Uncomfortable Elevator Moment
(For the proper reading experience, run the music from this video while reading this page.
In several European cultures, there is an unspoken code of behavior that applies inside elevators,
and also sometimes on trains and other modes of public transportation: when someone enters an elevator, the custom is to face the front and stand in silence whilst absentmindedly watching the floor numbers change. If there is
any conversation, it amounts only to small talk. An individual who breaks with this custom, for example facing the other passengers, is often a source of considerable unease to the other individuals in the elevator with you. The protocol does vary a lot between cultures, even between neighboring countries; for example, England has the elevator protocol, while almost none of Europe does. Depending on where you are, you might be expected to greet the other people in the elevator and/or make light conversation, or to completely ignore them. This is apparently a part of basic animal behavior, too
: primates in small enclosed spaces instinctively avoid drawing attention to themselves. The cultural differences in elevator protocol reflect differences in what behaviour is inconspicuous. And yes, primates — monkeys go quiet too, but rats tend to fight
Particularly in visual fiction, the Western "protocol" is often milked to generate ironic, uncomfortable silences from characters inside the elevator, when some other reaction might well be expected or justified. In short: an Uncomfortable Elevator Moment.
Uncomfortable Elevator Moments traditionally take place inside The Elevator from Ipanema
. The elevator "music" itself often forms part of the humor and/or tension in the scene, but will get cut off abruptly when the scene ends. It can also take the form of a Mid-Battle Tea Break
in a fight.
For added discomfort, cue the fart
, with an elevator filled with many, many people.
If it becomes overly long
, it may overlap with Leave the Camera Running
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- Seen in a McDonald's commercial.
- Subverted in a Hallmark commercial. It starts with several apartment tenants standing in an elevator minding their own business, staring straight ahead — then the elevator breaks down. A short time skip later, they're bonding about old friendships and asking the bewildered repairman to let them have another minute.
- Subverted differently in this ad for an insurance company that seems to now be defunct.
Anime & Manga
- Dara O'Briain built a whole bit about the phenomenon into one of his shows. The video is sadly no longer available online, but he suggests not walking into your usual spot at the back, but instead standing with your back to the doors, just staring into the lift at everyone else in it. He also recommends the handrails as a means of indulging your Olympic-Gymnast daydreams.
- There was one of these in a Superman comic: a small, nebbishly kind of fellow gets onto the elevator complaining audibly about his lot in life. Darkseid is impassively standing inside. The civilian rambles on for a few more seconds until he realizes who he's actually in the lift with, at which point an Uncomfortable Elevator Moment comes about.
- Never get on an elevator with The Tick. For one, he takes half the elevator due to sheer size. He also hums along with the elevator music.
- Ultimate Marvel: Ultimate Elektra escorts Spider-Man up The Kingpin's private elevator.
Films — Animation
- The moment in Spirited Away when Chihiro is on the elevator with the Radish Spirit. Awkward.
- WALL•E has one between the title character and EVE. They happen to be on the run at the time and the two see a "wanted" picture of them on the screen in the elevator. WALL•E is amused. EVE... isn't.
- In Megamind, Roxanne and Megamind (disguised as Bernard) share an elevator in the Metro Man Museum... just before it's going to blow up, thanks to actions by the latter of the pair.
Films — Live-Action
- In a culture where elevator silence is expected, you walk into a crowded elevator, face the others and say: "You're probably wondering why I gathered you all here." For extra points, wrap up by calling for a group hug.
- In the book version of American Psycho, Patrick Bateman makes small talk with Tom Cruise in an elevator. It even reads awkwardly in the novel.
- There's a whole chapter in The Pale King devoted to three IRS employees that are stuck in an elevator. Their resulting debates include the future of American society, presidential politics, democracy, tax law, psychology, film, and existential dread.
- In Catching Fire, the uninhibited Johanna Mason complains of the heat, strips naked, and gets on an elevator with Peeta and Katniss. It turns out later that she was deliberately invoking this trope to make Katniss uncomfortable.
