Paul Reubens in character as Pee-wee Herman at the 1988 Academy Awards
|First appearance||The Groundlings (1977)|
|Created by||Paul Reubens
|Portrayed by||Paul Reubens|
|Occupation||Stand-up comedian, Actor|
|Family||Herman Herman (father, deceased)
Honny Herman (mother)
Hermione Herman (sister)
Pee-wee Herman is a comic fictional character created and portrayed by American comedian Paul Reubens. He is best known for his two television series and film series during the 1980s. The childlike Pee-wee Herman character developed as a stage act that quickly led to an HBO special in 1981. As the stage performance gained further popularity, Reubens took the character to motion picture with Pee-wee's Big Adventure in 1985, toning down the adult innuendo for the appeal of children. This paved the way for Pee-wee's Playhouse, an Emmy Award winning children's series that ran on CBS from 1986-1991. Another film, Big Top Pee-wee, was released in 1988.
Due to negative media attention following a scandal in 1991, Reubens decided to shelve his alter ego during the 1990s, and then gradually resurrected it during the following decade. It was at that time that Reubens addressed plans to write a new Pee-wee film, Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Movie. In June 2007, Reubens appeared as Pee-wee Herman for the first time since 1991 at Spike TV's Guys' Choice Awards.
In the 1970s, Reubens joined the Los Angeles-based improvisational comedy team The Groundlings and remained a member for six years, working with Bob McClurg, John Paragon, Susan Barnes, and Phil Hartman. Hartman and Reubens became close friends, often writing and working on material together. Reubens wrote sketches and developed his improvisational skills. He also forged a nice friendship and working relationship with Hartman, with whom he developed the Pee-wee Herman character.
In 1977, The Groundlings staged a performance in which its members created characters that one might see in a comedy club. Reubens decided to play a guy that everyone immediately knew would never make it as a comic, partly because Reubens couldn't remember jokes in real life — he had trouble remembering punch lines and couldn't properly piece information in sequential order. Saying that Pee-wee Herman was born that night, his distinctive guttural "Ha Ha," followed by a low "Heh Heh Heh," laugh became the character's catch phrase, as has his insult comeback "I know you are, but what am I?"
Pee-wee Herman's signature grey glen plaid suit was originally a custom-made suit that Reubens had borrowed from the Groundlings director, Gary Austin; the small red bow tie was given to him by an acquaintance. Pee-wee's later checkered clothing and persona were largely lifted from manic 1950s children's TV host Pinky Lee. Also incorporated into the look were short black hair, pale skin with red rouge, and red lipstick.
The inspiration for the name came from a Pee-weiny herman brand miniature harmonica and the surname of an energetic boy Reubens knew from his youth. Reubens thought the name Pee-wee Herman was a name that sounded too real to be made up, and like a real name a parent would give a child that they didn't really care about.
Character background and personality
Throughout his film and television programs, Pee-wee Herman's background has remained relatively ambiguous. During interviews, he has been portrayed as though he is a real life stand-up comedian who expanded his career by playing himself in his films and TV series. This is echoed by the fact that a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was awarded to Pee-wee Herman rather than Paul Reubens.
In both Pee-wee's Big Adventure and Pee-wee's Playhouse, the character surrounds himself with strange inventions and decorations and has no visible means of support, whereas Big Top Pee-wee depicts him as a farmer/inventor. During a June 1984 segment on Late Night with David Letterman, Pee-wee said that he has a sister named Hermione (who was a Girl Scout), his mother's name is Honny Herman, and his father's name is Herman Herman. He went on to say that everyone in his family has a first name that begins with an "H" except for him. This was again stated during a 1988 special which elaborated that Pee-wee was raised in Florida.
Pee-wee is commonly portrayed like an impatient and fun-loving child with dainty, effeminate mannerisms and quirky facial expressions. His age has never been explicitly stated; although, he once proclaimed on The Pee-wee Herman Show, "I'm the luckiest boy in the world". David Letterman once said of the character, "What makes me laugh...is that it has the external structure of a bratty little precocious kid, but you know it's being controlled by the incubus — the manifestation of evil itself". While the character is typically cheerful and flamboyant, Pee-wee has indeed displayed an aggressive side, including his vicious pool battle with Francis in Pee-wee's Big Adventure. He also played vengeful tricks in the aforementioned film and occasionally threw childish tantrums on Pee-wee's Playhouse.
The Pee-wee Herman Show
Paul Reubens auditioned for Saturday Night Live for the 1980-1981 season but was not accepted into the cast. Instead, he started a stage show with the Herman character, which made one of his first appearances in the 1980 film Cheech & Chong's Next Movie. He first plays a rude receptionist in the film, spewing obscenities at police and being arrested. The character is later introduced as Pee-wee Herman, approaching the stage just before disputing with the film's title characters again. Shortly after the film, Reubens took Pee-wee to the real stage. Originally, Reubens imbued Pee-wee with sexuality that was later toned down as the character made the transition from raucous night club to children's television (though innuendo was still apparent, particularly between the Cowboy Curtis and Miss Yvonne characters). The stage show was popularized by HBO when The Pee-wee Herman Show aired in 1981.
