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Thread by @alexandraerin: "Good morning, babies. In a few minutes I'll be starting my *definitive* thread on Mr. David S. Pumpkins, of the Haunted Elevator sketch. I'm […]"

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Good morning, babies. In a few minutes I'll be starting my *definitive* thread on Mr. David S. Pumpkins, of the Haunted Elevator sketch.
I'm going to do a rewatch before I dive in. You can watch with me here.
If the YouTube link doesn't work for you, try this one.
Alright. So, quick overview. The sketch, called "Haunted Elevator", is about a couple boarding a ride in an unspecified amusement park.
It's part of a Halloween event called "Fright Nights", which is basically the most generic/broadly digestible signifier of such.
The ride is modeled after both Disney's Tower of Terror attraction (with more focus on the haunted house aspect) and "live" haunted houses.
It is billed as "100 floors of frights" and the elevator operator (ably played by your childhood, Kenan Thompson) indicates this is literal.
Now, sketch comedy regularly compresses things, and we go from an unspecified initial floor fright to "Floor 20, our Five-Scar Restaurant".
And the sketch ends less than half a dozen stops later at floor 100. On first viewing, it might be assumed we're to take this as the end.
However, the floors we see are not sequential. After floor 20, we go to floor 49, and then back to floor 26.
So my take is that the ride is not being compressed for our benefit. We are seeing everything the couple sees.
So, anyway. The first two times the elevator door opens, we are treated to rather conventional haunted house scares.
The fact that the second one has a mold of one of the riders' own head is unsettling and would be hard to explain, though it is handwaved.
(Given that this is modeled after a Disney/Universal level park, maybe we're to understand it is a digital screen and not a practical prop?)
I.e., what we're seeing is an artifact of SNL's technical limitations, not a literal representation of the ride.
Which brings up another point: one hundred story tall structures are big and expensive to build, and the facade we see at the beginning...
...does not appear to be anywhere near that size. So, *one* of the show's technical limitations may be understood to be part of the ride.
That is, the Haunted Elevator really isn't going anywhere between floors. It jostles and jolts, "goes bump in the night", and the doors open
The characters of the couple are really a pretty deft dissection of the dichotomy experienced by someone going to a haunted house ride/tour.
In that they know that it's fake and even discuss the artifice a little bit, but they're also scared, and discuss the fright.
And while I'm praising them, I should also point out that Kenan Thompson does a brilliant job with his part.
So. Anyway. After two floors of mostly conventional frights, the third one introduces us to David Pumpkins.
David Pumpkins is a comically grinning man in a commercially available pumpkin motif novelty suit, with an orange streak in his air.
He introduces himself with the aw-shucksiest "How's it hangin'?" imaginable, "wacky" gestures, and a promise to "scare the hell out of you"
What follows is a weird but oddly minimalist dance routine (because breakdancing is hard, per Vulture) set to autotuned sort-of-beatboxing.
"Restraint" is probably not the word that springs to mind when thinking about David S. Pumpkins but it's the key to the dance routine.
There's not a lot going on at any one moment, and there's a clear line of progression through it that keeps you engrossed.
Again per Vulture, the song and dance was inspired by the beatbox breakdown in a song called "Holiday Rap" by a Dutch hip hop duo.
Their version was made by Bobby Moynihan (who plays the character he calls Fat Skeleton) making random noises, which were then re-pitched.
So the defining attribute of the song is ultimately that it Almost Sounds Like A Thing, But Isn't.
Which is sort of the essence of David Pumpkins.
Now, our previous frights were a bedraggled bride with a noose around her neck reciting a rhyming couplet about her suicide...
...and a ghoulish chef presenting the guests with the woman's own severed heads. They were dressed and made-up appropriately...
...for an adult Halloween attraction. David Pumpkins, visually, would not have been out of place as the host of a kiddy Halloween fair.
While everybody else is doing what we might call "the Deceased Pronunciation" voice used by cast members of many rides and haunts...
...David Pumpkins sounds like Forrest Gump after he traded his Dr. Pepper for Four Loko.
So it's not just that the dance is weird. From the moment the doors open, he's out of place. He does not belong.
And the dance feels like it's building to something, but isn't. It ends suddenly as the invisible baton is whipped back to David...
...who does a very weird, Doug-Jones-mime-character version of spreading his hands expansively, and asks "Any questions?" as the doors shut.
And of course, the couple has so many questions they don't even know where to begin. The "hellevator operator" asks "Scared speechless?"
Which prompts them to put their thoughts in order enough to voice them. Their first thought is that *they* are missing something.
There's a species of antihumor (anti- here as in antimatter, not as in "I'm against humor") where you tell a nonsensical non-joke...
...to someone else who's in on it, and who will laugh. The point of the exercise is to see how many people will laugh with you...
...or at least be too embarrassed and bewildered to ask you to explain it.

