Sunday, August 14, 2016

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.

A few years ago 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?

34 comments:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I wish I knew why so many (male?) writers think women giving birth in the most awkward and risky circumstances is a laugh riot. Between movies and TV, I've seen babies delivered in taxis, barns, broken-down station wagons, elevators, and go through record-setting hours of labor. And every time it doesn't seem like comedy to me, it seems like a HORROR MOVIE. Call it a Friday question.

wg

B.A. said...

I've seen a few elevator scenes in videos where various performers made the most of a sticky situation, but they didn't climax in comedy...

Richard John Marcej said...

As soon as I read that image "Trapped In An Elevator" I immediately thought of sitcom episodes of
• All In The Family - "The Elevator Story" (which, for some reason I remember it for being the first AITF episode that doesn't take place at the Bunkers house)
and
• The Dick Van Dyke Show - "4 1/2" Guest starring Don Rickles
While the premise may be tired, both episodes were very funny.

Mike said...

The Croatian family said that it was one of the roomier studio apartments they'd seen and that they'd take it.

Then everyone tries to be cool.
Debbie to Croatians: "Don't worry. It's OK. My husband's a comedian."

He tried to open the steel outer doors and managed to part them two inches.
"We can order out for pizza but not chicken buckets."

Phil Herup said...

Mr Croatia has nothing on me. I would have left blood and nails on the doors trying to rip them apart.

Being trapped ain't my thing.

BUT claustrophobia did give us the C*A*V*E episode of MASH

Anonymous said...

Ken, if you get Reelz channel, they have a "National Enquirer Investigates" series. One of the episodes investigates the death of Natalie Wood, and it's currently on demand with my provider. Thought you might be interested if you have the channel. It first aired 6/8/16. They didn't paint Wagner too favorably.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

If people getting trapped in an elevator is such a staple of comedy, how come I never see it? Was it something before my time, like pie-in-the-face slapstick or something? The only time I ever remember seeing anybody stuck in an elevator was an episode of SNIZ & FONDUE from KaBLAM!, where they got stuck when attending a sci-fi convention. And what's this business about there always being a pregnant woman stuck in the elevator? I know I've never seen that.

David Schwartz said...

Isn't this the old adage, "When it happens to someone else it's comedy, and when it happens to me it's tragedy!" :-)

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner did a routine with their 2000 year old man that went something like, "Comedy is when you slip on a banana peel. Comedy is when you fall off a cliff. Tragedy is when I get a splinter."

Great post, as always!

David Schwartz



John Hammes said...

Larry says he will do the Elevator Dance. Shemp rubs sandpaper, Moe slaps his hands, both in rhythm. Larry stands completely still.

Ted Healy asks why Larry isn't moving.

Larry explains this is the Elevator Dance... there are no steps to it.



-- Ted Healy, The Three Stooges, "Soup To Nuts", 1930.

Ron R. said...

Joseph Scarbrough said...
If people getting trapped in an elevator is such a staple of comedy, how come I never see it?


There have been "stuck in an elevator" stories on sitcoms such as THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, ALL IN THE FAMILY, NIGHT COURT, WKRP IN CINCINATTI, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, and MODERN FAMILY. Those are the ones I can remember.

I'm pretty sure "trapped in an elevator" was one that Lucille Ball never got around to, though she and Mr. Mooney did get trapped in a locked bank vault once.

I think everyone who works in my office building has been trapped in the elevators at least once. They are not particularly reliable. So far as I know, though, wacky hijinks have never ensued. Usually you're in there maybe five minutes, tops, before maintenance gets you out.

Manish Sharma said...

That's right up there with that other brilliant piece of intellectual humor, two people get stuck together in handcuffs. You must be so proud.

Kosmo13 said...

On The Bill Cosby Show, Chet Kincaid got stuck in an elevator with characters played by Henry Fonda and Elsa Lanchester.

The variant I'm sick of on stuck-in-an-elevator is stuck-in-a-bank-vault. Whether it's Get Smart, Magnum PI or Monk, I scream "Cliche!"

Rashad Khan said...

Lucy Ricardo/Carmichael/Carter/Barker was never trapped inside a stalled elevator?

My one trapped-inside-an-elevator experience boils down to this: I'm trapped inside an elevator with several friends; when we realize the elevator has indeed stalled, I yell (in jest) that we're all going to die. My friends glare at me, I say, "...Or not," and we stand quietly for several more minutes, until someone who works in the building is able to rescue us. Coincidentally, that's when I learn that humor doesn't always lighten the mood.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Stuck in an elevator for a half hour? No thank you. That had to have been a novel but freaky experience. I bet you even lost touch with the family.

For a fun 1 am movie when you can't sleep, I recommend...DEVIL. It's a mediocre but creepy-fun movie about the being stuck in that box with the Devil.

Mr. Hollywood said...

True story ... was once trapped in an elevator in Century City with .... GARY COLEMAN! Now that could make a VERY good sitcom episode. Needless to say ... he was VERY angry!

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Oh, well, if we're going to go the route of other containments to get stuck in for comedy, then yes, that I've seen plenty of times: I DREAM OF JEANNIE had a really dull, drawn-out four-parter about Jeannie getting trapped in NASA safe - I never could understand why she couldn't just blink herself out. Barney Fife got stuck in a bank vault, that I remember. Kenan and Kel got stuck in a restaurant freezer, that I remember. Trapper and Margaret got stuck in the Supply Hut, that I remember. One of Seinfeld's acquaintences got stuck in his trunk; Felix and Oscar got stuck in the basement; Ernest got stuck in an ice cream cooler; Lucy's gotten stuck in a meat locker, a luggage trunk, a snowed-in cabin, border patrol, with a trophy on her head, and other containments.

