A 1909 Lubin comedy, Father's Glue, begins with two mischievous boys spreading glue on a park bench. A man sits on the bench for a few moments and then, when he attempts to leave, he finds that he has become stuck. Glue comedies were common at the time. (This subject is discussed at length in my book The Funny Parts.)
The glue-on-a-chair routine is still being used today. Look at this clip from the 2008 Hannah Montana episode "The Way We Almost Weren't."
A sitcom character could get stuck anywhere -
a chimney (The Addams Family's "Christmas with the Addams Family," 1965),
a window (Cheers' "Ma Always Liked You Best," 1990),
or a kitchen vent (Roseanne's "Roseanne in the Hood," 1995).
Sitcom characters could also get trapped together in a variety of places, including a meat freezer (Click here), a bank vault (The Lucy Show's "Lucy Gets Locked in the Vault," 1963, and Love, American Style's "Love and the Teller's Tale," 1973), a basement (The Odd Couple's "Trapped," 1971, and The Texas Wheelers' "The Twister," 1974), a storage locker (The Bob Newhart Show's "Caged Fury," 1976), a file closet (Maude's "Maude and Chester," 1976), a snowbound car (Taxi's "Scenskies from a Marriage," 1982), a darkroom (Different Strokes' "The Photo Club," 1986), or an elevator. There are two elevator scenarios - the couple who develop respect or affection for one another while trapped together in an elevator (much like the handcuffs routine) and the pregnant woman who causes a commotion by going into labor in an elevator. The former scenario is represented by The Phil Silvers Show's "Bilko's Big Woman Hunt" (1958), Bringing Up Buddy's "The Singer" (1961), The Bill Cosby Show's "The Elevator Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" (1970), WKRP in Cincinnati's "Fire" (1982) and The Nanny's "Oy Vey, You're Gay" (1995). The latter scenario is represented by The Dick Van Dyke Show's "4 1/2" (1964), All In The Family's "The Elevator Story" (1972), Benson's "We Deliver" (1984), Doogie Howser, M.D.'s "C'est la Vinnie" (1990), Saved by the Bell's "Earthquake" (1992), Beverly Hills 90210's "Earthquake Weather" (1995), The Nanny's "The Finale: Part 1" (1999), 7th Heaven's "Paper or Plastic?" (2005) and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody's "Christmas at the Tipton" (2005). You might have noticed that The Nanny used both scenarios at different times. Here are clips from a few of the elevator scenes.
"4 1/2" (The Dick Van Dyke Show, 1964)
"The Elevator Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" (The Bill Cosby Show, 1970)
"The Elevator Story" (All In The Family, 1972)
"Fire" (WKRP in Cincinnati, 1982)
"Christmas at the Tipton" (The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, 2005)
Here is a compilation of clips posted to YouTube by Blue Panda.
A 1967 episode of That Girl, "This Little Piggy Had a Ball," involves Marlo Thomas getting her toe stuck in a bowling ball.
The script, which was written by Arnold Margolin and Jim Parker, was a thinly disguised version of the "toe stuck in a bathtub spout" routine (Click here). Ann (Thomas) tells Donald (Ted Bessell) that she read an article about a man who bowls with his toes. She sticks her toe in the bowling ball to see if she could pull off the same stunt, but her toe gets stuck and she can't get it out.
The episode is also reminiscent of the handcuffs routine in that Ann needs to have the ball removed in time to make an appearance at an awards show.
Margolin fondly remembered this as being one of his favorite scripts. He said, "I always loved the idea of some incongruous physical thing happening. . . Something stuck on somebody always works well. It worked well on Love, American Style a number of times."
Margolin was right about Love, American Style using the "something stuck on somebody" idea on a number of occasions. The writers usually had these sticky crises get in the way of a couple having sex on their wedding night. Take, for example, the episode "Love and the Doorknob" (1969). The groom gets his mouth stuck on a doorknob while trying to disprove the bride's offhanded claim that he had a small mouth.