The most famous of these is the punchline "No soap, radio."
(There are a few semi-canonical versions of it, but basically, tell any joke but replace the punchline with "No soap, radio.")
That's an antijoke.

David Pumpkins is an antifright.
Imagine how many people must go through the ride, not questioning the presence or identity of David Pumpkins. He's there, he must be scary.
Are they going to admit their ignorance or obtuseness? It must be some reference they don't get. So they roll with it.
But our viewpoint couple, prompted by Kenan's character, voice their thoughts. "Are we supposed to know who that is?"
The operator seems a little put out at the questioning, and tells them, "You don't 'get' frights, you fear them!"
They're still so stuck in the meta that when the next floor comes up (26), and it's again a conventional fright, they simply discuss it.
(It's a character visually referencing Samara from The Ring, asking "Can I sleep in your bed tonight?" Because the frame is it's a hotel.)
"Yeah, see, I get why she's scary," the woman says, although she's not frightened. "Yeah, creepy girl from the Ring", the man agrees.
Maybe because this one was a pop culture reference, they ask if David Pumpkins is from something. "Like a local commercial?" the woman asks.
Kenan's operator, irritated, improvises a line about how the scariest thing to the mind is the unknown.
The operator's exasperated, stilted delivery of his answers to queries on David Pumpkins indicates that *most people don't ask*.
Immediately after he says that the scariest thing is the unknown, the doors open again and there is David Pumpkins again.
"I'm David Pumpkins!" he proclaims.

Believe it or not, this is part of the insistent weirdness.
He knows he did his full introduction routine on his first appearance. But he's neither simply repeating that (which would simply be weird)
nor taking for granted that his character is already established and moving on. He's giving himself a new, more forceful introduction.
The couple fully accepted the frame of the ride to begin with. Even when the woman asked about how they got her face on the head...
...she wasn't directing her question to the ride cast member playing the operator. It was only when he asked them about their reactions...
...that they started talking to him about the ride and the nature of the frights. Even then, he's on the same side of the doors as they are.
But now, they've given up on the frame entirely and are shouting questions through the doors, across the ride's absent fourth wall.
"BUT WHO ARE YOU?"

"I'm David Pumpkins, man!"
The woman tries the slightly calmer, "And David Pumpkins is...?"

"His own thing!"
I'm going to stop here and talk a bit more about the frame, and a tangent.
So, I've talked about the frame of the ride in the sketch because it's crucial to interpreting what we see.
It is canon that within the world of the sketch, the couple have paid admission to a Halloween event and are boarding a haunted house ride.
This is not people unwittingly stumbling into an elevator that is haunted while trying to get somewhere in a building. The frights are fake.
It's costumes, makeup, and creepy delivery. The strings on the Samara character are "really there", inside the sketch world.
And, as I said, it seems likely that the "elevator" isn't actually changing floors at all, except maybe the first time.
Within this framing, there are two possible interpretations of David Pumpkins.
One is that he is another staged fright, like the hanged bride or the ghoulish chef or the Creepy Ring Girl.
Within that, we'd have two sub-interpretations: that he makes perfect sense to everybody involved in imagineering the haunting...
...or that he is as inexplicable to the other cast members and producers as he is to us and the couple, but no one's dared to question him.
And the other one kind of bridges to the other interpretation, which is that David Pumpkins, unique among the attractions, is not staged.
What if David Pumpkins showed up at rehearsal the same way he shows up in the ride: just there, suddenly. Announcing he's David Pumpkins.
What if they put him in the ride because he was just so confident, so insistent, and so unsettling that no one wanted to argue with him?
You know who answers questions of "Who are you?" with "I AM."?

Literal gods.
David Pumpkins is the Tom Bombadil of his universe: tonally dissonant, off-putting, wacky, eldritch, and terrifying.
David Pumpkins is his own thing, "and the skeletons are"... "part of it." They have no existence outside of him, no separate justification.
"Why are you a part of this ride?" I.e., "why are you here?"

