It’s been a year to the day since David S. Pumpkins first appeared on Saturday Night Live and became truly his own thing. The “Haunted Elevator” skit was written by Bobby Moynihan, Mikey Day, and Streeter Seidell for inclusion during s42e4 of the NBC series which Tom Hanks hosted.
The sketch has since become a fan favorite for no real apparent reason other than it’s complete and utter ridiculousness. It’s so pure in it’s homage to the Disneyland ride “Tower of Terror”, and this fabulous ‘oral history’ of the week long production process of creating David S. Pumpkins originally appeared on Vulture:
MD: The possibilities were endless. It’s Tom Hanks. I don’t know if we had locked down what we wanted to do yet — we didn’t pitch it on Monday.
Bobby Moynihan: [Our first idea was inspired by] that video with the little Indian fellow dancing around.
MD: The little superstar.
BM: Every time the music stopped, he stopped dancing.
MD: I’m obsessed with the song he’s dancing to: “Holiday Rap” by MC Miker and DJ Sven. There’s a breakdown in the middle.
SS: We first pitched Tom the idea on Tuesday afternoon.
MD: The original way to encapsulate that [song and video] in a sketch was what eventually became “SWAT Recon” with Chris Pine. There’s a SWAT team perched at a window doing reconnaissance, and then in the apartment over, Tom and I are dancing. Tom weighed in that, maybe they are like Dutch brothers.
SS: But he also was like, “fellas, I don’t break dance.” I don’t know why we assumed Tom Hanks would know how to break-dance. That put the kibosh on that. So we just dropped it and wrote a few other things. We wrote one where he’s Frankenstein that I was working on for a good chunk of the night. It was just Mikey and I alone first, talking about the one that eventually became “SWAT Recon.” Then it was tabled for a few hours, and Bobby came in and they started talking about it and I joined in, and everything changed.
MD: Late at night, we were writing, trying to crack a sketch where a couple goes into a haunted house. Different ghouls were going to sing a song, but they were supposed to be scary, like, “I live under the stairs.” Then it could go to three coffins, and we were all three going to be skeletons dancing to the “Holiday Rap” breakdown. We were working on it for a while, but we couldn’t quite crack where it goes after that. We had the first beat, and then we were like, “Okay, we each would come out of a coffin.” Then what?
BM: At one point, after the coffins, we tried it where we would pop out of paintings, out of a clock, and other things in the house.
MD: We can’t quite figure this out, and it’s around 3:30, 4 a.m.
SS: We’re starting to get that stress, ’cause 7 a.m. is when the Today show warms up outside. You start hearing them cheer, and it’s a stress trigger for all the cast and writers here, because you’re like, “Oh no, we have to start finishing something.”
MD: You start kicking into high gear. Sometime around then, we have the idea of “Tower of Terror.” I grew up in Orange County near Disneyland. I don’t know if that ride was around when I was a kid, but I’ve been on it a few times. It’s such a good, adaptable ride for a sketch because the doors open and something occurs, then it shuts, and something else happens.
SS: Our idea was that it was real. It wasn’t a ride. It was a real, haunted elevator.
MD: I think names and suits are funny. Normal names in insane situations and dumb suits are funny. So, I just remember thinking, ‘David Pumpkins. He’s got pumpkins on his suit.’
BM: I remember Mikey being very tired and exasperated, and after a 30-second silence he just went, “What if we just call him David Pumpkins?”
MD: We did a Google search and find out there’s a suit that fits this stupid image, so we start retrofitting the skeletons into the sketch. “He’s surrounded by two skeletons.” And we put them all on a Tower of Terror setup. And we get to put in “Holiday Rap.” So we start writing.
MD: The door’s open, and there’s David Pumpkins. I remember writing, “I’m David Pumpkins,” and then Bobby added the “S” – “David S. Pumpkins.”
BM: Why not? At four o’clock in the morning, you don’t ask questions. You just go, “What should be his first line?” And Mikey goes, “How’s it hanging?” “Great, write it down.”
MD: In the original version, David Pumpkins talks a lot more.
SS: It really emerged as it went on that the joke was the “Any questions?” stuff.
MD: It was always the two people in the elevator freaked out. And lines like “Any questions?” “Yes, several,” were there from the very first draft. But it was all about [the couple’s question]: “Why are they here?”
BM: We tried to explain it a little more in the original draft. There was more trying to get to the bottom of it. Beck [Bennett, who plays the man in the couple] was like, “So are you like the Canadian Freddy Krueger?” We tried to contextualize it a little bit.
MD: There was way more mystery-solving in the first draft on behalf of them.
SS: Bobby was the one who was saying these lines, like, “Do you scare with pumpkins?” And David Pumpkins would be like, “Get a life!”
MD: “How many pumpkins do you use?” And he goes, “Between 10 and 38 pumpkins.”
SS: And then it was, “If I leave a pumpkin on your doorstep, I hate you,” or something.
MD: And it was a lot of, “Are you a ghost?” “You wish!”
SS: “Grow up!” He had a real attitude.
MD: “Do you haunt with pumpkins?”
SS: “One-thousand percent.”
MD: One line we almost kept, which I think is a good encapsulation of David Pumpkins, is, “He’s not part of the known Halloween universe, but he’s acting like he is.”
SS: It might have been just an exercise for us to figure out what it is, and then once we were comfortable with it, we could get rid of it.
MD: At that point, those lines were set to a beat. It was kind of like an early hip-hop rap.
BM: Eventually we realized it was just, “Nope, this guy’s weird and we’re all here onboard.”
SS: And he’s coming from a place of like, “Everyone gets it. Everyone knows who I am and what my deal is.”
BM: He made no sense, but it was supposed to be maddening, and then actually scare you.
SS: It was a mess.
MD: But the — no pun intended — bones were there.
The rest of the write up takes the reader through the rest of the process from inception to reception of the sketch, and you should DEFINITELY read the entire thing if you are a fan of David S. Pumpkins.
Also, don’t forget that we’re getting an animated David S. Pumpkins special for Halloween!