The Great Pretender

Have you heard the one about Vice President Dick Cheney inviting comedian Darrell Hammond to a party?

"It was Cheney and his buddies and Republican congressmen," recalls the Saturday Night Live star and eminent impersonator. "He wanted me to come there as [Bill] Clinton -- made up and dressed up as Clinton -- and just heckle these guys. It was fun."

Now that's a political party.

This weekend, Hammond brings the party to the Tempe Improv for a four-day stint mixing standup comedy and caricature. "I always try to throw in as many impressions as I can," he says. "I get a sense of what people respond to."

Hailed for his precise parodies of political figures, Hammond boasts a repertoire that includes Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Tom Ridge, Colin Powell and Cheney himself. Proving that imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, the impressionist has made quite an impression on this league of extraordinary gentlemen. In fact, SNL's MVP has performed for a remarkable roster of VIPs, including presidents Clinton and George W. So how does this master of mimicry manage to endear rather than offend?

"I don't kick any politician in the teeth," Hammond explains. "I basically poke a little fun at some things a person has done, or maybe something they've said, but I don't hit their character."

Hammond must act quickly to hit his characters, as he's often asked to develop a new impersonation just a day or two -- sometimes hours -- before SNL airs.

"I've done 93 people on the show. . . . It sounds like a lot, but I can't tell you, I can't even count the number of impressions I simply couldn't do. I couldn't get it together in time. In order to do one of these characters, you have to get emotionally involved."

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Jill Koch
Contact: Jill Koch