How Darrell Hammond Channels His Inner Donald Trump on 'SNL'
"You don't want to editorialize," the comedian explained. "The problem is this: The closer you get to distasteful or what a person would consider below the belt, the funnier you are."
It takes a great deal of time to nail an impression of Donald Trump.
In fact, the Saturday Night Live comedian who perhaps best satirizes the billionaire businessman says he still has work to do.
"It is not all the way finished," Darrell Hammond tells The Hollywood Reporter of his Trump impression. "I watched it the other day, and I winced at it. It's not as good as I want it to be."
No matter how over-the-top an impression may seem to the audience, there is a fine line the SNL cast walks every week during a politically charged presidential election season.
"You don't want to editorialize," he says. "The problem is this: The closer you get to distasteful or what a person would consider below the belt, the funnier you are. But you really want to try and not step over that line if you can. I mean, they are presidential candidates for God's sake. You want to lend them that respect. [Their statements have] to be on TV or in the newspaper or online. They have to do it."
That notion is exactly why Hammond didn't think twice about his Trump commenting on the size of his penis in a recent sketch — the actual Trump did the same thing during the last GOP debate.
"I think of it like a locker room towel snap," Hammond says of the impressions being in good fun.
The comedian revealed that the key to unlocking the best impression is to study a person's idiosyncrasies but also be fair in the final presentation. He visits comedy clubs during the week to refine his version of Trump because, he says, he feels it is lacking.
"It's like a cinder pops out of the fire and hits your clothes, and you just brush it off." That is the first image that comes to Hammond's mind when he talks about finding his inner-Trump.
That idea, he says, is both literal and figurative.
"It's almost like the negative thoughts — [Trump] just brushes them off, and that is why we first started doing these hands. I would touch my chest and flip the hands out, sort of flipping away anything that is negative or disagreeable," Hammond says.
Once a full-time castmember and now the show's announcer after the 2014 passing of Don Pardo, Hammond has been crafting his impression of The Donald for more than a decade (he first trotted it out around the premiere of The Apprentice).
The comedian has countless spot-on impressions in his comedy bag, including fan favorites Bill Clinton, Al Gore and, of course, the dastardly Sean Connery. But Trump is different, he contends. There are tiny details that make the man that need to be in place in order to do the impression.
"When he does that thing with his mouth, that oval thing with his mouth, it's actually on certain vowels. It's almost like a watch repair, it is so minute," Hammond says of one of the most important facets of a good Trump. "And then you see what we call home base. Home base is the head titled back, the lips closed, then eyes closed or narrow, looking around like, 'This is awesome. Things are great. I am great. I can do this.'"
Hammond does caricatures, not portraits, when on stage, he says. That distinction is important.
"It's easier to be funny when it's a caricature," he explains. "When it's accurate, in my experience, it hasn't been as funny for me."
Like a football player, Hammond says he studies video of both the people he impersonates and of his impressions in order to achieve accuracy. However, he says it is actually Trump who was most like a pro athlete when he hosted SNL last November.
"A lot of people say he is cocky or full of himself. Maybe he is, but he is also the most positive person I have ever seen except the athletes that have come on the show," Hammond notes. "You know, he did not believe himself to be an actor. He is not somebody from our world, so he is somebody who came earlier and stayed later. And I thought it was interesting because the athletes do the same thing because they know this is not their world, but something inside them tells them, 'I'll figure a way to do this somehow.'"
Hammond got back into the Trump saddle ("by personal request") the week the business mogul hosted the show. Before that, castmember Taran Killam had portrayed Trump. Both Hammond and Killam appeared as Trump during the GOP candidate's monologue, and Hammond has been playing him ever since. Killam now portrays Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
When asked to grade his Trump impression, Hammond gives it "three stars." He gives his Clinton impression four stars, but notes that it also took years to prefect. Trump will get there, he insists.
Now that the billionaire businessman is on his way to becoming the GOP nominee for the 2016 election, Hammond says he has his work cut out for him. But it's all worth it.
"Who wouldn't want to be playing Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live?" he asks with a chuckle. "There's no other experience like it."