Cracked Up: The Darrell Hammond Story on Netflix

by Carene Lydia Lopez on May 10, 2020

“You’re not this way by accident. It’s not a mental illness – it is a mental injury.”

Cracked Up: The Darrell Hammond Story on Netflix. Much of the documentary is taken up with Hammond speaking at different mental health associations, sharing his story.

I knew that Hammond had had years of drug and alcohol abuse and that Lorne Michaels had made sure he checked into various facilities like Hazelden (Michaels in the documentary says that he feels it is his job to take care of his cast’s weaknesses).

Hammond has written a memoir detailing his mother’s physical abuse of him and his father’s rages. The 2011 book is called God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F*cked: Tales of Stand-Up, Saturday Night Live, and Other Mind-Altering Mayhem. We watch him work on a one-play based on the book, which premiered in San Diego. They want to bring it to Broadway but Hammond wants someone else to play him – he had to be hospitalized four times during its run.

In the documentary he mentions his sister once and I immediately wanted to know what had happened to her. Turns out someone wrote a “what happened to…” article about her on May 6th and she said that they would give her money to leave the house before the abuse happened, which is something Hammond never knew about.

Hammond finds out early in his life that he has the same talent as his mother – mimicry. And it is the only time she shows him any love. Each voice is a color to him – Popeye is blue; Porky Pig is yellow. But no voice for his entire life is ever red. There is no red in his life.

At college he starts having flashbacks to his childhood and they start as huge red balls in his sight. To get rid of them he starts cutting himself. That is an immediate pain that he can clearly deal with. Eventually he goes to the university health center and they have no idea what to do with him or for him. Through the years he is diagnosed as bipolar, schizophrenic, having multiple personality disorder, and borderline personality. He is given every type of drug there is to deal with mental health issues. He is hospitalized numerous times and sees many psychiatrists.

For a Mother’s Day sketch at SNL, the cast members are told to invite their mothers and Hammond says he will not. They suggest he dress as his mother. Looking at himself in the mirror, dressed as his mother, he collapses and his blood pressure goes up to 200. One time he leaves an SNL rehearsal in a straitjacket.

When his daughter is born, for the first time in his life, he feels what it is to truly love someone. His mother calls his wife and his mother tells his wife that she’ll need breaks and the mother will take care of her granddaughter. Everything turns red for Hammond as he feels the most intense and complete flashbacks (where before it was snippets) he has ever felt. He is not going to let his mother near his daughter.

After he tries to cut off his right arm, his friends get him to a psychiatric hospital where for the first time the psychiatrist diagnoses childhood trauma, takes him off all the meds treating him for illnesses he does not have, and they delve deep into Hammond’s past.

The documentary is a story of survival. He is not 100% and knows he never will be. But being able to remember and confront what has happened to him has made him stronger. And telling his story is worth it to him just to hear someone say that the book saved their life.

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I had been looking forward to seeing Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band in the theaters – I had seen The Last Waltz at the Ziegfeld Theater and I wanted the experience to be similar. Especially looking at Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko from 1978. But current circumstances were preventing that from happening. Then meli said that her local theater was playing it through their virtual cinema (movies theaters all over the country are doing virtual cinema). But she sent me that link and that’s what I used to watch the movie. Once you pay, you have 30 days to see it. And once you start watching, you have 72 hours to finish the movie.

The movie did not disappoint. As the title suggests, this is Robbie’s story and his point of view. If you want Levon’s side of things, read his biography. Much of the film comes from Robbie’s book Testimony: A Memoir but, of course, it cannot go into as much detail as the book does. The film glosses over his early years and concentrates on when Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson first started playing together in Toronto as The Hawks backing rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins and then left Hawkins to perform as Levon and the Hawks for a while. The mostly Canadian band (Levon was from Arkansas) eventually hooked up with Bob Dylan and backed him up during his controversial “electric” tour. They all ended up in Woodstock at the Pink House, lived together, and wrote and played all day. Since they were always referred to as The Band by the people in town, that became their name.

