Political impersonator's goal? 'Fun'
SNL's Hammond plays for laughs
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- He's played a seductive Bill Clinton, a know-it-all Al Gore and a no-nonsense Donald Rumsfeld.
But actor Darrell Hammond, who has made a name for himself with his dead-on impersonations of America's political luminaries on Saturday Night Live, said there's no political calculation in his material. It's strictly for laughs and all, he said, in good fun.
"You don't really take a shot at the person or really even their policies," he said in an interview with CNN's Jonathan Karl. "It's just really poking a little bit of fun, but it's important to try to stay away from calling him a bad guy or a good guy or anything to do with the person."
Hammond's impersonations have proved so popular that politicians often request performances in private. He was recently invited to a Republican retreat with Vice President Dick Cheney, who asked him to portray former President Clinton.
"I'm not sure what that was all about, but that's what they wanted, and we're always flattered when one of the most powerful people in the world wants us to come and hang around a little bit, so I went as Clinton," Hammond said.
Hammond's impersonations rely on his keen observations of his subjects. He remains fascinated by Clinton, citing the former president's "sense of theater" and remarkable ability to work a room.
Hammond, currently in his seventh season on "Saturday Night Live," compared the handshakes of Clinton and President Bush.
The current occupant of the Oval Office is "an outdoorsy guy's guy" who offers a firm, businesslike handshake and a "hard look into the eyes."
Shaking hands with Clinton, on the other hand, is a more intimate experience, Hammond suggested.
"Mr. Clinton might shake your hand, and the left hand might go up to the elbow very subtly, and the left hand may go up to your shoulder and then he leads in and says, 'Do you like to have fun? I love to have fun.' "
The Bush White House, Hammond said, projects a more "businesslike, orderly, punctual, less festive" air. "Mr. Clinton was able to relax a little and pal around," said Hammond.
He is amused and impressed by Rumsfeld's gruff and assured handling of reporters at Pentagon press conferences.
"My sense of Rumsfeld is he's like a man trying to land a crowded 747 on a crowded interstate at rush hour, and a reporter might come up and say, 'Aren't you going to watch out for those birds? Watch out. Oh, you hit a bird.' And he's sort of looks at people with that squint in his eyes and his shoulders go back: 'Are you normally kept in a jar?' "
Hammond's impersonations include leading figures in the news business, including ABC's Sam Donaldson, whom he described as a "a Rottweiler in a sense."
As for his own politics, Hammond said he's on "both sides of the aisle."