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SNL’s Chris Kattan on his memoir ‘Baby Don’t Hurt Me’

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SNL’s Chris Kattan on his memoir ‘Baby Don’t Hurt Me’ (AP file photo)

“A lot of people have wondered what happened to me and where I’ve been,” former Saturday Night Live star Chris Kattan said at the outset of my interview with him about his new memoir “Baby Don’t Hurt Me.” It’s a deeply personal and fast-paced read that is equally captivating, hilarious and heartbreaking.

Much is revealed in the pages of “Baby Don’t Hurt Me” about Kattan’s life and career to date, beginning with his unconventional childhood. Before we get there, we’re immediately lured in by a gut-bustingly funny tale recounting the creation of perhaps his most popular character, the frenetic, face-sucking monkey-boy known as Mr. Peepers.

Delivered in the voice of a friend, Kattan invites you into the different childhood worlds he occupied, between living with his father (comic actor Kip King) in the city and his Buddhist mother (Hajnalka E. Biro, a model and actress who hung out with Jimi Hendrix and chased after The Beatles in “A Hard Day’s Night”) miles away on isolated Mt. Baldy.

Along the way, Kattan encounters a wildly eclectic cast of characters, including songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen and counterculture hero Carlos Castaneda.

Kattan’s path to eight seasons of Saturday Night Live is a must-read for fans of the show. Reflecting on those years and the origins of his most popular characters – beloved bits such as Mango and the head-bopping Butabi brother of the Roxbury sketches and film – Kattan opens up on their creation and evolution, while bringing the reader backstage to reveal how they were perceived by stars ranging from Tom Hanks to Katie Holmes.

Kattan has had no greater partner in comedy than Will Ferrell. He writes of the duo’s early years together developing improvisational chops in The Groundlings and how it felt when Ferrell was the first to be called for duty at SNL. He also writes – with more than a tinge of regret – about the incident that drove a wedge between them during the making of “A Night at the Roxbury.”

Perhaps the memoir’s most engrossing sequence involves a cautionary tale that has created the book’s biggest buzz: Kattan’s revelation that he broke his neck during a live SNL sketch in May 2001, nearly leading to permanent paralysis. He alluded to the incident as he exited “Dancing With the Stars” in 2017 but now we know how and when it happened, and how close he came to never walking again.

The Maine Edge: Congratulations on your book. It’s a wild ride that I didn’t want to end. Did you ever see yourself writing a memoir some day?

Kattan: I never thought I would write a book. Whenever I’ve shared stories with friends about my upbringing and my life in general, a lot of them would say I needed to write a book, so I did. It took me five years, with time in between to breathe. I did it right and I’m very proud of it.

The Maine Edge: It was fascinating to read about your childhood and how vastly different your time was spent when split between living with your mother and stepfather during the week and your dad on the weekend – both in polar opposite surroundings. I wonder how your life would have been different had you had a more conventional upbringing?

Kattan: I probably wouldn’t have been able to see the funny side of things. Everyone’s childhood is different. Mine wasn’t full of material things. I wasn’t a spoiled child. Growing up on Mt. Baldy, there wasn’t much to do. We lived in a cabin and didn’t even have TV reception there.

My mom always said “Make something out of nothing.” That was hard to do. It means you have to use your creativity. Without that upbringing, I wouldn’t have been able to find out what I wanted to do with my life. That happened very early on. There was a lot of time spent alone in silence to help me realize what I wanted in life.

The Maine Edge: You experienced a comedy epiphany when you were age 14. You saw Eddie Murphy on SNL and said “I’m going to be on that show.” You were right.

Kattan: I was watching Eddie Murphy (as Professor Shabazz K. Morton) do the Black History Minute and he messed up a line and looked at the camera and said “So I messed up, shut up!” That was the moment that made me want to get on the show.

The Maine Edge: You go into detail about the inner workings of SNL in those days. It seems that most of the cast is vying for the attention and approval of Lorne Michaels, but he remains opaque and impenetrable. It seems like a dysfunctional environment, but it’s somehow worked for almost 45 years. How common is that sort of dynamic when it comes to running a show?

Kattan: I don’t think it’s an easy job, you know? He’s there every day for every show. I think a lot of people – after years of running a show – later become sort of detached and focus on other projects. His number one love is still that show … and it shows. He’s there all the time.

The Maine Edge: You very admirably do not whine about anything in this book, even though no one could blame you if you did. You write about what happened to you during a live sketch in May 2001. You were seriously injured and could have taken NBC to the cleaners, but you didn’t. Five invasive surgeries later and you are still dealing with the pain. What I learned from that is if you don’t stick up for yourself, nobody will.

Kattan: Yeah, that’s very true. It was a different time back then. If it happened today, it would be different because people are much more outspoken today. Back then – with the injury – I just wanted to stay in the show. It would have just crushed me. I didn’t want to be a liability. They were my family, you know? You don’t want to sue your family. I still don’t want to sue them. It’s not about that at all.

The Maine Edge: Have you heard from other cast members that have read the book?

Kattan: Only the ones who wrote blurbs for the book (Jimmy Fallon, Molly Shannon and Amy Sedaris) and Seth Meyers, who wrote the forward. It just came out and they’re slowly reading it. The people I’ve heard from so far are loving the book. Even the people I worked with are surprised when they read about a lot of my experiences because I kept my mouth shut about a lot of it.

(“Baby Don’t Hurt Me” is published by BenBella Books Inc. and is available in hardcover and as an eBook. An audio version, available through Audible, is narrated by Kattan.)

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