Some incredible music came out of that time. They recorded two albums of what now would be called Americana or American roots music and are classics. I remember the first time I heard songs from Music from Big Pink (1968) and The Band (1969) and I thought they had recorded folk songs that people in Appalachia and the South had been singing for years. I could not believe this was all original music. What they did changed the way a lot of musicians looked at what they themselves were doing and many of them changed their styles.

The Band was the perfect synergy of musicians. Several of them were multi-instrumentalists (Garth, Richard, Rick). Three of them wrote songs (Richard, Robbie, Rick) and three of them sang (Richard, Levon, Rick). Dylan did co-write some songs because it all began with improvisations of some of Dylan’s material, which were eventually released as The Basement Tapes.

It did not last long. Drugs and alcohol kept some of the band members away from the music. And finally, they all had it with each other and were not having any fun and they went out with The Last Waltz.

Years later – around 1996/7, I saw the Robbie-less version of The Band that had reunited in 1983 and was touring (also without Richard Manuel, who had committed suicide in 1986). We all sang the songs with them and I was so thrilled to be in their presence, even if it was not the original line-up.

The movie is a wonderful capsule of that time. Robbie puts himself in a better light than the others – I remember reading about his drug problems also, though what I read was about the period after The Band broke up. His ex-wife is prominent and I kept thinking that I knew he was divorced and when I looked it up afterwards, I saw that he was. But you would never know it from the way she is interviewed. None of that ruined the film for me. It is the story of a time, a place, and a group of men in that time and place and what they did together was magic.

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Frankenstein: National Theatre on YouTube 1 May – 8 May only

May 3, 2020

The National Theatre’s YouTube channel is showing Frankenstein. There are two versions: Benedict Cumberbatch is the monster and Jonny Lee Miller is Frankenstein. In the other version, they switch roles. The two Sherlocks. The play is a steampunk lover’s dream – costumes and set design. Acting is brilliant, of course. It’s a two-hour play and […]

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Performances in the Time of Corona

May 3, 2020

No shows in April, of course. I did watch a lot of StageIt, Instagram, and Facebook live concerts from various favorite musicians. And I will continue to do so as long as we are sheltering in place. Follow your favorite musicians, donate to their Paypals or Venmo’s, buy their music and merchandise through their sites. […]

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Coal Country: Anspacher Theater at The Public Theater 11 March 2020

March 12, 2020

rtb was gifted with a subscription to The Public Theater and she was kind enough to ask me to join her to see Coal Country at the Anspacher Theater since, as she put it, Steve Earle is my bae. Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen wrote this play based on real-life accounts by survivors and family […]

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Sky-Pony: Mercury Lounge 8 March 2020

March 10, 2020

Almost one year to the day, mollyT and I went to a concert by the West Village Chorale with special guest Sky-Pony, a rock band that threads theater and art through their performance. They do covers and originals. When Mercury Lounge announced an early Sunday night show with Sky-Pony, mollyT and I were there. It […]

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Lucero: White Eagle Hall, Jersey City, NJ 21 February 2020

March 3, 2020

I need at least another day added to the week so that I have time to write up all the reviews I need to write up. The closest my boys were coming to NYC was going to be Jersey City – Ben (Nichols – vocals, electric and acoustic guitars) did his now three-peat solo gig […]

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Cambodian Rock Band: Signature Theatre 11 February 2020

February 12, 2020

Yesterday, one of my bosses gifted me with his tickets to see Cambodian Rock Band at the Irene Diamond Stage in the Signature Theatre. Walking to the theater, which is way over on the far west end of 42nd Street, I was struck by how much that area has changed. I used to work near […]

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National Civil Rights Museum: Memphis, TN 15 December 2019

December 27, 2019

You can read about the rest of my Memphis trip starting here. “…justice too long delayed is justice denied…” I took a Lyft from the hotel to the National Museum of Civil Rights located in the former Lorraine Hotel. Jacqueline Smith was across the street setting up for her long-term protest – 31 years and […]

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Memphis: Day Four 15 December 2019

December 27, 2019

My last day in Memphis. Once again, a hotel breakfast. I checked out and told them I would like to leave my bags with them. I was directed to an unlocked linen closet. It is a good thing that I am a trusting person. I took at Lyft to the National Museum of Civil Rights […]

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