"To do this."
The reprise of the dance is... like his second introduction... similar, but more insistent. And explicitly sexualized.
Whip-crack sounds are accompanied by mimed butt slaps from Pumpkins, with the skeletons freezing in what I must call provocative poses.
And the song ends with a vocodered moan/sigh, followed by "What's my name?"

"David *S*. Pumpkins!"
And then, as the doors are sliding shut, the obsequiously exaggerated "Any questions?"

"YES! SEVERAL!" the man shouts, but it's too late.
"He has a middle initial now? I'm so in the weeds with David Pumpkins."
The interesting thing here is that it's not even a question of what the initial stands for. The mere fact of its existence is boggling.
He referred to himself twice in this scene, rather insistently, as David Pumpkins. Then the third time, we have a curveball.
Note that this is a motif. We had two frights before David Pumpkins, too. Comedy and horror both often follow a rule of three.
Jordan Peele, in discussing his pivot to horror, made a really insightful comment about how horror has the same beats as comedy, same rhythm
"Don't let David Pumpkins ruin your night," the woman says, trying to calm the man. The operator corrects her: "David *S* Pumpkins."
Remember that before the skeletons spake the middle initial into being, the operator accepted David Pumpkins as his name without comment.
So either that's new and yet binding, or it's part of a "plotline" for the haunt where David S. Pumpkins gets weirder the deeper you go.
The next floor, floor 99, opens to @Lesdoggg with a chainsaw, in a straightjacket, proclaiming she's "crazy... FOR DAVID PUMPKINS."
(Possible evidence that his initial was created on the spot... she wasn't there to hear it.)
The music starts and the skeletons and Pumpkins dance, sliding sideways past the elevators, while the "maniac" bops her chainsaw in time.
Kate McKinnon's character asks as the elevator doors close, "How much David Pumpkins is in this?"
The operator drops the character completely.

"Um... 73 out of 100 floors."

More evidence that people don't normally question this.
I point this out because they're at floor 99 and the next time the door opens he announces "floor 100".
And this exchange clearly indicates they're near the beginning of the ride, and not doing them in order.
"Why did you go all in on David Pumpkins?" the man asks.

"It's 100 floors of frights, they're not all going to be winners!"
So there is some simmering frustration with the way that David Pumpkins has taken over almost 3/4ths of the attraction.
A line that was cut (again per Vulture) that was something like "He's not part of the Halloween known universe, but he's acting like he is."
And this is part of what makes David Pumpkins work as horror, the deeper you get into the ride. At first you think you missed something...
...an obscure character or a minor local celebrity, but then he pops up more and more and he's clearly a big deal.
Stephen King, in his horror treatise Danse Macabre, wrote about three types of fright: Terror, Horror, and Gross Out.
Terror is the fear of the unknown, the tension of an unseen threat, the rising tide of fear that a ride like this promulgates as atmosphere
Terror is what the ride-goers experience as a slow build while the elevator rumbles and a rising rush when the doors open.
And then depending on the skill of the fright on the other side, they'll experience either Horror (shock/fear) or Gross Out (revulsion).
Terror is the journey, Horror is the destination, and Gross Out is the pit stop you make if you can't hold it till you get there.
The horror of David Pumpkins is: he doesn't present fear or revulsion. There's shock, but it's the wrong shock to dissipate the terror.
And if he popped up once or only appeared near the end of the ride, you'd leave and go on your way and it would be okay.
But instead, he shows up early and he shows up often. SOMETIMES the doors open and he's not there... and then he shows up. Sometimes not.
If he showed up every time, you could roll with it. If the ride were billed as "David Pumpkins's Haunted Elevator", you could understand it.
But he's just intruding into what is otherwise a bog standard if well executed Haunted Hotel attraction.
Anyway. The thing to remember about floor 100 is that it's the climax of the sketch, but they're not 10% of the way through the ride.
So the doors open, and it's the skeleton dancers. The riders comment on this in a detached and frustrated way. The skeletons dance.
And it's even more weirdly sexualized than before. It's not even "Is this supposed to be scary?" but "Is this supposed to be sexy?"
The dance is as weirdly transfixing as ever, and when we cut back to the couple, there's Pumpkins, behind them, grimacing his grin.
And they scream, a genuine scream of horror as Stephen King defined it. The sketch ends there with a flash and a framed thrill ride picture.
But I remind you: the ride inside the sketch is just begining.

