October 22, 2016. Approximately 11:50 PM, Eastern Time.
I sat in the third floor common area of Butler University’s Fairview House during its inaugural year of housing students. I was one of the lucky first-years (Butler’s unnecessary attempt at a politically correct term replacing “freshmen”) living on the building’s fourth floor.
I had established a tradition of inviting Jessie, the girl I had already declared to be my best friend two months into college, to watch the new Saturday Night Live episode as it aired each week. We’d bonded during the first week over our mutual SNL fandom, and our potential for lasting friendship thrived while others I’d formed/imagined in my freshman orientation group fizzled out.
Fortunately, becoming friends with Jessie immersed me in a complete group of first-two-months friends. Unlike me, she had been able to keep up with the people she met in her freshman orientation group, some of whom happened to live in her dorm hallway. They had formed a friend group and a GroupMe message chain named after a favorite Cards Against Humanity answer they discovered while playing an inaugural round of the card game as friends. I was surprised to discover this tidbit, as I’d had the same experience with my first-week-of-school friends, but I had failed to remain an active part of the group. Where my “Nipple Tassels” let me down, Jessie’s “Dick Fingers” filled the void.
On this October night, I felt some assurance that these people were my friends– a rare phenomenon during the first semester of college, I’d discovered. Jessie, our new friend Madeline (a girl I initially decided to talk to because her freckles and pixie haircut made her resemble the long-distance boy I was seeing at the time), and an assortment of Jessie’s friends from marching band and the Dick Fingers chat, were wandering around Butler’s campus in the darkness. We sang songs from Les Miserables to locate each other in a wooded area. Some of us probably stuck our feet into a fountain. At least one person was probably drunk or high but didn’t tell the rest of us. That was just how we worked.
I invited my friends to spend the evening in my residence hall and watch this evening’s Tom Hanks-hosted SNL on one of the common area televisions. We each took our space on the sectional couches and waited for other, more social members of the group to emerge from Halloween parties hosted by fraternities. (At the time, these scared me. And they still kind of do.)
So we were watching this new Saturday Night Live, this last-show-before-the-2016-election Saturday Night Live, and we all sat silently before a sketch that was absolutely not political. It wasn’t satirical, it wasn’t mean-spirited, it wasn’t any sort of social commentary. It was “Its own thang.” If you haven’t seen the sketch, here it is.
This. Just. Happened. And we were here for it, watching live. This was like witnessing the moon landing. This was like watching the Kennedy assassination. This was like watching John Travolta introduce Idina Menzel as “the wickedly talented Adele Dazeem” at the 2014 Academy Awards. This was like watching “Dick in a Box” debut on Saturday Night Live. (This was probably more like that last thing than those other three things.)
But we didn’t know it. I assumed it would fade into the obscurity of the SNL-reference-ether floating inside my brain, like a similar sketch featuring Larry David as Kevin Roberts, “the coolest bitch in town.”
It didn’t. It became a viral sensation, an animated NBC special, and a perennial Halloween costume choice. (Can I say “perennial” about something that’s only been around for three years?)
And this came to be something of an omen for what I’d learn during my college career.
Success for you doesn’t have to look like success looks for others. Most of SNL’s most relevant and well-known sketches from this era were political and smart and hyper-observant. This was goofy and fun and just the right kind of palette cleanser.
That sort of became the position I found myself in alongside my well-prepared, buttoned-up, five-internships-and-counting classmates. They’re doing great, and I’m doing great. We don’t have to be the same. That’s the great thing about sketch comedy, and also the great thing about professional success.
And what makes this lesson even better is that I got to learn it alongside people who are as invested in my success as I am in theirs. Friends who cheer you on and feel your joys as their own. Friends you invest in.
Though life seems to change in college faster than it does in real life, I still feel a fondness for the people I shared that pre-Halloween night with. We’d go on to watch the ill-fated Fox Rocky Horror Picture Show TV musical, and dance to Christmas music in a dorm basement. Jessie, Madeline and I did improv in my living room until 4 A.M. one January morning, and we traveled to Chicago together and sang in the Rainforest Cafe that spring. They became my main squeezes. Some of those friends I’ve shared apartments with, bought a baby mannequin arm with, survived sorority recruitment with. Others I just wave to when I pass by on campus.
These were the people that helped me be weird on campus for the first time. And so when I celebrate David S. Pumpkins, I celebrate them.