|Toaph's Pee Wee Page|
|As an overgrown child myself, it's not surprising that I absolutely adore Pee Wee Herman. Paul Reubens created a character so entertaining and thoroughly convincing that the line between performer and performance was completely blurred. Reubens even did interviews in character, addressed as "Pee Wee Herman."|
Paul Reubens got his start in the 70's with The Groundlings, an inprov comedy troupe in Los Angeles. During that time he also appeared on The Gong Show a number of times as various characters. Reubens developed many characters in those early days, only one of which was Pee Wee Herman. The Pee Wee character started out as an intentionally bad stand-up comic. It was his naivete and cluelessness that was the joke. And it was hillarious. He even took it to the big screen in a small part in "Cheech & Chong's Next Movie." It was when I saw this movie (yes, I actually saw it in the theaters as a first-run movie) that I first became aware of him.
The character worked so well and on so many levels that Reubens quickly expanded it beyond the clueless stand-up comic. Eventually Reubens and his fellow Groundlings, including the likes of Phil Hartman and Edie McClurg, created an entire production around the Pee Wee character. It was a spoof of a children's TV show, but made for adults. It was ingenious. And it was gut-busting, fall-on-the-floor, piss-yourself funny. The group played regular performances at the Roxy theater, one of which was taped for broadcast on HBO. It's still available as a video rental.
Pee Wee's star was rising. He made multiple TV appearances on Letterman, and even one on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I caught a couple of his Letterman appearances, and was always captivated by his performances.
Then Pee Wee hit the big-time with his own feature film "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" which was co-written by Paul Reubens and Phil Hartman. I had no idea that the film was even in the works. I just stumbled upon it one day while leafing through the paper. I went to see it that night. I thought it was fantastic. I loved everything about it. It was smart and funny but still provocative and edgy. It truly appealed to children and adults alike. The movie even got Pee Wee a spot hosting Saturday Night Live. In this way, Reubens got to the stage of SNL before Hartman did.
The following Fall, "Pee Wee's Playhouse" started airing on CBS at 10AM on Saturday mornings. I was absolutely ecstatic and tuned in from day-one. I loved it. I absolutely loved it. Where "The Pee Wee Herman Show" was definitely for adults, and "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" was cross-over, "Pee Wee's Playhouse" was deliberately produced as a kids show. But the great thing was that it still appealed to adults. I tuned in religeously, as did all my 20-something buddies. If you knew what to look for, it was obvious that many of the jokes were geared directly towards adults. It wasn't subversive or inappropriate for kids. It was just very, very subtle. A perfect example was in one episode where Pee Wee remarked to Cowboy Curtis that he had big boots. Cowboy Curtis replied, "You know what they say! Big boots...... big feet!"
In fact it was amazing to see how much of the adult "The Pee Wee Herman Show" continued intact to the actual children's show. The format was exactly the same. Pee Wee Herman hung out in his playhouse while crazy characters popped in for visits. The characters of Kap'n Karl, Miss Yvonne, and Jambi the genie were brought forward verbatim, and were played by the same actors including Phil Hartman as Kap'n Karl. The puppet Pterri was also brought forward, and many new puppets were developed, as well as regular animated sequences. It was wonderful. It became a cultural phenomenon, and I tuned in every week, week after week.
After "Pee Wee's Playhouse" had been on TV for a couple seasons, Pee Wee's second feature film "Big Top Pee Wee" was released. I went to see it on opening night. As things got underway I wasn't quite sure I liked where it was going. For starters, Pee Wee had a fiancé. One of the things I found so charming about Pee Wee was that he was in a perpetual state of childhood. He existed in a nebulous, undefined fantasy world. By giving him a fiancé, he was pulled down into the real world. That robbed it of its escapist quality, which was exactly what I liked the most about Pee Wee. Then as the movie progressed he fell in love with another woman. Then he actually had sex with her. Pee Wee? Having sex? It was handled with humerous metaphor, but it was still sex. Then his love interest found out he was engaged and got all huffy with him. Then his fiancé found out he'd cheated on her and dumped him. These were pretty adult situations. I have nothing against that in general, but not with Pee Wee. I thought that it was totally the wrong direction to take, and I'm still utterly perplexed as to why Rubens pursued it.