- Defied in the Light Novel version of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Kyon notes that Haruhi ignores "normal elevator etiquette" by talking to him while they wait. Knowing Haruhi, this is to be expected.
- Sylar is riding in a lift with another individual. Sylar is utterly casual and generally following the elevator protocol; his fellow passenger also does so, but is doing so out of fear more than anything else — Sylar's clothes are drenched in blood. Sylar asks the other man if there's something wrong, and when he stammers out "No, of course not," his newly obtained Living Lie Detector ability goes off. "Heh, it really does tingle..."
- There's also the scene near the end of the first season where Matt, Bennet, Jessica, and D.L. are riding the elevator together. After some awkward silence, Jessica says, casually, "Hey, didn't I throw you out a window one time?"
- Sex and the City: Miranda and Steve share an incredibly awkward elevator ride with Miranda's ex Robert who is also a fellow tenant. Seeing as Steve just moved in, they discuss afterward who gets "custody" of the elevator.
- A gag in Trigger Happy TV is to fill an elevator with people in animal suits, taking up all of the room except for the unsuspecting person either already in the elevator, or trying to enter.
- How I Met Your Mother: Ted meets one of his dates this way. They have several awkward elevator rides due to working in the same building until he finally breaks the ice — by spilling his guts about how horrible he still feels after having been left at the altar several months ago.
- Gibbs holds a lot of private conversations in the elevator, often hitting the emergency stop switch in order to better use it as an impromptu private conference room. Needless to say, many of these little conferences get distinctly uncomfortable. You'd think building security would, at some point, tell Gibbs to stop setting off alarms just so he can talk to people, but if you're really thinking that, you haven't met Gibbs. Turns out Gibbs learned it from Franks. It is also a subversion; his elevator talks with Fornell are rather cordial.
- Other characters also have their own Uncomfortable Elevator Moments. A humorous example appears in the Season 4 episode "Cover Story" with Tony and Ziva discussing their counterparts in McGee's novel: "Totally unrealistic." "Would never happen." With both of them looking hilariously awkward the entire time.
- Not to mention the episode where we see Ziva put a particularly irritating suspect into the elevator, the doors close... then the doors open on the next floor and he's dead. Bet that was awkward as Hell.
- Later, when there was a massive power outage, McGee and Ziva were stuck in the elevator all night and a good part of the morning.
- This is apparently a common enough behavior from Gibbs that at one point a character comments upon 'finally getting to see Gibb's 'office' in person' after being waylaid for one of those elevator conversations.
- Referenced in an episode of Roseanne, in which Roseanne is disguised as a man to get into Dan's lodge. She starts chatting with the guy next to her in the urinals, and when he doesn't respond says, "Oh I get it! It's like when you're in an elevator!"
- Used in Kyle XY by the protagonist, when he enters an elevator for the first time and notes that all the people face forward in silence and evade his gaze when he looks at them. It promptly becomes even more awkward when Stephen tells a colleague to lie to a client over the phone, causing Kyle to question him over it and prompting looks from the other elevator patrons.
- In a skit on Chappelle's Show parodying the film What Women Want, a woman enters an elevator full of horny middle-aged men. They don't say anything to her, but she knows exactly what's on their mind (and almost every lewd detail within, since she can read their thoughts). She manages to get away from the situation when the elevator arrives at her floor when a young boy in the elevator thinks to himself, "I'd put a hurtin' on that bitch!"
- Babylon 5:
- Star Trek: Voyager:
- After an Aliens Made Them Do It episode (which fortunately was not consummated), the officers concerned (Half-Human Hybrid B'Elanna Torres and Handsome Lech Tom Paris) run into each other in the turbolift. Awkward small talk ensues, until an annoyed Tom stops the lift to give a heartfelt speech on how they have to face up to what happened... plus he wasn't that scared by seeing her aggressive Klingon side, and wouldn't mind seeing more of it some day. They go the rest of the way in silence, but as B'Elanna exits at her floor, she says, "Be careful what you wish for, Lieutenant."