Monte Markham gets stuck in a medieval chastity belt on his wedding night in "Love and those Poor Crusaders' Wives" (1970).
Newlyweds Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello get stuck together inside a tuba in "Love and the Tuba" (1971).
These routines have a long, rich history in comedy. Take, for instance, Shemp getting a fishbowl stuck on his head in the Three Stooges comedy Hold That Lion! (1947).
Sitcoms regularly made use of this premise. In a 1953 episode of My Friend Irma, Irma finds an ancient battle helmet in an abandoned trunk and manages to get the helmet stuck on her head. Joan Davis gets stuck in a harp on I Married Joan ("Repairs," 1953).
An 1954 episode of Meet Corliss Archer, "Dexter's Masquerade Costume," involves Dexter (Bobby Ellis) getting stuck in a suit of armor costume. The episode ends with Dexter getting pulled out of the suit by a tow truck. Maynard (Bob Denver) gets his hand stuck in a gumball machine on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis ("Move Over, Perry Mason," 1961).
Jim Backus gets stuck inside a rolltop desk in a 1961 episode of The Jim Backus Show called, appropriately, "The Desk." An interesting variation of this routine was used in a 1963 episode of The Joey Bishop Show, "Ellie Gives Joey First Aid." Ellie (Abby Dalton) practices her first aid skills by putting Joey's arm in a cast, but Joey discovers afterwards that he is unable to extract his arm from the cast.
One of my favorite episodes of Leave It to Beaver is "Beaver's Ring" (1958). Fans of the show knew to expect trouble as soon as Aunt Martha gives Beaver a ring and explains its importance as a family heirloom. It isn't long before the ring gets stuck on Beaver's finger. Wally terrifies Beaver when he tells him that the only way to remove the ring is to cut off his finger.
Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, the producers/creators of Leave It to Beaver, later revived the ring plot for a 1966 episode of The Munsters called "The Fregosi Emerald." Of course, an episode of The Munsters requires an odd twist. The odd twist in this case is that the ring is cursed.
This aspect of the plot may have been inspired by the Beatles' Help! (1965), which involved a deadly religious cult seeking to bump off Ringo Starr to get back an ancient sacrificial ring that has gotten stuck on Ringo's finger. In either case, it was death to he who wore the ring.
The plotline was more mundane when Lucille Ball got a ring stuck on her finger on an episode of The Lucy Show ("Lucy and the Ring-a-Ding-Ding," 1966). The script involved neither a curse nor assassins. Mr. Mooney (Gale Gordon) is anxious to remove the ring as it is an anniversary present for his wife.
Lucy's writers went back to the ring routine for a 1970 Here's Lucy episode called "Lucy Meets the Burtons." This time, the ring was Elizabeth Taylor's celebrated 33.19-carat Krupp Diamond ring.
The episode climaxes with comic business borrowed from the handcuffs episode of I Love Lucy.
Another memorable Leave It to Beaver episode, "Price of Fame" (1959), involved Beaver getting his head stuck between the bars of an iron fence.
This is another Leave It to Beaver plot that found its way to The Munsters. The Munsters episode, "Yes, Galen, There is a Herman Monster" (1965), had a simple yet effective twist. This time, the small boy is extracted from the fence by a bar-bending monster. It is, essentially, Herman Munster Meets Beaver Cleaver.
The routine turned up in other series.
"Peeping Tom" (Sykes, 1973)
"Julia Gets Her Head Stuck In A Fence" (Designing Women, 1989)
"Fenced In" (Kenan & Kel, 1998)
Beaver getting his head stuck between the bars of an iron fence is somewhat echoed in the famous scene from A Christmas Story (1983) in which a boy gets his tongue stuck to a cold flagpole.
I have to leave now. I have been working so long on this article that it feels as if my backside has gotten stuck to the chair.