Talent helps, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to be lucky.
Comedian Darrell Hammond said he was impersonating Bill Clinton at Caroline's on Broadway in the 1990s when Marci Klein, a "Saturday Night Live" producer, saw his act. She told him Phil Hartman — who was impersonating Clinton at the time — was leaving the show and they needed a new Bill Clinton.
"I felt like, when I got that job, that I had pretty much given up on show business," he said of the "Saturday Night Live" gig.
Hammond performs this weekend at Capt. Brien's Off the Hook Comedy Club, 599 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island.
"This is a treat for us," said Brien Spina, the comedy club owner. "We were looking for a big act and this one was available ... thank God it worked out for us."
Hammond's road to "SNL" stardom took many turns. Few knew about his abusive childhood until he published his autobiography last year, titled "God, If You're Not Up There, I'm F*cked: Tales of Stand-Up, Saturday Night Live, and Other Mind-Altering Mayhem."
But Hammond, 56, is quick to point out his childhood, which included his mother physically and emotionally abusing him, didn't make him automatically turn to comedy.
"I don't think trauma causes talent or creates talent," he said. "I wanted to be up in front of people and I wanted to be a little bit funny."
If you go
Who: Darrell Hammond, comedian and “Saturday Night Live” alumnus
Where: Capt. Brien’s Seafood and Raw Bar and Off the Hook Comedy Club, 599 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island,
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9; 7 and 9 p.m. Friday Aug. 10; 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11; and 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12
Born and raised in Melbourne, Hammond also loved playing baseball. He said his only memory of visiting Southwest Florida was when his youth baseball team played at the Fort Myers training site of the Kansas City Royals, who trained at Terry Park from 1969 to 1987.
Yet Hammond wasn't good enough to become a professional ballplayer, so he decided to make theater his career.
"I had it in my head that I wanted to be an actor," he said. "I did pretty well in plays at the University of Florida."
He moved to New York and was cast in seven plays in five years — no Broadway, but some summer stock and other plays.
Hammond says he loved acting, but kept returning to comedy — even though it meant a lot of failure.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time I was shown the door," he said. "I just didn't give up. Eventually I got good enough. They tell you it's a marathon and not a sprint, and you hope that's true."
He endured drug addiction, was jailed in the Bahamas, and even spent time in psychiatric wards, he said.
Still, Hammond said he "ended up doing all the things I wanted to do" — appearing in the television show "Law and Order," starring on "Saturday Night Live" for 14 years (the longest tenure of any "SNL" cast member) and being on both "The Tonight Show" and "Late Night with David Letterman."
After shows on Marco Island, Hammond said he will serve alongside TV political commentator Chris Matthews at the Democratic National Convention later this summer in Charlotte, N.C.
Hammond's Chris Matthews' impersonation is dead-on, but he's often asked to do Clinton, his most famous one. Hammond met the man himself when he performed at the White House as Clinton.
"He was so friendly to me, he and Hillary both," he said. "It sounds impossible — the last place to be comfortable would be at White House events. But I felt comfortable out there largely because of him and his staff.
"If you come from my background, where I was a lousy student and not a good athlete, and now I'm trying to describe that experience ... I could never put any words around it. I was walking into the White House."
He said everyone seems to enjoy his Clinton impression most, even the anesthesiologist who asked him to impersonate the president as he was undergoing a colonoscopy. "It was just a bizarre time to be asking me what would Clinton say," Hammond recalled.
He said he carried lessons learned from his youth to his professional career.
"You just keep trying," he said. "I wasn't like a leading man. I just thought if I'm going to be funny, I'm going to keep going. And I eventually managed to score."