- In "Waking Moments", all of the crew have had strange nightmares which end with a strange alien watching them. After waking up they all share their dreams, but Tuvok is notably reluctant to share as his dream, shown at the beginning of the episode, was that he went to the bridge, only to realize when the entire crew begin to laugh hysterically that he had neglected to put on any form of clothing. Janeway takes a turbolift with Tuvok and takes the opportunity to investigate further. Clearly uncomfortable, Tuvok admits he dreamed he was in the turbolift and the alien seemed to be "scrutinizing his appearance" before following him back to his quarters. His short, evasive answers seem to pique Janeway's interest further.
Janeway: And then?
Tuvok: He watched me.
Janeway: Doing what?
Tuvok: ... Getting dressed.
Janeway: Getting dressed? (pause) I don't suppose I should ask why you were undressed.
Tuvok: I would prefer that you didn't.
(there follows a very awkward silence and when they leave the turbolift, Janeway sneaks a glance at Tuvok with a barely smothered grin)
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
- There's such a moment in "Trials and Tribble-ations". Time-travelers Bashir and O'Brien try to take a turbolift in TOS's Enterprise, but them being unused to 23rd century technology, it doesn't react to their verbal commands. They're about to tamper with the mechanism when a woman steps in and starts the turbolift properly, by holding one of the handles before giving her command. Bashir then whispers to O'Brien, "I won't tell anyone if you won't."
- Subverted in "The Dogs of War". When Ezri and Bashir have decided they should be Just Friends, they discuss how awkward the ride would be if they hadn't discussed their feelings, with a lot of staring at the feet and awkward mumbling, but now that they'd decided not to act on those feelings, they should be fine. By the time they reach Ops, they're making out.
- The Sarah Connor Chronicles episode "The Tower Is Tall but the Fall Is Short" has an Elevator Action Sequence between Cameron and an unnamed female Terminator that turns into an Uncomfortable Elevator Moment when a family steps onto the elevator in the middle of their duel. As soon as the family steps off, they resume beating the crap out of each other.
- An episode of Only Fools and Horses has Del and Rodney stuck in a lift for several hours.
- Toyed with in an episode of Frasier; Daphne and Martin whisper urgently to each other about how no one could recognize her after the plastic surgery, "the woodchuck and his ways" and the best way to get "stuff" through customs, just for the delight of the awkward response from other tenants. Played straight in a few other episodes.
- Twice in an episode of Dexter have recently-hooked-up Angel and Laguerta about to use the elevator alone together when Masuka joins them.
- Hilariously played with on Angel, as (the very drunk) Fred and Wesley need to catch an elevator quickly.
Wesley: Come on, come on, come on...
Fred: Did you press—
Wesley: Oh. (presses call button)
Wesley: Come on, come on, come on...
- Grey's Anatomy has several elevator scenes, but the one that deserves mention is when Addison, Mer and Derek are riding the elevator together and you could cut the sexual tension with a fucking knife. It's so obvious that Addison later asks Meredith if she's still sleeping with Derek.
- In the pilot of The Mentalist, Patrick Jane takes the liberty of creating one between Van Pelt and Rigsby by mercilessly bringing up their Unresolved Sexual Tension beforehand.
- Leverage manages to combine several elevator tropes into one incident, in which Nate, Nate's ex-wife Maggie, and her boyfriend are handcuffed to one wall of an elevator going down while a ticking bomb is just beyond their reach. While Maggie's boyfriend breaks down crying, Maggie and Nate have a Now or Never Kiss as he watches. Then, out of nowhere, Parker drops down from the ceiling, says hi, grabs the bomb, and climbs back up out of the elevator. Cue an Incredibly Uncomfortable Elevator Moment.
- Veronica Mars: In season two, in the episode best known for its Epic Love moment, Veronica, Mac, Vincent, Corny, Dick, Madison, Jackie, Wallace and others take a long uncomfortable ride up to the Alterna Prom thrown by Logan.
God, longest elevator ride ever. Butters:
Wait for the Space Elevator
. They're designing it now. A huge elevator on a hundred-mile carbon polymer cable that goes all the way to space. That'll be a long elevator ride. Mac:
Still not as long as this one.
