Monday, April 11, 2011

I was a victim of Komedy Karma

It's a comedy staple and I've resorted to it many times. People trapped in an elevator. I've written scenes using that premise, directed scenes using that premise, and in improv class I've performed that scene almost as many times as "two people meet on a blind date".

Hey, it works. You can get two people together who otherwise wouldn't be and place them in a highly stressful situation that they can't escape and could lead to a complete emotional and physical breakdown. What could be more fun than that?

You got panic jokes, claustrophobia jokes, indigestion jokes (always a crowd pleaser!), trying to be stoic, pleading with God, and don't forget those million-dollar sight gags. Attempting to open elevator doors or climb through the ceiling. Throw in a pregnant woman going into labor and no air conditioning and you've got comedy GOLD my friend!!!

Bonus yucks: what embarrassing compromising situation do you find the trapped people in when they're finally rescued? In the middle of sex? Fetal position in the corner? Fist fight over the last Tic Tac? The options are limitless!

It's all a recipe for sheer hilarity...

Unless...

It happens to you.

Last Thursday night my wife and I were trapped in an elevator for a half hour. This was in a parking structure at the Santa Monica Promenade at about 9:00 pm. Us and this lovely family from Croatia.

I knew we were in trouble when we entered on the ground level and started going down. Then the car jerked to a stop and froze.

At first there's that moment when you don't believe it. Are we really stuck in an elevator? Doesn't that sort of thing only happen in cheesy Ken Levine sitcoms? Then everyone tries to be cool, especially since one of the passengers was a kid. (I wonder -- is there a Kubler-Ross equivalent to elevators??)

We rang the alarm bell and that accomplished nothing. Does it ever or is it there to just make you feel better? Look! I'm pressing a button! I'm DOING something!

There was also an emergency phone button. We hit that and after a few rings someone answered. I don't know who. Maybe they have a deal with On-Star or this is the same guy who takes your order when you call and buy Time-Life's 12,000 Golden Oldies collection for only $995 (and if you order before midnight they'll add 4,362 more oldies absolutely free!!). He took down the information and said he'd call us right back. When five minutes went by and he didn't, I called again. He was very reassuring. "So this is in the Embassy Suites, right? "NO! THE PARKING STRUCTURE!". (Step 3: Anger at idiots.) He promised to call us back.

Mr. Croatia was getting antsy.  He managed to open the interior doors, but they got stuck and then wouldn't close. I'm thinking -- that can't be good. He tried to open the steel outer doors and managed to part them two inches -- enough that we could see the small crowd of curiosity seekers that had gathered. I wanted to yell out, "This is not Chile!".

The parking attendant arrived and said the fire department was on the way. Ten minutes later they arrived, some lever was pulled and the doors opened. Now you'd expect cheering from the crowd, right? None. I actually think they were disappointed. We stepped out and that was that. A big thank you to the fire department and the attendant who also didn't charge us for parking. What a great way to save $2.00!  I'm still waiting to hear from On-Star-guy. I hope those people trapped in the Embassy Suites aren't still there.

The added irony is that our car was only one flight up.  But who can resist an elevator that's just closing?

So I guess it's Komedy Karma. Payback for all the elevator scenes I've milked laughs out of. But did I learn my lesson? Hey, I wrote this post,didn't I?

The real Komedy Karma however, came this weekend at the boxoffice.  Despite a huge publicity campaign that included TV ads in AMERICAN IDOL, the new ARTHUR was an absolute bomb.  I'd much rather be trapped in an elevator than get caught between that moon and New York City. 


BONUS POST later today. Am writing it now.

28 comments:

GoingUp said...

PBS ran an excellent documentary on elevator safety (seriously, I'm not kidding) that included some elevator history. If you get the time, you can stream it from:

http://video.pbs.org/video/1631361631/

brian t said...

The "funniest" thing about entrapment gags is how normal bodily functions are suspended for the duration. Unless they happen to be funny, that is: a fart goes away by itself, but the pile of turds in the corner has to be cleaned up somehow. If you work in a building with flaky elevators, should you carry spare plastic bags with you, just in case you're trapped and caught short? Maybe a little unrealism is a good thing in comedy ..!

Infauxtainment said...

Low Arthur numbers. There is a God.

mcp said...

I guess all elevator gags have their ups and downs.

Thank you. Thank you. Please don't forget to tip your waitresses.

RCP said...

It sounds like you remained calm and level-headed, Ken. Being stuck in an elevator for 30 minutes at 9 pm would probably push most peoples' buttons.

OTIS said...

Thats a real downer...

Jeff said...

Funniest All In The Family episode: Archie trapped in an elevator

One of the best episodes of All In The Family had Archie trapped in an elevator with a black man, a Hispanic couple - the woman expecting to give birth any moment and a neurotic woman. Archie has a conversation with the Black man, who is upper middle class, and says to Arch that he lives in a big home in Larchmont. Archie replies, "well whoopdee doo." "What's the matter Bunker? Can't stand to see the future," the man replies to Archie. One of the funniest AITF episodes ever.

YEKIMI said...

And here I thought the post was going to be about the crying baby on the plane that you twittered about.