The show featured the writing and acting of Groundlings alumni Phil Hartman and John Paragon, who would both reprise their characters on Pee-wee's Playhouse. The Pee-wee Herman Show played for five sellout months at The Roxy Theatre in L.A., whereupon HBO filmed it and aired it as a special on September 11, 1981.
Following the success of The Pee-wee Herman Show, in the early and mid-1980s Reubens made several guest appearances on Late Night with David Letterman as Pee-wee Herman. These performances gave Pee-wee an even bigger following than he had with his HBO special. In 1983, Pee-wee Herman traveled the United States with The Pee-wee Herman Show, making highly publicized stops at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis and Caroline's in New York City. Reubens also appeared on an episode of the popular television show Mork & Mindy in 1981.
In 1984 Pee-wee Herman sold out New York City's Carnegie Hall. Reubens went on to say that it was his appearances on David Letterman's show that made Pee-wee a star.
Pee-wee's Big Adventure
While on a Warner Bros. set, Reubens noticed that most of the people rode around on bicycles, and asked when he would get his. Warner Bros. presented him with a refurbished 1940s Schwinn; Reubens then abandoned the Pee-wee Herman script he was writing in favor of one about Herman's love for his bike and his efforts to locate it once it was stolen. Hartman, Reubens, and Michael Varhol co-wrote the script for Pee-wee's Big Adventure, which would be directed by a young Tim Burton and scored by Danny Elfman. It was released August 9, 1985 and, while receiving mixed reviews, performed well at the box office and would become a cult film. Reubens was the originator of the "Pee-wee dance" in the movie, and he had performed it publicly many times prior to making the film.
Pee-wee hosted the 198th episode of Saturday Night Live on November 23, 1985. Phil Hartman, who would become an SNL cast member the following year, was credited for writing the "Pee-wee Herman Thanksgiving Special" sketch and appeared as a pilgrim in it.
The following year, Pee-wee (along with Hartman) found a home on the small screen with the Saturday morning children's program, Pee-wee's Playhouse, on the American CBS network for the next five years (Shirley Stoler, Johann Carlo, Gilbert Lewis, and Roland Rodriguez only appeared for the first 13 episodes before their characters were dropped or recast). The show starred Pee-wee living in his wild and wacky Playhouse, full of talking chairs, animals, robots, and other puppet and human characters. The show became a hit, and during its time on the air, Pee-wee's Playhouse garnered 15 Emmy Awards.
Pee-wee also became the first guest on The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers on its October 9, 1986 premiere. The following year, he made a cameo appearance in the film Back to the Beach. Reubens also filmed an insert for Sesame Street as Pee-wee, reciting his own version of the alphabet. In 1988, a sequel to Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Big Top Pee-wee, was filmed. That same year "Pee-wee" was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and starred in Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special. The program included various celebrity guests, including Oprah Winfrey, Cher, Whoopi Goldberg, Little Richard, and Joan Rivers among others.
In July 1991, while visiting relatives, Reubens was arrested in Sarasota, Florida for masturbating publicly in an adult theater. Detectives would periodically visit pornographic theatres and observe the audience, arresting those engaged in indecent exposure. The arrest was widely covered and both the character Pee-wee and Reubens became the subject of ridicule. CBS stopped airing Playhouse and Disney-MGM Studios suspended from its studio tour a video that showed Pee-wee explaining how voice-over tracks were made and Toys-R-Us removed Pee-wee toys from its stores. However, his voice work in Disney's Star Tours was not replaced. Despite the negative publicity, many artists who knew Reubens, such as Cyndi Lauper, Annette Funicello, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Valeria Golino, spoke out in his support. Bill Cosby defended Reubens, saying "Whatever (Reubens has) done, this is being blown all out of proportion". Other people who knew Reubens, such as Playhouse's production designer Gary Panter, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Big Top Pee-wee director Randal Kleiser, also spoke out against the way Reubens was being treated by the media. Reubens's fans also organized rallies of support after CBS canceled the scheduled reruns, with several dozens of "Pee-weeites" picketing in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. The general public also appeared to sympathise with Reubens — the TV newsmagazine A Current Affair received "tens of thousands" of responses to a Pee-wee telephone survey, with callers supporting Reubens with a nine-to-one majority. He remained in a state of shock for weeks, and was haunted by the arrest for several years, refusing to give interviews or appear on talk shows.