- These are sometimes used as office-sexism-scene-setting moments on Mad Men.
- In one of them, Don is on the elevator with a couple of younger guys who start talking in fairly graphic detail about a sexual conquest. The elevator stops and an older woman, presumably a secretary, gets on... and the guys don't stop. Don, ever the Chivalrous Pervert, gives them a few sideways glares and finally intervenes by telling the one guy to take his hat off, before reaching over and physically removing it for him, with the obvious overtone of "pay attention to your surroundings, you little prick."
- Bizarrely subverted by the scene in which Pete Campbell goes about expressing what he (in his upper-crust WASPy ignorance) thinks are more or less enlightened views on race to the elevator operator (who is of course black in this Politically Incorrect History) while actually having rather condescending Unfortunate Implications. Neither he nor most white people—including a lot of white supporters of civil rights—would have recognized it at the time, but the viewers at home were certainly meant to be wincing at least as much as the operator.
- House usually has at least one per episode. The standard is: House having conversation/catfight with person; *ding* lift arrives; doors open; House finishes with a witty/cutting/entirely innapropriate remark and steps into lift — doors close, with last glimpse of the other passengers eyeing him in alarm. (Because they are now trapped with a raving lunatic.)
- A truly uncomfortable elevator scene took place in a later episode of Moonlighting. Maddie had just suffered a miscarriage and chose to bury her emotions and get back to work, until she and Dave end up stuck in an elevator together. After several minutes of elevator music, Dave rips out the elevator's speaker while Maddie finally breaks down crying. Dave ends up comforting Maddie and by the time the elevator door opens again, they exit singing, "Oh What a Friend We Have in Jesus".
- The Big Bang Theory: The elevator's been broken for the entire series, so there's an Uncomfortable Stairwell Moment instead. This occurs as an uncomfortably long silence between Penny (who previously dated Leonard, and still lives across the hall from him) and Raj's sister Priya (who is currently dating Leonard, and on her way to see him) once in Season 4.
- In one episode of Boy Meets World, Man Child Eric makes his former mentor Mr. Feeny his Imaginary Friend to help him with his college work. At one point in the episode he gets in an elevator with a stranger and starts talking to the imaginary Feeny. The other guy is, understandibly, very creeped out.
- In an episode of Mad About You, as Paul goes to visit Jamie at her office, they end up on the elevator with her handsome co-worker Doug... who Jamie just confessed to kissing the night before. During the ride, Paul brings up this this trope by explicitly stating, "Could anything be more awkward?". The tension genuinely ratchets up when Paul asks Jamie to leave him and Doug alone, then proceeds to tell him off, finishing by asking him, "Did you think I was going to hit you?" When Doug confirms that this was indeed his fear, Paul snaps, "Good."
- On ER, Doug chases after Carol to apologize for showing up drunk at her apartment the previous night, uninvited and unannounced and disrupting her evening with her boyfriend. Carol slyly manipulates things so that he ends up on the elevator with her boyfriend... who proceeds to pleasantly tell him that he understands that he isn't over Carol. Doug, who was clearly expecting to be verbally, if not physically eviscerated, is left looking completely gobsmacked by this turn of events.
- The 2010 Hawaii Five-0 has an example when a couple of tourists with a little boy find themselves in the same elevator as the Five-0 police officers, fully geared in bulletproof vests and guns out, as they are pursuing a wounded suspect hiding in a grand hotel. Complete with Hawaiian elevator music.
- In the pilot of Flashpoint a police sniper in full tactical gear steps into a crowded elevator in an office building and asks if someone could press the button for the top floor. The other passengers try their best to ignore him on the ride up.
- In Season 5 of The Wire after Daniels knows about McNulty faking the serial murders, the two men share an elevator. They ride in silence for what seems like forever. The doors open and Daniels exits, turns, and locks eyes with McNulty and seethes "To be continued."
