SNL, Tom Hanks, David Pumpkins and the Power of the Absurd

SNL, Tom Hanks, David Pumpkins and the Power of the Absurd

The Oct. 22 episode of “Saturday Night Live,” hosted by Tom Hanks, was full of successful comedy. The cold open was a spoof of the final Presidential debate, anchored by strong impressions of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton done by Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon respectively. There was a smart take on the state of television comedies in a pre-taped sketch spoofing how serious today’s Emmy-winning sitcoms are. And there was clever commentary during the “Black Jeopardy” sketch, wherein the black contestants and host (played by Leslie Jones and Sasheer Zamata and Kenan Thompson respectively) realize they have a lot in common with an ardent Trump supporter (played by Hanks himself).

But one sketch stood out to most viewers, called “A Hundred Floors of Frights.” The premise was simple: A Hundred Floors of Frights is a haunted building amusement park ride, where the participants ride in an elevator to various floors. On each floor, the doors open, and a different scary figure appears. Kate McKinnon and Beck Bennett play a couple riding the attraction, and Kenan Thompson plays the elevator operator. The sketch starts off slowly; we see the elevator go to a couple of floors with stereotypical haunted house characters. But when they arrive on the third floor, the doors open and we see Tom Hanks wearing a suit and tie emblazoned with pumpkins all over. Bobby Moynihan and Mikey Day stand to either side side of him, wearing skin-tight skeleton suits and skull makeup.

Now, if you haven’t seen the sketch, please stop reading now and go watch it. Simply search “david pumpkins” on Google and it will pop up. I promise you, it is worth your time, and I don’t want to ruin it for you by describing the entire thing here. Once you’ve seen it, feel free to come back and finish reading.

Alright, I’m glad you took my advice and returned to the article. And thanks to all of those who’ve seen the sketch who are still reading also. Anyway, back to the analysis.

While political sketches are certainly an important part of the SNL, it is the out-there, more absurdist-leaning sketches that are the ones that stand the test of time and become classics. Of course, everyone will remember just Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush impression, or Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impression, but we remember the impressions themselves, not the specific sketches. On the other hand, it is sketches like “Church Lady” or “Down By The River” or “Samurai Delicatessen” that are remembered as the great sketches. While these were all somewhat grounded in reality, they all have absurd elements and present characters that would never exist in the real world. And it is precisely this absurdity that makes these sketches so wonderful and memorable.

David Pumpkins falls into this same category. In the midst of a troubling time in American history, it is of course worthwhile to find comic relief in the craziness of the election and in the state of our country. At the same time, it is also wonderful to completely escape politics and find joy in the absurdity and silliness of David S. Pumpkins. Perhaps that is why it is this type of sketch that becomes a classic; it allows for anyone to laugh along, whether they are politically educated or not.