The Trauma Behind the Humor
Despite being known for his hilarious impressions, Hammond says his entire life hasn’t always been laughs. In his book, God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F****d, he chronicles the struggles he endured as a child in an abusive relationship with his mother, who he credits as the main source for his comedy.
“My mother was a great impressionist,” Hammond says. “She wasn’t interested in a career in show business but she imitated people in the neighborhood — the coaches, the secretaries, the teachers. People would come to our house, and she could talk like them. So, one day, this guy named Mr. Nelson left our house, and I started talking like him. I had heard her talking like him and then we were both doing it, and it was weird. She looked at me with the strangest look like, ‘Oh, my God, now you? You’re also doing this?’”
[AD]Yet, while his mother inspired him, Hammond says she also tortured and abused him for years, once beat him bloody with a high heel shoe, placed his fingers in electrical sockets, and even sliced his tongue open with a steak knife. In his book, he recalls her cutting him when he was only 3 years old.
Dr. Phil recounts another traumatic incident when Hammond’s mother slammed a car door on his hand. “What do you say to yourself after that happens?” he asks.
“I’m bad,” Hammond explains. “It’s my fault.”
“You almost made an excuse for her in your book. You said, ‘She wasn’t trying to break my hand. She was just showing me she could do this.’ What does that mean?” Dr. Phil asks.
“It’s her way of saying to someone, ‘I control you. I can hurt you and do anything I want to you, and you need to shut up about this,’” Hammond explains.
“But you know, as I read this, I kept feeling the sense that you were apologizing for her,” Dr. Phil insists. “It was almost like you were saying, ‘As you read this, don’t judge her too harshly. This is just the way it was.’ I’ve got to tell you, I worry that you would still think that even as you write this as an adult. There’s nothing you can do that justifies this behavior. I got the sense as I read this that you’re still of that opinion.”
[AD]“Well, it’s better to believe that you’re the bad one, than that your mom doesn’t love you,” Hammond responds.
Dr. Phil asks Hammond what advice he would have given himself as a child struggling to survive his mother’s abuse. “If you were able to travel in time, and speak to that young man, what would you tell him?” he asks.
“I’d tell him, ‘I’m going to save you,’” Hammond says, growing tearful. “‘I’m going to get you out of this, and the President is going to like you. You’re going to meet four presidents, brother.’”
“How did you find the strength to survive?” Dr. Phil asks.
“When I was younger, in my teens and through my 20s, I drank. When I entered therapy, I asked for help,” he says. To cope with his childhood memories, Hammond says he also abused drugs and began cutting himself so badly, he was once escorted from his SNL office in a straitjacket.
[AD]Dr. Phil asks Hammond why he chose to cut himself.
“I’m not sure why I did,” he admits. “At the time, I wanted people to see someone who had cut open their arm and say, ‘Is something wrong in your house? Is something wrong there?’ but that never happened. Then, as I got older, I wanted to create a crisis that was manageable. [Cutting myself] was just a new crisis but it was manageable. I could put a bandage on it. I could wrap it up. That was a problem I could fix, but I could not fix what was going on inside of my head.”
“Did you ever confront your mother about the abuse?” Dr. Phil asks.
“I did; she told me never to call her again,” Hammond explains. “All I said to her was, ‘I’m at Cornell hospital. They’re treating me for the symptoms of someone who was in a prisoner-of-war camp, but all I did was grow up in your house. Can we talk about that?’ Pause. She didn’t hesitate. She told me, ‘Don’t ever call here again, and we’ll never call you again.’ Click. I never saw her again until she was on her death bed.”
“And what happened then?”
“The preacher was there. He’s a sincere, great man. He said, ‘You have got to let God do this. Don’t be mean to her while she’s dying,’” Hammond explains. He says he heeded the preacher’s advice but still questions if he has completely forgiven his mother.
“Did you ever need to say, ‘You rotten bitch; you hurt me when I was a little boy, and I’ll never forgive you for that?’” Dr. Phil asks Hammond.
“Yes, I did need to say that,” he admits, explaining that when she died, he felt as if he never really knew who she was.
“Have you ever taken your power back completely?” Dr. Phil asks Hammond of his abusive relationship with his mother.
“I don’t know how to do that,” he confides. “I don’t know how that feels. I don’t have flashbacks or nightmares anymore, but is that taking my power back?”
[AD]“Well, you tell me. Does she still dictate negative parts of who you are today?” Dr. Phil asks. He tells Hammond that if he feels worthless or negatively toward himself because of his mother, then she still has control over his emotions. “If that’s still part of your personal truth, and you let her control you from the grave in that way, then you haven’t taken your power back.”
"Honestly, I don’t feel like I used to anymore," he explains. "I feel like I'm doing pretty well.”
“Have you forgiven her?” Dr. Phil asks.
“At some point, you’ve got to decide, 'I’m now an adult, and I make the choices. The past is over. The future hasn’t happened yet. The only time is right now, and I choose to be free right now. I claim it for myself right now.' And I would like you to think about that.
“I am thinking about that, thank you,” he says.
[AD]“And I say that because I am huge fan of yours; you know that. I want to know that you have peace in your life because you bring a lot of joy to a lot of people. True? For God’s sake, you talked about doing karaoke in a mental institution.”