What I Remembered – This sketch from a kids’ comedy variety show would pop into my head once every few years. In a classroom not unlike the ones at my own school, a boy brings a black hole in a jar for show and tell, and every time he takes the lid off the jar, the entire class (and presumably the rest of the Earth) gets sucked in, and the whole screen turns into a static, gradually swirling pastiche of stars until he puts the lid back on. There was a lot of “WHOA” and screaming every time the class went into the black hole, and they’d keep delivering their lines via voiceover while we couldn’t see them. The gag that stuck out most to me was that two separate characters said it wasn’t so much a “black” hole, but was “really more of a charcoal gray” – first, the kid himself, and then, later, another teacher named Mr. Penderghast, who came into the classroom and opened the jar for the final time in the sketch over the protests of the regular teacher. You’d think all that would be detailed and distinct enough for Google to return a hit, but no: whatever combination of terms I used, I always either got no results or a tiny number of wrong ones. I had the impression that the show this was part of was from the Wild and Crazy Kids / Hey Dude era of Nickelodeon, so I tried searching through episode guides of the sketch comedy shows I knew were on Nick at or around the same time, like You Can’t Do That on Television–no dice.
What it Turned Out to Be – This was indeed from a sketch comedy variety show, but it wasn’t part of an ongoing show or on Nickelodeon: it was a one-off on ABC, awkwardly titled “The Darkwing Duck and Mickey Mouse Club Back-to-School Special and Music Video.” That much is Googlable, once you know it, but as far as I can tell, there’s been no specific mention of the black hole sketch anywhere on the Internet until now. The special first aired on September 8th, 1991, and filled two hours by supplementing the hourlong origin episode of Darkwing Duck with the soft launch of a “new” Mickey Mouse Club as, apparently, a child sketch comedy group (and then they did a music video where the kids danced sort of nearby to superimposed animation of Darkwing Duck). I think the black hole sketch was the only thing besides the Darkwing Duck origin itself that I watched more than one time.
How I Found It – Essentially just by relaxing my mind and letting it lead me down a chain of free association. The last time the black hole sketch crossed my thoughts was when I was going through the collection of VHS tapes I salvaged from my childhood home, right before my dad sold the place. I figured if the show that had the sketch was going to turn up anywhere, it would be on one of those tapes, but none of their labels evoked the Nickelodeon show I thought I must be looking for. However, this all happened at the end of summer, which tickled my brain in the direction of the original Adventures of Pete and Pete special, a strikingly melancholy story about kids spending their vacation trying to discover the true identity of the ice cream man, Mr. Tastee. Turns out that wasn’t just a coincidence or something I associated with the season: when I dug up that tape, which was much easier to zero in on, I saw that its label mentioned some Mickey Mouse Club thing, and I was like, “huh, I wonder.” Twenty minutes of fast-forwarding later, I’d proven the existence of the black hole sketch. Remembering it as tied to Nickelodeon, apparently, was a function of what it was taped alongside, not where it actually aired.