And it's been getting weirder the whole time we've seen.
We can infer Kenan's cast member character wasn't exaggerating when he gave the numbers because the character dropped his character to do it
Like, it's not part of the story that the hotel has "100 floors of frights" in the way the Haunted Mansion canonically has 999 ghosts...
But rather, they have literally devised 100 separate frights, 73 of which involve David S. Pumpkins in some fashion.
The last shot of the sketch is why I err on the side of David Pumpkins being a supernatural entity rather than a cast member with odd pull.
In real life Tom Hanks had the cooperation of everyone else on set in getting into position in time.
Rigging it as a gag is not impossible (remember, the ride's not a real elevator) but it would be hard to pull off reliably every time.
The simpler explanation, if we accept the supernatural as a possibility, is that he got there via supernatural means. Because he wanted to.
By my count, at this point he has 69 appearances remaining in the ride.

(Nice.)

So why "go big" so early on?

To show that he can.
Interrupting his first two appearances with a conventional fright and chainsaw fright illustrated the principle: let people start to relax.
So he probably won't be doing weird stuff like crossing the ride's illusory threshold *every* time from that point on.
But while it won't be every time, it could be *any* time.

And the progression says he's gonna get weirder.
So that's a bit about David Pumpkins as a figure of horror, within the universe of the sketch. Let's talk about the sketch as comedy.
The sketch relies on both humor and antihumor (again, not in the sense of "Grr, I'm against humor." but the dada-ish sort.)
I have seen a lot of people sum it up or write it off as an example of the "lol so random" species of humor.
And reading the oral history, it seems like even the people who made it had some fears in that area, didn't know how it would land.
But it's a really good example of how to do random humor well. Because the ~*randomness*~ exists within a frame.
The humor of the sketch does rely on the repetitive nature of what the couple experience, but we never sit through the same thing twice.
In the 90s, SNL had a formulaic recurring sketch set in a Greek gyro restaurant that once ended because a character in it complained.
Here's a transcript of the end of the sketch.
Bear in mind they had done basically the same sketch umpty times before at this point, on top of it being internally repetitive.
That end was the most Monty Python thing I ever saw on SNL, and that's considering I also saw the Parrot Sketch done verbatim on it.
The Haunted Elevator sketch sidesteps the trap of Hub's Gyros by managing to convey the idea of repetitiveness without repeating itself.
It doesn't ask us to laugh at how zany David Pumpkins is, but at the tension between his 90s Jim Carey/used car salesman schtick...
...and the bloody frights that are advertised, expected, and initially seen, and the plight of the couple trying to make sense of it.
One definition of humor revolves around the idea of subverting expectations. I don't agree this is all-encompassing, but it works for some.
In fact, the most stereotypical iconic joke used as an example of a joke is an antijoke that subverts the expectation of a punchline.
"Why did the chicken cross the road?"

Haha I bet it is something wacky.

"To get to the other side."

Hahahahaha... wait, what?
Within the sketch's world, Pumpkins is this for frights.

Within our world, this is how he functions as humor.
That isn't the sole humor in the sketch or else it might be tedious. And Kaufman reading Gatsby is hilarious to read about or see in excerpt
...but the joke for the audience wore thin very quickly.

(In Kaufman's defense, he didn't call what he did comedy.)
David Pumpkins is not the most roll-on-the-floor-with-laughter sketch but it is both funny and engrossing.
"Watchable" seems like faint praise for a sketch, much less one that people are talking about a year later.
But Haunted Elevator *is* watchable, very watchable, surprisingly so for a sketch built around a deliberately off-putting character.
And that is a really remarkable artistic achievement.
Again, "restraint" seems an odd word for this sketch, but it is the key to its success. If you read Vulture's oral history...
...you see they dialed it way back from some earlier drafts, to excellent effect.
73 floors of David Pumpkins = funny to hear about, but the sketch pushes right against the limit of how much we'd want to see of him.
And then the "punchline" of the sketch works as both a horrific jump scare and a comedic punch line, but more as a scare...
...and that is what makes it funny. It subverts expectations in multiple ways. It gives us a shock, it breaks the ride's rules.
It's so unexpected.

The line between horror and comedy is so thin, and Haunted Elevator erases it to great effects.
Shouldn't be funny. Is.

Shouldn't be scary. Is.
And that's what David S. Pumpkins is all about, Charlie Brown.

Tip your waitress.

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