While his second movie wasn't terribly well received, his TV show was as popular as ever. And that Fall he got his own Christmas Special on CBS. It was, in my opinion, the best Christmas Special ever made. It was witty and edgy without being irreverant, and like the rest of his work it appealed to children and adults alike. I still pull it out and watch it ever holiday season.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, there was a whole line of Pee Wee Herman toys. I can't imagine how this could have gotten past me, but I was utterly oblivious to it. Had I know I would have been out there spending every paycheck until I'd collected everything there was to buy. Far off in the future when I finally made this revelation I would spend untold hours and dollars on eBay trying to recreate a collection I could have gotten in real time. I used the Playhouse Playset for my stop-frame animation short Pee Wee's Sodomy House
"Pee Wee's Playhouse" remained in production for a few more years, and it always maintained it's high level of wit and entertainment value. I watched it each and every Saturday morning. Without exaggeration, in all those years, there were only a handful of Saturday mornings where I wasn't in front of a TV set watching. No matter where I was, no matter how late I'd stayed up the night before, no matter how hung over I was, every Saturday morning at 10AM I tuned in. Eventually I learned that no more new episodes would be produced. I thought that was a shame, but I actually took it pretty well. I knew he couldn't keep it up for ever, and the shows were as entertaining the 100th time as they were the 1st. I looked foreward to a lifetime of Pee Wee's Playhouse reruns.
That was until...
One morning I had no food in the kitchen and went to McDonalds for breakfast. That didn't happen very often. While I was there I leafed through a USA Today. That, too, was a rare occurence. But on the one day that I just happened to pick up the paper, I saw the story that Paul Reubens had been busted in a Florida porn theater. My heart sank. I wasn't disappointed in Paul Reubens. He was a human being, after all. But I knew it would be the end of the Pee Wee Herman character. Sure enough, CBS announced that they would pull the re-runs from their lineup. That was devastating to me. Fortunately I had taped a great many of the episodes, but that still wasn't the same as watching it in real time on broadcast TV.
There have been theories surrounding this disturbing turn of events. Some say that Reubens had grown weary of playing Pee Wee, and was tired of the character eclipsing his own identity. Most people still didn't know the name "Paul Reubens." It is difficult to believe that he would have intentionally set out to have this happen, but it can't be denied that it was one way to kill the character once and for all. Personally I think that he got lost in his own anonymity. Looking at the mug shots it's clear that he could walk down any street in America and not have one single soul recognize him as Pee Wee Herman. I believe that he got over-confident in his invisibility, which is what led him into that porn theater in the first place. Whether or not he was actually guilty of exposing himself is something on which I will not speculate. But I will only say that the crime in question had to be the most non sequitir form of exposure there is. Exposing one's self in a public place is one thing. But who the hell cares if someone whips it out in a darkened porn theater while there's a 50 foot boner being projected up on the screen anyway.
Since that time, Paul Rebuens has gone on to make appearances in film and on TV, perhaps most notably his recurring role on Murphy Brown. He also hosted a short-lived game show called "You Don't Know Jack." It was entertaining to watch once, but unlike "Pee Wee's Playhouse" it was not endlessly entertaining. His arrest has become old news. Unfortunately there are still those who are after him. In late 2001 he was in the news again for claims that his erotica collection contained child pornography. Since I haven't heard much about it since I think it was all a bunch of hoo-hah. But it seems that some people just can't be left alone.
|Way back in 1988 a friend gave me the address for Pee Wee's "Fun" Club. I immediately sent in for my membership. Below are all the documents I ever received|
Acrobat Reader documents: GIF Files
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