- Josh and Donna share one in season six of The West Wing when they end up staying at the same hotel during the primaries. A few episodes earlier she quit her job after being his assistant for eight years and now they're working on different campaigns. It makes the run-in awkward to say the least.
- The point of one challenge on Impractical Jokers: Sal had to make an annoying noise, Q had to ask a pretty woman to pop a pimple on his back, Murr had to act as though he was having a Potty Emergency...
- In Silent Hill 2, James' pocket radio randomly turns on and plays a demonic quiz show while he travels in an elevator with Maria. Moreover, it turns out the contestant is James himself. It ends with Maria commenting, "What was that?" and James shrugging. Then the elevator doors finally open.
- Mass Effect:
- Used during assorted loading screens in. Most of the time the main character and sidekicks just stand there with news playing over the PA system, but from time to time one of the characters starts making commentary on things that are going on in the game.
- This gets perhaps the single greatest Shout-Out in a video game ever though, when in the second game, having Tali and Garrus in your team while running up and down stairs in the Citadel Wards causes Garrus to comment on how he misses the conversations they used to have in the elevators. Tali threatens him with a shotgun. Gets lampshaded by another character.
- Most conversations other characters have with Wrex in the elevator end with an awkward silence.
- The elevator conversations during the siege of the Normandy in Mass Effect 3's "Citadel DLC" drives the trope even further. Extra points for Tali (if paired with Liara), Garrus, and Javik's dialogues...
- Happens in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, where you're attempting a biking mission. You have to drive through an office and then take the elevator up to one of the top floors. Keep in mind you have to take your motorcycle with you.
- The first map in Left 4 Dead 2 has a quiet elevator sequence, as does Mercy Hospital in 1 and the Sugar Mill in 2. The first map in L4D2 is notable and particularly awkward as the survivors have just met and need to introduce themselves. The Mercy Hospital sequence can also get awkward if the Survivors decide to debate on how to classify their foes.
- In Ghostbusters: The Video Game, there is a scene where Ray and the Rookie are in an elevator with a couple of businessmen arguing about staying in for lunch, though rightfully so since the building is being attacked by the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
- TimeSplitters: Future Perfect features an Uncomfortable Waiting for the Elevator Moment as Cortez and his partner from the time period involved in one of the missions have to wait for the elevator to a corporation's secret lab.
Cortez: So... Been in the agency long?
Partner: Uh... Yeah... Three years in May.
Cortez: You get dental?
Partner: Yeah... Yeah...
Cortez: That's good...
- The elevators in Halo's Library. "But I Don't Want to Ride the Elevator!"
- World of Warcraft, where there is one elevator that NPCs know how to use. If the target they want to attack is on a different floor, they will wait for the elevator, step on it, wait for it to get to the top/bottom and then continue chasing their target. If another player, who they don't like, is also on the elevator they will simply ignore them unless their primary target leaves the dungeon, in which case they will punch your face in.
- L.A. Noire has one in "The Naked City" DLC, where you and your partner are riding up with a woman whose fiancee you just accused of burglary. Your partner finds it funny anyway:
Roy Earle: Well... Isn't this just awkward.
- Dreamfall: The Longest Journey: While infiltrating the HQ of Wati Corp the company behind all the strange events in the game,Zoe once fitted with a janitors outfit can choose to either knock out an employee by an elevator or go in with her.During this they have one of these.
- Boy Meets Boy features a moment where Harley and Mik are about to get intimate, only for the frame to pan out, revealing they're in the middle of an elevator with a group of uncomfortable passengers.
- Everyday Heroes has a couple of superheroes riding the elevator up to the office, while the Muzak is playing "Did I ever tell you you're my hero?" from the song "Wind Beneath My Wings".
- The Order of the Stick Defies its usual practice of having large plot-altering events every hundredth strip by throwing in one of these for comic #600.
- Subnormality illustrates the effect here.
- Yeon from Tower of God causes this when she thinks about Viole too much and freaks out, letting her flames loose. All played for laughs, naturally.
- Keychain of Creation has one, as the group wonders why, despite the state of ruin in the building, the elevator muzak is still running.
