Comedian Darrell Hammond performed on "Saturday Night Live" for thirteen years, impersonating people like Sean Connery and President Bill Clinton.
Behind the scenes, he struggled with addiction and self-harm. After surviving a suicide attempt, one psychiatrist told him that his issues were caused by childhood trauma. Director Michelle Esrick’s documentary “Cracked Up” explores Hammond’s story. The film is part of this week’s Aspen FilmFest lineup.
Esrick is herself a survivor of trauma.
"I never called myself that until I made this movie," she said.
Esrick and Hammond are close friends. She says that Hammond asked for her help while writing a one-man show about his life. During that time, he told her that he was seeing a new doctor, who told him not to think of himself as having mental illness, but as having a mental injury, due to an abusive childhood.
"I felt the shame lift immediately, hearing this distinction," she said.
Esrick says she wants people to understand trauma’s link to addiction, illness and other issues.
One study links childhood trauma to the adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness and violence.
"It’s the root cause of so much," she said.
While making the documentary, Esrick says she worked hard to balance tragedy and comedy. "When I say the film is about childhood trauma, I kind of get, 'Ugh,'" she said. "But don't be scared. It's funny, too."
Esrick is now an advocate for creating trauma-informed communities.
"Basically, what we're going from is 'What's wrong with you?' to 'What happened to you?" she said. "I'm not saying exonerate bad behavior, but as long as we're pointing the finger, we're never going to break the cycle."
“Cracked Up" screens Saturday at Carbondale’s Crystal Theatre. A panel discussion about trauma, featuring Esrick and representatives from the Aspen Hope Center and Riverbridge, takes place Friday morning in Aspen.