This is a great piece by Jesse David Fox at Vulture about how the David S. Pumpkins sketch on SNL came together:
“Haunted Elevator” is a Saturday Night Live sketch about confused people trying to figure out what this guy named David S. Pumpkins’s deal is. The now-classic sketch (more commonly referred to as “David Pumpkins”), starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Pumpkins, was written by similarly confused people trying to figure out what his deal is. The character — his signature wardrobe, orange hair-streak, hand motions, voice, name — became clearer with each step in the SNL process. Exactly one year from the debut of “Haunted Elevator,” and a week away from a new David Pumpkins Halloween special, this is the story of how it came together, told by those who wrote it — Bobby Moynihan, Mikey Day, and Streeter Seidell.
This piece captures the fortuitous circumstances and insane amounts of work required for a sketch like this to come together. Sometimes, something created for sheer entertainment value (and nothing else) can be what endures.
Now that I’m taking a break and finally have enough time to do things like read books and listen to podcasts, I’m finally catching up on a lot of media I’ve missed over the past few years.
One such program is a podcast called Heavyweight, where the host helps people resolve long-held grudges or other issues. In particular, I really appreciated the second episode of the show, which features an interview with the musician Moby.
The setup is that a friend of Moby is upset with Moby’s success, especially after Moby refused to acknowledge the friend’s contributions to it. When confronted about this, Moby explains that fame is not all it’s cracked up to be and that it was at his most successful that he felt the most despondent:
You think when you get to where you want to go, finally you’ll finally be happy. But then you get to where you want to go, and you’re just as miserable as you were. In fact, you’re even more miserable because you no longer have anything to aspire to. And you feel this hopelessness because, what’s left to aspire towards?
This quote really struck me coming from someone as successful as Moby. No matter how successful you are, someone else will always be more successful. It’s how one deals with that knowledge that determines one’s level of happiness.
To explain the premise of Long Shot is to basically give away the entire plot. With that in mind, here is what the movie is about: Long Shot is a new Netflix documentary about the trial of Juan Catalan, who was wrongly accused of murder in 2003. Catalan was at a Dodgers game around the time the murder was said to have taken place, but had few ways of definitively proving his whereabouts. Desperate to solidify his alibi, his lawyer turns to an unconventional place: footage from an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm that just happened to be shooting at Dodgers Stadium that night.
Long Shot is that rare Netflix property that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The film, directed by Jacob LaMendola, is well shot and efficient with its interviews and b-roll. With a documentary this short (39 minutes, in this case), it can be challenging to have a broader takeaway from this story of near-catastrophe. But I did get one idea from this film that I haven’t been able to shake, and that is that we are all just one random decision away from complete and utter catastrophe befalling us.
What if Catalan had decided to watch the game at home that night? What if Curb decided to shoot only one take that night? What if the production assistant had chosen a different section of the stadium to shoot in? If any of these things had happened, Catalan might be serving a life sentence today.
It’s a mind-boggling idea to consider, and elevates this doc from “true crime” trifle to something more thought provoking.
One of the greatest honors of my life is to be able to enjoy great art, then hear from people who helped create that art that I, in an EXTREMELY tiny and minor way, was somehow, weirdly, part of that creation process.
The other day I saw Hamilton at the Pantages and was blown away by the brilliance of its concept and execution. I mentioned this in a few blog posts. Shortly after, I got the below email from a listener named Ben.
May we all have small, invisible connections.
I saw on your site that you recently saw and were surprisingly moved by Hamilton.
I actually work in a costume shop that makes a lot of the pieces you saw on stage. Hamilton costumes in particular are among the most complicated and labor intense projects we produce. Today for example I spent eight hours just CUTTING one short jacket haha.
I’m telling you this because it was these demanding pieces that made me first start listening to podcasts about two years ago. The first pod I ever listened to was the /Filmcast, and I’ve been a Dave Chen loyalist ever since. Even when my brain turns to mush and my hands ache, I can always turn on a Cast of Kings, /Filmcast, or Gen Pop (RIP) and push through my work. You make the tedious tolerable, and you’ve helped me get through more giant dresses than I can count.
So really I just wanted to thank you for producing such great pods, encourage you to keep going, and maybe surprise you with your own small, invisible connection to a show you’ve come to love.
Ben from NYC
Lin Manuel-Miranda’s “Hamilton” debuted in New York years ago, but when I saw it at the Pantages theater in Los Angeles last night, I have to admit that it affected me in ways I could not have anticipated. The story of Alexander Hamilton’s life, with people of color playing nearly all the central roles, takes on a special significance in our current times. Seeing people of color advocating and dying for the founding principles of this country — it was all very moving, especially in an age where the President and the majority of the white-dominated political party in power refuse to unequivocally denounce actual Nazis.
This country always had greatness, but even at its founding, it’s greatness was predicated on a group of people who were willing to stand up for what was right, even when that meant deep sacrifice. I feel like history is again calling us to do the right thing, and not throw away our shot.
Anyway, “Hamilton” is an amazing experience and you should consider making major life sacrifices to see it.
I’m really enjoying how /Film editor-in-chief Peter Sciretta is carving his way through life these days. Check out his piece on how he auditioned for LA’s Magic Castle:
As happy as this experience has made me, I’m very regretful of not trying out for the Magic Castle earlier. I feel embarrassed and dumb. It really sucks that I let fear own my decisions. If I hadn’t, who knows? I may have had seven years of fun in the Castle as a member at this point. Who knows what I missed in that time.
I’m not a motivational speech kinda guy, but I hope anyone reading this takes something away from this experience. Sure, you might not be into magic or have interest in joining The Magic Castle. But I’m sure you have things in your life that you have pushed off or away because of your fears and anxieties. Maybe there is a woman (or man) you want to ask out, but are afraid to make a move. Maybe you have always wanted to try taking an improv comedy class, but didn’t want to deal with the possible failure in front of a crowd. Maybe it’s something much simpler. Whatever the case, don’t let your fears get the best of your possible happiness. Don’t be in regret years later. Go, do it.
See also: Peter’s forbidden journey.
Rene Denfield has written a piece for The New York Times’ Modern Love column that really destroyed me, emotionally:
To be a parent is to step into a great unknown, a magical universe where we choose to love over and over. It is an act of courage no matter what.
“Didn’t you want your own?” people would ask.
“They are my own,” I would say, softly.
By adopting from foster care, I became the mother I had needed and rewrote my own story. I got to have a childhood all over again, the right one, filled with cuddles and perseverance, safety and love. If there is such a thing as a cycle of abuse, I broke it over the wheel of my own desire.
In David Lowery’s recent film, A Ghost Story, one of the characters goes on an extended soliloquy about the nature of humanity and how one could easily interpret the whole of human existence as a pointless of exercise. One day, everything as we know it will be gone — even, most likely, the universe. So what’s the point of it all? A24 released a short excerpt of the speech on YouTube above. (You can also watch my Periscope review of the film).
This week, the YouTube channel Kurzgesagt released a new video that tackles this very issue.
From the video:
If the universe ends in heat death, every humiliation you suffer in life will be forgotten. Every mistake will not matter in the end. Every bad thing will be voided. If our life is all we get to experience, then it’s the only thing that matters. If the universe has no principles, the only principles relevant are the ones we decide on. If the universe has no purpose, then we get to dictate what its purpose is.
Humans will most certainly cease to exist at some point. But before we do, we get to explore ourselves and the world around us. We get to experience feelings. We get to experience food, books, sunrises, and being with each other. The fact that we’re able to think about these things is already kind of incredible.
Obviously, there’s no one answer for this eternal question, but I appreciate them taking a shot at it.
In short: in the grand scheme of the universe, our time on earth is but a blink of an eye. We might as well enjoy it and try to help others enjoy it while we can.
For more ruminations on making the most of life, see Wait But Why’s post on Life in Weeks.