Frank Anderson and collaborator Max Wolter (this article) write for The Renaissance Fan.
Darrell Hammond’s presidential impressions have been a fixture of Saturday Night Live (SNL) for over two decades now. Hammond was officially a cast member from 1995 to 2009, which is the longest run of any SNL actor. During that time, he racked up several SNL records including most celebrities impersonated (later broken by Keenan Thompson), oldest cast member, and most times getting to kick the show off with the iconic “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!” line.
Hammond officially retired from SNL after the 2009 season, but the retirement was neither complete nor long lived. Hammond returned over the next few years to make cameos when some of his more popular impression targets would pop up in the news. Then in 2014, Hammond returned to fill the announcer position at SNL after the passing of Don Pardo. But Hammond’s role on the show was destined to expand further as the 2016 election cycle loomed, with Hilary Clinton being an obvious Democratic candidate, bringing Bill (and Hammond’s delightful impersonation of him) along for the ride. But it is the unexpected rise of Donald Trump that is really keeping Hammond busy lately. Trump’s incendiary comments, the media obsession with him as a candidate, and a shortage of Democratic candidates, almost force show runner Lorne Michaels to trot Hammond out on stage as Trump week after week. And with the primary races appearing to be narrowing down to Trump and Clinton, the 60 year-old Hammond looks to be busy through November and then for the next 4 years after (at least) regardless of the outcome. He’ll either be playing (gulp) President Trump or "First Dude" Slick Willy (which is a series of skits that could be fantastic).
But interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time SNL has utilized double duty of Darrell Hammond’ presidential impressions. Around the 2000 election Hammond was simultaneously impersonating the current President (Bill Clinton), the Vice President and Democratic Presidential nominee (Al Gore), and the Republican Vice Presidential nominee (Dick Cheney). In the now iconic 2000 presidential debate skits (featuring some of Will Ferrell’s best work on the show) Hammond debated for one ticket in the Presidential debates and the other ticket in the VP debates! He got a bit of a break in 2004 by only having to cover Cheney. But by 2008 he was back into double duty as both current VP Cheney and Republican Presidential nominee John McCain. If Hammond had any ideas about retirement you have to believe he was praying for a Barack Obama win in 2008 which would set up a presidential impersonation not even he could pull off. Though, it should be noted that Hammond has played another surprising former presidential candidate throughout this stretch: Jesse Jackson. Oh, and while he was impersonating all these presidents and candidates he was also impersonating the journalists coving them, including Chris Matthews, Tom Brokaw, Ted Koppel, Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Rose, Wolf Blitzer, Peter Jennings, and Dan Rather.
Thanks goodness Darrell Hammond’s presidential impressions are highly enjoyable since we’ll continue to be seeing them a lot. For our money, he does Bill Clinton better than anyone (although Kevin Spacey comes pretty close). But at some point the man will need have to decide that politics will continue to go on without him impersonating all the prominent older white men (of which there are a few in politics, shocker!). That will be a sad day for SNL as both Hammond’s skill and work ethic have set him apart from most others to have appeared on the legendary show.