him on SNL. “Bring back Darrell Hammond, funnier and a far greater talent!”
Suddenly, Hammond’s name was blasting across the Internet. Fans tweeted their support. Reporters wrote his assistant, trying to get interviews. TV shows wanted to book him. But Hammond remained silent. He found it hard to wrap his mind around the fact that the president of the United States had blasted him back into the spotlight.
“You know, I’m just like fooling around in my apartment, and the next minute Anderson Cooper wants to talk to me? What?” Hammond said in a phone interview with The Washington Post, the first he’s done since Trump’s March 2 tweet. “Someone said to me, you realize people in Jaipur, India, are saying ‘Who’s Darrell Hammond?’ Do you realize that? In Jaipur. It’s true.”
Hammond was one of SNL’s greatest impressionists during his 14-year run with the show, pulling off more than 100 characters, from the lip-biting Bill Clinton to the foul-mouthed Sean Connery. But his Trump was so good, SNL kept him in that role even after he left the cast in 2009. He made his final Trump appearance in 2016. (Taran Killam also briefly held the role.) Then Trump’s candidacy took off, and SNL boss Lorne Michaels decided he wanted a more visceral approach. He tapped Baldwin, a Trump hater whose cartoonish portrayal of the reality-TV star president would go on to earn him an Emmy.
For Hammond, the shift was crushing, which he detailed when he spoke to The Post last year. Hammond, who remains SNL’s announcer, says he’s now at peace with keeping his Trump in the past. He had moved to Los Angeles to get away from the constant questions, taping his intros remotely. Now he’s back in New York and has been a regular presence around Studio 8H. He says he’s ready if they ever ask him to appear again on screen.
“They call me and talk about Hannity,” Hammond says. “You know they called me about a couple of other people that are on the news. But it’s always been like that. Just think about this guy a little bit because I could just sit there at the computer for an hour and basically make a mental map of it if I did have to do this person. … I think this week you know we talked a little about Sam Nunberg just a little bit. I just made some notes on him.”
Hammond as Nunberg? Please, Lorne, make it rain.
“I don’t know what their plans are,” Hammond says. “And I don’t pry.”
He says Trump’s blast led many to ask him a natural question: Would he return to SNL to play some form of Trump, even alongside Baldwin? But Hammond says there was no discussion inside 30 Rock. Michaels did acknowledge the tweet in the hallway one day. Michaels was walking by with a group of his underlings, and spotted Hammond and stopped.
“The president knows your name,” he said.
“He does,” Hammond replied.
“Yes, he knows who you are,” Michaels replied.
“And everyone laughed,” Hammond says. “I laughed. I thought it was kind of funny.” Hammond’s relationship with Trump is different from Baldwin’s. He tries to remain decidedly apolitical. There were times, long before the White House, when he visited with Trump in his office, studying his movements and speech patterns. He even had Ivanka Trump’s phone number on his cellphone, only deleting it after he lost the part. Last year, Jim Downey, the legendary former SNL writer, called Hammond’s Trump impression “the gold standard.”
But Michaels, speaking to The Post last year, said that he wasn’t looking for accuracy as Trump’s candidacy began to build.
“I needed another force, on an acting level, to have the power that Trump was embodying then,” Michaels said. “The Darrell Trump . . . it wasn’t the Trump that had gotten darker. It was the Trump from ‘The Apprentice.’ ”
Hammond says that the Trump tweet didn’t change his mind about portraying the president. That part of his life is over. It had to be over, he says, as it was just too emotionally challenging to figure out how to play the part — with the polarized political climate and his own trauma in losing such a high-profile gig on SNL. But he’s asked what he would have said if Michaels, strolling by one day, stopped and suggested he throw on the wig again.
“I would have said yes,” Hammond says.