Some are born great. Some have greatness thrust upon them. And still others don a black unitard and a pumpkin mask and awkwardly dance to the strains of “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr. on local television newscasts. Such are the origins of a Halloween phenomenon lovingly chronicled by Audra Schroeder in a Daily Dot article devoted to the odd, unlikely history of the viral sensation known as the Pumpkin Dance. Nine years ago, Matt Geiler was a Second City veteran recently hired as an anchor on the 10 o’clock news at KXVO, an Omaha CW affiliate that at the time was trying without much success to reach a younger, hipper audience with its programming. Even the hiring of an ex-MTV veejay had fizzled. Fortunately, Geiler and producer Taylor Stein, a fellow KXVO staffer, shared a taste for boundary-pushing comedy and on-air, Talk Soup-inspired shenanigans. One night, Stein had a gap in the program to fill, and Geiler had a low-tech, dadaist solution: the Pumpkin Dance, a minute and a half of pure, unbridled silliness. Interestingly, Geiler’s character, Happy Jack The Grave Dancer, had a possible literary progenitor in the form of Jack Pumpkinhead, a character who debuted in L. Frank Baum’s The Marvelous Land Of Oz in 1904.
Schroeder’s article provides some juicy behind-the-scenes details about the Pumpkin Dance, including the fact that the mask itself was an ill-fitting, hastily borrowed studio decoration that Geiler thought “may have been destroyed” after his memorable performance. Stein, who now works at a station in Minneapolis, actually claims to have the mask in his possession, however. In a sense, the article also serves as a thumbnail history of the entire viral video movement, with the slow rise of Geiler’s routine in online popularity mirroring the rise of sites like BuzzFeed and YouTube, both of which played important roles in the squash-based meme. Although he filmed numerous other Happy Jack videos, all carefully cataloged in the article, Geiler has moved on to doing “musical improv” in Los Angeles and now must occasionally struggle to prove to his son’s classmates that he is, in fact, the original Pumpkin Dance guy. Such are the vicissitudes of viral fame.