Among the many skills that enabled Darrell Hammond to become the longest-tenured cast member at Saturday Night Live is for his knack for impersonation. During the heights of the various scandals that consumed both daytime and evening American television in the late 1990s, Hammond’s portrayal of President Bill Clinton became something of a standard under the lamps of Studio 8H in 30 Rockefeller Center.
Of course, Hammond didn’t just Clinton. He also Gored, Conneryed, D’Amatoed, Dr. Philled, Dubyaed, Nixoned, Cartered, Falwelled, Mizrahied, Husseined, Shatnered, and Cronkited.
Over 14 seasons, Hammond played nearly a hundred others on the show. According to legend, the performer’s record for celebrity impressions was only recently surpassed by cast member Kenan Thompson. Last year, Hammond returned to SNL to replace Don Pardo, the only other announcer in the history of the show, who passed away in August. And he’s also turned to impersonation once again, playing Kentucky Fried Chicken’s reincarnation of Colonel Harland Sanders in a series of ads that launched last month.
Replicating such a distinctive and once-living commercial icon is fraught with challenges. I talked with Hammond last week to ask him what goes into the process of composing a sketch of a real character.