- In the TGWTG Year One Brawl between the The Nostalgia Critic and The Angry Video Game Nerd, the two keep fighting throughout a hotel, even while the are waiting for an elevator to arrive. When it does they simply stand inside, apparently ignoring each other. The fight continues once they reach their intended floor.
- The Nostalgia Critic's review of Devil starts out like that, with the Critic stuck in an elevator with Rita Repulsa, Santa Christ and the Devil, and doing the whole review from there.
- In Flander's Company, episode "Projet Damien", the protagonists are dragging a drugged Dr. Parker in an elevator. They stay silent the whole ride, but when they hear a fart, Caleb points out to the unconscious doctor.
- Animaniacs: The protagonists and generic villains tend to get into elevators together and then just stand there as the elevator descends.
- In Code Lyoko, since reaching the lab room and scanners by elevator is at least an Once per Episode event, a few Uncomfortable Elevator Moments are unavoidable. Usually, when two of the heroes are having a dissension and are pointedly ignoring each other. (That is, when it doesn't turn into an Elevator Action Sequence sequence because of XANA's attack.) Such a tense moment happens in episode "Image Problem", when Ulrich and Odd ride with a Yumi impostor, the first clone created by XANA.
- A gag on an early episode of Family Guy has Peter step into an elevator with one other occupant. The other guy starts sniffing with a disgusted look on his face. Peter's response?
Peter: Uh... it was you.
- Jackie Chan Adventures:
- In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer is stuck in an elevator with Mindy Simmons, a co-worker he finds himself attracted to. He ends the awkwardness by stopping the elevator between floors and getting out... into thin air, sliding down one of the power plant's smokestacks.
Homer: See you tomorrow!
- In The Spectacular Spider Man, the humongous supervillain Rhino steps into an elevator where a meek-looking man is already inside, and tells the man to take him to the top floor. After a moment of awkward silence, Rhino explains that his fingers are too big to push the buttons.
- Wakfu manages to have such a moment with a Magitek elevator in season 2 episode 4 — complete with an elevator music remix of the opening theme.
- Inverted in the Archer episode "The Man from Jupiter". Sterling Archer and his hero, Burt Reynolds, are in what's deemed the "world's slowest elevator" inside Archer's co-op building. Burt suggests that Archer "get a Batpole" as a joke. Archer, to Burt's surprise, replies "Nine thousand bucks. Lowest quote I got..." indicating that Archer had already looked into it.
- Tonraq (Korra's father) has one such moment in Season 3 of The Legend of Korra, when he's on an elevator with Zuko, Eska and Desna, the reason being that the ensuing conversation reveals that he's the only person on that elevator that has not tried to kill the Avatar in the past.
- A Robot Chicken sketch has Snarf and Orko in the same elevator, thinking about how they can't stand each other. That is, until Gleek shows up....
- Happens in Metalocalypse as Charles Offdensen escorts two brothers blackmailing them. Bonus points for the fact that he actually intends to kill them.
Charles: So... where are you gentlemen from?
Jomfu brother: Cleveland.
Charles: Ah, I've been there. They have an amusement park there, don't they?
Brother: Yes, they do.
- There's a story about how when Paul Wolfowitz was president of the World Bank, he found himself in an elevator with a woman wearing a blue ribbon and asked her what it meant. She told him it was being worn by World Bank employees petitioning for his resignation.
- Jonah Hill tells a story on the Jimmy Kimmel show of partying with P Diddy in Vegas and being in a crowded elevator with his entourage and Jermaine Dupree. Jonah while drunk decided to make a joke.
- In mid-2011, Rebecca Watson, known for writing on the popular science blog Skepchick, had one at an atheist conference in Dublin. A man asked her if she'd like to have coffee with him... in his bedroom. It was four in the morning and they'd never met before. She made a video about it, and how uncomfortable she felt. Various people suggested that she was overreacting, and a great deal of Internet Backdraft occurred as people with opposing viewpoints began clashing over it. And that's as much needs to be said on the subject.