The personal pain that lurks just beneath the humor of many a comedian isn’t exactly a guarded secret, but that which tormented “Saturday Night Live’s” skilled impressionist Darrell Hammond for half a century is adroitly documented in Michelle Esrick’s devastating yet life-affirming “Cracked Up.”
During his 14-season “SNL” tenure, the rubber-faced mimic amused memorably as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Sean Connery and dozens more, but off-stage, the haunting, horrific childhood abuse at the hands of his father and especially his monstrous mother had taken its toll with a history of alcoholism, drug addiction and self-mutilation.
After a laundry-list of misdiagnoses including manic depression and schizophrenia, it took a serious suicide attempt to bring him under the care of a psychiatrist who finally traced the traumatic source of his patient’s deep-rooted afflictions.
Based on Hammond’s 2011 memoir, “God, If You’re Not Up There …,” Esrick’s film tenderly charts his recovery, supplemented by scene rehearsals for his La Jolla Playhouse one-man show inspired by the book, interviews (including Lorne Michaels), contrasted by those comedic performance clips.
“Where I come from the archenemy, the fiend, is the truth,” reflects Hammond upon returning to his Melbourne, Fla., family home.
Esrick’s “Cracked Up” affectingly peels back the years of protective layers trapping the trauma, revealing a man who has found a semblance of peace after a lifetime of battling demons.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 20, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica