Last fall, Tom Hanks donned a pumpkin-covered suit and stepped onto the Saturday Night Live stage. Little did he know that after a decades-long career full of success, he was about to play his most popular and divisive role yet:
David S. Pumpkins.
A year later, the name continues to haunt the Halloween season. The staying power of David S. Pumpkins, a character whose main attributes involve one funny face and some hand motions, is pretty impressive.
The original sketch, written by Mikey Day, Bobby Moynihan and Streeter Seidell, was actually called "Haunted Elevator," though you've probably never heard it referred to as such. David S. Pumpkins became so prominent that his own name simply eclipsed any former appellation.
This year, SNL aired the David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special, a 22-minute animation that gave some backstory to what was once just a pretty, nonsensical four-minute sketch. The special was proof enough that David S. Pumpkins had staying power, and the media frenzy that followed showed that he remained as divisive as ever.
Splitsider called Pumpkins the "Paul Blart of Halloween." Salon wrote about "The Curious Case of 'The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special'." Rolling Stone urged readers to watch the special. The Washington Post wrote that SNL went "all in" on their favorite Halloween guy.
But what is it about David that makes him such a contentious character? There are a few factors.
Vulture's oral history of David S. Pumpkins reveals the character was created way too early in the morning. The writers were going slowly insane from sleep deprivation. In nervous anticipation of the oncoming dawn, they pasted together fragments of an idea. Pumpkins was never meant to be a half-hour special; he barely became a sketch. Even his name was snatched tiredly out of thin air.
"I remember Mikey [Day] being very tired and exasperated, and after a 30-second silence he just went, 'What if we just call him David Pumpkins?'" Moynihan said in the Vulture piece.
The original David S. Pumpkins sketch is both spectacularly funny and spectacularly annoying because there is little to no explanation of any of the events. Like anything created in a sleep-deprived haze, David S. Pumpkins is more of a colorful fever dream than a tiny play with an actual narrative.
David S. Pumpkins is a comedic split personified. Some delight in the absence of explanation and the reliance on hammy movements and sounds while others find it considerably annoying. Neither camp is wrong. But the rift between them is the sweet spot that keeps Pumpkins in the limelight. As long as there are people talking about how much they love or hate David S. Pumpkins, there is David S. Pumpkins.
So come next Halloween, don't be surprised if and when David S. Pumpkins has his own feature-length film. It's only a matter of time.