But elevators? That I've rarely seen. I've seen very little of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (as successful as it was, it sure doesn't get a lot of love in reruns) and ALL IN THE FAMILY, I've never seen NIGHT COURT or WKRP IN CINCINATTI, and I don't watch any modern sitcoms.

Igor said...

Great! And such a mensch, leaving your partner out of this one -

"Doesn't that sort of thing only happen in cheesy Ken Levine sitcoms?"

As for Time-Life's 12,000 Golden Oldies collection, fortunately I'm covered, as I long ago bought Robert Klein's "Every Record Ever Recorded".

VP81955 said...

My favorite trapped-in-an-elevator scene came in the 1941 comedy "Love Crazy," where William Powell is trapped with one-time "My Man Godfrey" rival Gail Patrick (here an old flame of his before he married Myrna Loy) and an elevator operator. Oh, and Gail has a small dog, her stockinged foot winds up on Powell's face as she tries to climb out of the elevator, and Bill's head is trapped between doors -- and floors -- as the dog, now out of the elevator, licks his face. Powell was an underrated physical comedian (remember the fishing scene in "Libeled Lady"?), and this is further proof.

YEKIMI said...

True story ... was once trapped in an elevator in Century City with .... GARY COLEMAN! Now that could make a VERY good sitcom episode. Needless to say ... he was VERY angry!

It wasn't that he was mad about being stuck, it was about the fact that when he said "We're stuck!", It was that everyone else said "Whatcha talkin' about, Willis?"

Diane D. said...

I can't believe no one has mentioned Ken's own FRASIER episode where Frasier and Mercedes Ruehl get stuck in a service elevator which has a bed in it, which conveniently falls from the vertical to the horizontal position when the elevator jerks to a stop. There is other furniture and art work that adds to the mood, and they have been trying desperately not to have sex (can't remember why). Obviously, they succumb and are having wild sex when the elevator starts to move.. When the doors open they are standing coolly in their respective business suits---one of the most hilarious elevator scenes I have ever seen (and I have seen what feels like dozens)---Joseph Scarbrough, I can't believe you haven't seen any!!

I love elevator scenes, even when they don't get stuck---there were two other hilarious elevator scenes in FRASIER----the one where Daphne and Martin pretend to be spies to scare a neighbor who is on the elevator with them! OMG! It's a spontaneous decision and the spy talk is hilarious. And the one where Frasier has a patient who is terrified of clowns. She is on an elevator when the doors open to the sight of Frasier in the scariest 10 foot tall clown suit you've ever seen! I have GOT to re-watch Frasier. I never get those kinds of laughs anymore.

Greg Ehrbar said...

The I DREAM OF JEANNIE safe saga was tied into a promotion in which viewers could guess the combination and win valuable prizes. Same with the four parter about Jeannie's birthday (with ended with a cameo by Groucho Marx).

Vinnie Barbarino helped deliver a baby on an elevator in the Kotter episode, "Barbarino's Baby." Highlight of the episode was the wonderful Jane Dulo. Bob and Emily Hartley were locked in a storage room without Mary Frann. Lucy locked her head in a vase.

Every birth in a sitcom also has an obligatory "we're naming it after you" gag.

Mike said...

For one night only, second place in the Olympic medal table.

Brian MacIntyre said...

The movie "Sweet Charity" had a stuck in the elevator scene with Shirley MacLaine and John McMartin, who died last month. But for my money, the best such scene was from The Bob Newhart Show when Bob gets stuck in the elevator shaft - sans elevator. (He's clinging to the cables.)

Andy Rose said...

I believe the Mel Brooks quote is "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die."

Gary said...

Garry Marshall said when his writers were out of ideas, they would do a "stuck-in-a" show.

philosophymom said...

On an episode of DOOGIE HOWSER, Vinnie delivers his French teacher's baby while stuck in an elevator. I believe he earns extra credit. And I'm pretty sure I saw an episode of FAMILY GUY -- a show I don't care for but periodically try to watch because I like Seth MacFarlane's singing ;-) -- in which Stewie & Brian get stuck in a bank vault. Somebody fires a gun.

Donald Benson said...

MOONLIGHTING stuck Willis and Shepherd in an elevator to get them past her miscarriage (now THERE'S a story arc for a light romcom).

One of the best rides at Walt Disney World is the Tower of Terror, featuring a haunted elevator in a decrepit hotel.

Donald Benson said...

Oh, and CHEERS had Sam telling Rebecca that he seduced her rival in an elevator and somehow sold her on a demonstration. It turned out she knew he was lying and left him handcuffed with trousers down. End on doors opening to crowded lobby.

In slapstick comedies, characters will occasionally step into an elevator shaft with no elevator. They land safely in a mud pit at the bottom.

Barry Traylor said...

The one that I have always liked is the episode of the DICK VAN DYKE show where Rob and Laura are trapped in an elevator with a thief (played by Don Rickles). That one is a classic in my opinion;.

Bill K said...

When it comes to elevators I'd still prefer being in one in a comedy than a drama. If you're in the opening scene of a sitcom and find yourself in elevator you'll probably end up trapped. In a drama you will reach your floor, but find a gruesome crime scene when the doors open. And that's if there isn't a dead body in there already.

Gerald said...

Oh, it's a real-life "thang", alright:

http://www.politico.com/story/2016/07/donald-trump-elevator-colorado-226470

Greg Ehrbar said...

This one was pretty disturbing and memorable:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mj8FIbuoWPY

McTom said...

Favorite elevator episode for sheer lunacy, hands down: http://www.cc.com/episodes/7qgoex/archer-vision-quest-season-6-ep-605

blogward said...

That feeling when you've been stuck for half an hour and a voice with a deep Glasgow accent (Scotty from Star Trek) yells out, "Can you hang on a bit longer - I've brought the wrong key?"