BigTed said...

I've used those elevators in the downtown Santa Monica parking structures many times, and I'm always surprised when they DON'T break down.

Of course, if this were a story on a network sitcom, you'd have to leave out any discussion of the urine smell.

Mr. Hollywood said...

Once, in the old ABC Entertainment Center in Century City, across from the Century Plaza Hotel, I was trapped in an elevator for about 15 minutes ... with Gary Coleman! That's a sitcom episode in itself! The little guy got so angry I thought he was going to rip the elevator apart. Had to calm him down ... when we got out he went on his way ... but never got over that anger issue!

Mac said...

I'd freak out if that happened to me. I know it wouldn't do any good but I'd still freak the hell out.

So Arthur bombed, which in a logical industry might get people thinking "Um, maybe the original writer had something to do with the quality of the original?" Leaving aside that Dudley Moore was funnier in his sleep than Russell Brand is when he's performing.
I doubt that'll happen though. Next will be "Some Like It Hot" updated for the 21st Century. Because that Billy Wilder guy didn't quite hit the mark.

Mork said...

I got stuck in an elevator when I was at band camp in high school. We were staying in a dorm at Central Michigan University; I got on the elevator with a couple of other guys from a different school, and the thing stopped just an inch or two above the second floor. We rang the bell for a while, and they finally came and opened the doors, but the elevator remained out of order for the rest of the week.

Which made it really fun to stay on the 8th floor of the dorm in the middle of an August heat wave...

jbryant said...

When I was in college, I spent about half my time stuck in the dorm elevator, because the guys I hung with thought it was hilarious to jump up and down until the thing got stuck. And it was always between floors, so when help came we had to either climb up or drop down, adding fear of decapitation to the mix.

Mr. Hollywood: Sitcom stars I have ridden on an elevator with - Jaleel "Urkel" White and Soleil "Punky Brewster" Moon Frye. Not the same elevator, and we didn't get stuck. But Soleil was pregnant at the time -- dang, what a great story it could've been for the tabloids: "I Delivered Punky Brewster's Baby on a Stalled Elevator!"

Rob said...

Does this mean no remake of "Arthur 2"?

Mary Stella said...

Several years ago at the RT Booklovers Convention (Same convention I attended last week.), women kept piling on an elevator I was already in all because a good looking male cover model was in the car. I kept saying we had too many, but Cassandra had better luck getting them to listen at Troy.

We made it down one floor. The sole hotel employee bailed out. Doors closed and we got stuck between the next two floors. Nine women, one good looking guy, one poor husband who had just taken his shot for diabetes and needed food. To stave off panic and claustrophobia, I started making jokes and taking pictures. Hand to God, some of us said at the time that it was like a scene from a sitcom.

I saw some of my fellow trapped elevator people last week. Nothing like 45 minutes of hot, sweaty, close quarters to bond you to each other.

Phillip B said...

Wrote a play in college about a fellow who plants a bomb in a corporate headquarters and gets stuck in the elevator while trying to make his escape. A comedy showing how life sucks.

Later found my drama professor used part of it in his own play, presented on campus later that year. And then life really did suck...

Steve MacDonald said...

What a coincidence. I went to the mall yesterday and the escalator broke down. I was trapped on that thing for forty five minutes.

Otis said...

I'm texting this from inside an elevator right now. Help!

Charlie said...

Glad to hear that you emerged unscathed.

Although the throng of people was perhaps a bit scarred when the lever was pulled and they found your group having sex in the fetal position and fighting for the last Tic-Tac.

Hawkward!

John said...

Ken, on the positive side, none of the onlookers were yelling "jump" when you were stuck in the elevator (people on the ledges of buildings being another time-honored comedy staple).

crackblind said...

Remember a few years back when the Roosevelt Island Tram got stuck. I loved the vivid description of the makeshift bathroom they made out of a bucket and a blanket.

And you know why the story of the stuck tram is funny??

Because it wasn't me.

Horrible tram story said...

Damn that Green Goblin!

VP81955 said...

My favorite trapped-in-elevator scene came in the wonderful 1941 William Powell-Myrna Loy comedy "Love Crazy." Bill, whose character is married to Myrna (of course!), is riding an elevator with old flame Gail Patrick (no one played the "other woman" better than Gail), who just moved into his New York apartment building. She's carrying a little dog, and the elevator gets stuck with Bill, Gail, dog and elevator operator. It winds up with Bill's head stuck in the elevator door at the bottom of a floor, and his face is being licked by the dog (who, with Gail, had made it out to safety).

It's hilarious, and with the fishing scene in "Libeled Lady," is a reminder that Powell was a master of physical comedy to complement that mellifluous voice.

Anonymous said...

Me from Hungary - not Crotia, idiot!

John said...

Just found this today -- What could be worse than being trapped in an elevator? Being trapped in a subway elevator!

Anonymous said...

You could have just pulled on the doors really hard and stepped out.

Becky said...

My father to elevator operator: "Your job sure must have some ups and downs."
Elevator operator: "Yeah, but what really gets to you is the jerks between the floors."

Gary D said...

On the bright side, you could've needed a jack when you got back to your car.