At the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards Reubens made his first appearance after the arrest. Taking the stage in costume as Pee-wee, he asked the audience, "Heard any good jokes lately?" and received a standing ovation. Reubens responded with, "Ha, that's so funny I forgot to laugh!" Pee-wee appeared once more in 1992, when he participated in a Grand Ole Opry tribute to Minnie Pearl. Reubens then avoided interviews and according to a 1991 Rolling Stone article had indeed become weary of the character and wanted to explore new territory.
Appearances and television returns
During the filming of Mystery Men, Reubens appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 1999 in one of his very first interviews not as Pee-wee. It was also on that interview that Reubens first announced plans to start writing a new Pee-wee movie. In a 2004 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Reubens also mentioned his hope that Hollywood has not seen the last of Pee-wee. Reubens later stated a strong possibility of a Pee-wee's Playhouse movie on an NPR interview with Terry Gross on December 27, 2004. A third Pee-wee movie was also suggested. Both, said Reubens, are actively being worked on, but no dates or official announcements were made as of this date.
In 1998, Fox Family aired reruns of Pee-wee's Playhouse. On July 10, 2006, Cartoon Network began airing Pee-wee’s Playhouse during its Adult Swim lineup. The show's 45 original episodes were planned to air on the block Monday to Thursday at 11 p.m. ET starting on that date. Later on in August 2006, Adult Swim started airing Pee-wee's Playhouse at 12 a.m. ET.
In October 2006, Reubens made a public appearance, dressed as Pee-wee at Chiller Theatre Expo, an East Coast fan convention, with Pee-wee's Playhouse co-star, Lynne Marie Stewart. There he signed pictures and other memorabilia, and posed for photographs with fans.
At Spike TV's 2007 Guys' Choice Awards in June, Reubens appeared on TV as the Pee-wee Herman character for the first time since 1992. On August 5, 2007 at a showing of Pee-wee's Big Adventure in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Reubens made an appearance on stage before the show, bringing with him almost the entire cast of the film to the uproarious applause and standing ovation. E.G. Daily (Dotty), Judd Omen (Mickey), Diane Salinger (Simone), Daryl Keith Roach (Chuck, the bike shop owner), and Mark Holton (Francis) were all present.
On January 15, 2011, Reubens appeared on Saturday Night Live as Pee-wee in an extended and well received segment depicting Andy Samberg and Pee-wee getting drunk, taking a ride on a mechanical bull, doing the tequila dance and ambushing Anderson Cooper in an alley way with a chair.
On February 1, 2012, Reubens appeared as Pee-wee on Bravo's Top Chef: Texas and served as guest judge. Part of the contestants challenge was to ride a bike, similar to Pee-wee's, while gathering ingredients through San Antonio to prepare and serve a special lunch for Pee-wee at The Alamo. The use of The Alamo is a reference to Pee-wee's film, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, where his stolen bike is allegedly hidden.
Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Movie
Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Movie is a proposed film allegedly greenlighted by Paramount Pictures. Reubens's third scripted movie, written at the same time as his adult-oriented Pee-wee script, was announced in late summer 2006. He first announced he had finished the script on Late Show with David Letterman, and later revealed further details to Time magazine reporter Dennis Van Tine. Filming was expected to start in early 2007. According to IMDb, it is expected for a release in 2015 because of delays.
According to Reubens, the story will focus on the characters from the television show finally leaving the playhouse and venturing off into Puppetland and beyond (the playhouse characters had rarely left their home in the TV series). The characters from the playhouse will be on an epic adventure to look for a missing character from the playhouse. Reubens stated this will be a "road" movie similar to Pee-wee's Big Adventure.
Reubens has said that, although he feels confident that he can still portray Pee-wee himself, he would optimally cast Johnny Depp if needed. He even claims that he has spoken to Depp himself and that the actor asked for time to think about it.
During the 2011 Comic-Con in San Diego, Reubens told MTV that he hopes to have Justin Bieber make a cameo appearance toward the end of the movie. He also stated that filming of the movie has not started yet, but hopes to begin filming in the next couple of months.
The Pee-wee Herman Story
Years before working on his Playhouse movie script, Reubens had written a script for "the dark Pee-wee film," but "not really very dark," entitled The Pee-wee Herman Story. At a Groundlings reunion in 1999, Reubens even joked about the rating of the movie being "probably PG-13 or even R" but in a 2007 MTV interview stated that this isn't actually true. He called it a "Valley of the Dolls Pee-wee" because "it has things certainly inspired by, if not outright lifted from, that movie". Reubens described the film's plot to MTV:
- "It's basically the story of Pee-wee Herman becoming famous as a singer. He has a hit single and gets brought out to Hollywood to make musical movies, kind of like they did with Elvis. It all kind of goes downhill from there for Pee-wee. He turns into a monster. He does everything wrong and becomes a big jerk".
