Saturday Night Live fans know Chris Kattan has a knack for physical comedy — but according to the star’s new memoir, he almost lost his life to it.
In Baby Don’t Hurt Me: Stories and Scars From Saturday Night Live, Kattan details his time on the famed NBC sketch show and claims that he broke his neck during a 2001 segment, which nearly paralyzed him. The story came to light as part of an exclusive excerpt published by Variety ahead of the book’s May 7 release.
According to Kattan, the comedian behind such beloved characters as Mr. Peepers, Mango, and Doug Butabi, fell back while on an unstable chair and smashed his head into the stage while performing a sketch live. The accident led to a series of health struggles, he says, and required several surgeries.
“Even today, I still can’t open my hand wide enough to use my fingers normally on the keyboard,” Kattan writes. “The impact that my injury and subsequent surgeries had on my career was immense, but more importantly, the fallout proved to be devastating to some of the closest relationships in my life.”
Kattan told Variety he discussed the incident with SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels and producer Ken Aymong, and that Aymong promised to “take care of it.” Kattan, 48, also said Michaels recommended a doctor and NBC paid for two of the five surgeries he needed.
The Variety article states that the publication “spoke to several insiders, including staffers mentioned by Kattan in his book, who have worked closely with Kattan as part of the SNL production team and who also would have been present on set and aware of any follow-up claims. But none of them could recall Kattan’s injury, even after they made their own internal inquiries to see if anyone else remembered it.” NBC did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment about Kattan’s account, but an insider says that if Kattan had been injured seriously, the network’s legal team and human resources would have been involved— and they weren’t.
Kattan alleges that the fall happened during an MSNBC Investigates parody, which centered on a group of kids who dress up like characters from The Golden Girls. He says he was tasked with falling back in a chair that he asked the props department to replace over his own safety concerns, but his request went unanswered.
The comedian maintains that he struggled with pain and other ailments in subsequent years, but by the time he looked into workers’ compensation, he was told it was too late. Kattan departed Saturday Night Live in 2003, after seven years.
“The SNL family I was part of had stopped taking care of me, and soon I wasn’t able to pay for everything myself,” Kattan writes. “But I never really fought for myself or demanded anything. I never thought about the potential legal ramifications of what had happened to me on the set and what was happening now. I had been brought up to be responsible for myself. I wasn’t about to sue anybody. I never wanted to be that person: spending my life debilitated and fighting a network. I wanted to hide everything, pretending I was okay and in good enough shape to go out in public and be social.”
Kattan previously spoke about difficulties he faced as a result of a neck injury while competing on Dancing With the Stars in 2017 but did not directly cite his time on SNL as the cause.
As for what he hopes to gain from finally coming forward, Kattan said he needed to be relieved of his secret.
“I tried to tell the truth,” he told Variety. “It feels good to just finally say everything about it. I don’t think it really hurts anybody, it’s just something I needed to say.”
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