Here is a fact: The best thing that has happened this year is Saturday Night Live‘s “Haunted Elevator” skit. Granted, the bar for “best thing this year” wasn’t set high — 2016 hasn’t exactly been a shining beacon of hope. But this skit, my friends, is high art: The entire premise is that a couple, played by Kate McKinnon and Beck Bennett, is at a haunted house in an elevator operated by Keenan Thompson that stops at 100 floors, each one featuring a different scary thing.
Except that one of the scary things is just SNL host Tom Hanks in a pumpkin-printed suit. He’s flanked by funky, dancing skeletons (played by Mikey Day and Bobby Moynihan). None of it is frightening. None of it should be understood. All of it is perfect.
Saturday Night Live has always commented on our country’s current cultural and political moments. Remember Will Ferrell as George W. Bush? Or Tina Fey as Sarah Palin? Or Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford? This year is no different: The show has been dogged about making fun of Donald Trump, turning Alec Baldwin into a grimacing jack-O-lantern of a man and McKinnon into a spot-on Hillary Clinton. The impressions are funny and pointed.
But there’s a difference between SNL’s topical sketches and the absolutely nonsensical ones that don’t have anything to do with anything, televised moments that could’ve run in 2004, 1983, or 1997. And that difference is a little something I like to call sheer delight. I have watched David S. Pumpkins (why does he have a middle initial? Why not!) do his idiotic dance and slap the butts of these two groovy skeletons over 25 times now, and I cry-laugh each time. There is no rhyme or reason to it, which makes it surprising, fresh, and timeless.
Not everyone agrees with my analysis. A few of my friends and some of my FTW colleagues don’t think the haunted elevator is funny at all. Which almost makes it funnier — here’s something that makes such little sense that a bunch of people are just like, “yeah, David S. Pumpkins, not for me.”
There’s nothing to get about David Pumpkins. The idea is a simple one— a not-scary guy works at a haunted house, and how silly is that? Tom Hanks’ wide smile and thumb-centric moves either crack you up or they don’t. Which is what delight is all about! This stupid sketch is a lot like the John Malkovich and Fred Armisen one centered on twins who want a calculator for Christmas. They both involve holidays and random accents and rely on the ability of viewers to suspend their desire for explanations.
Just as the calculator sketch has, I firmly believe that David S. Pumpkins will enter the pantheon of SNL classics. The kind where the actors completely lean into a ridiculous concept and nail it, four glorious minutes that make you wonder what on earth could’ve been going through the writers’ heads for them to come up with something so out of left field.
Perhaps the sketch describes itself best. “Why did you go all in on David Pumpkins?” asks an incredulous Bennett. “Hey look, there’s 100 floors of frights, they’re not all going to be winners,” says Thompson. You could say the same for the high volume of work that SNL puts out. But I’d argue that both David S. Pumpkins and this sketch are not only winners, they’re MVPs.