It was because of the adult situations of this script that Reubens sat down and started writing the Playhouse movie script. At first, Reubens was going to do the adult Pee-wee movie first, but within a few months, Reubens announced that it was very likely that the Playhouse movie would be made first.
A third idea came about to make a reality-based Pee-wee film like those in the 1980s. In 2010, Reubens announced he is working on making this version with Judd Apatow, who wrote and directed the films Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
The Pee-wee Herman Stage Show: The Return
In late 2009, Reubens began promoting his new live stage show. He appeared in character as Pee-wee on late night programs including Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Jay Leno Show, and The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. Pee-wee would also return for a cameo on the penultimate episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien as host and during O'Brien's stop at Radio City Music Hall in New York City for The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour.
Original plans for a November 2009 stage debut were scrapped when demand for tickets prompted a move to a larger theater. The "Pee-wee Herman Stage Show: The Return" opened on January 12, 2010 at Club Nokia in Los Angeles, California for a limited four-week schedule. The show will move to Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on November 11, 2010. Much like the original stage show, the new production revolves around Pee-wee's desire to fly. It boasts 11 actors, 20 puppets and marks the show's first production since 1982. The show has employed many of the same set artists and the musical composer from Pee-wee's original stage show as well as some of the original cast members, including Lynne Stewart as Miss Yvonne, John Moody as Mailman Mike and John Paragon as Jambi the Genie. Reubens cited his desire to make a film version of Pee-wee's Playhouse as reasoning for the show and expressed a desire to "introduce Pee-wee to the new generation that didn't know about it".
To promote his Broadway show, Pee-wee Herman guest starred on the November 1, 2010 edition of WWE Raw at the Nassau Coliseum. During the program, he participated in backstage antics and had an in-ring confrontation with The Miz and Alex Riley. Pee-wee won a Slammy Award for Guest Star Shining Moment of the Year on December 13, 2010 for his appearance. Pee-wee Herman returned to WWE at WrestleMania XXVII in a segment with The Rock and Gene Okerlund in which he admitted to being John Cena's number one fan.
Honors and pop culture references
The Pee-wee Herman character has received various honors, particularly during his peak fame in the late 1980s. During the original run of Pee-wee's Playhouse, the series garnered 22 Emmy Awards. Pee-wee Herman was also awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1988. Under the category of motion pictures, it can be found at 6562 Hollywood Blvd. The character also appeared on three covers of Rolling Stone, including issue 493 (February 1987), 614 (October 1991) with a cover story of "Who Killed Pee-wee Herman?," and finally 619/620 (December 1991) for the 1991 Yearbook.
In the 1986 film Flight of the Navigator, directed by Randal Kleiser, who would later direct Big Top Pee-wee, Pee-wee's characteristic laugh is uttered several times by the Trimaxian Drone (Max, voiced by Reubens), after he "contracted" emotions and 1980s knowledge from David. This persona, speaking in altered pitch similar to Pee-wee, persists for the rest of the movie, a stark contrast to Max's original HAL 9000-esque tone.
Shortly after Reubens's 1991 arrest, Jim Carrey impersonated Pee-wee Herman on the FOX sketch comedy series In Living Color. Later, rapper Eminem would imitate Herman in the song "Just Lose It", copying his trademark laugh and even dressing as the character in the music video.
While the Pee-wee Herman character had not originally been intended for a child audience, during the mid-1980s Reubens started forming him into the best role model he possibly could, making of his TV program a morally positive show that cared about issues like racial diversity, the four food groups, and the dangers of making prank calls, but did so in a manner not overly preachy. Reubens was also careful about what should be associated with Pee-wee. Being a heavy smoker, he went to great lengths never to be photographed with a cigarette in his mouth; he even refused to endorse candy bars and other kinds of junk food, while trying to develop his own sugar-free cereal "Ralston Purina Pee-wee Chow cereal," a project that died after a blind test. During this time, he began successfully building a Pee-wee franchise with toys, clothes, and other items generating more than $25 million at its peak in 1988. Reubens also published a book as Pee-wee in 1989 called Travels with Pee-wee.
In early 2007, Nike SB released a style of sneakers called Grey/Heather Dunk High Pro SB that use a grey and white color scheme with red detail inspired by the colors of Pee-wee's trademark suit and an illustration on the insole suggesting Reubens's theater arrest.
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|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Pee-wee Herman|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Pee-wee Herman|
- Official website
- Pee-wee Herman on Twitter
- Pee-wee Herman at the Internet Movie Database
- 2004 Interview, KCRW's The Treatment
- 2005 Interview, KCRW's The Treatment
- 2006 Interview, The A.V. Club
- 2004 Interview, WHYY-FM's Fresh Air
- Paul Reubens Says New Pee-Wee Movie is Ready to Cast