Paul Reubens, better known to the world as Pee Wee Herman, is starting to ride a wave of popularity these days now that he has decided to revive his Pee Wee character after many years on hiatus. As some of you may recall, Reubens was arrested in in the early 90’s when he was found to be “pleasuring himself” in an adult video theater. The arrest ruined his career and sent him underground ever since (tho, Reubens has popped up on occasion in various projects … not the least of which was the original movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Here is our first look at Reubens as Pee Wee Herman in the new issue of Details magazine … are y’all ready for the comeback?
Paul Reubens is doing one of the things he does best: obsessing. “I am constantly hoping that, like, I’m still relevant at all,” he says in a voice—higher than most men’s, slightly nasal—that’s still familiar, even after all these years. Wandering around the Hollywood Museum, just a few blocks from his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he has lingered over the red-and-white vintage bicycle that he rode in his 1985 movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. He has appraised the display containing the skinny gray suit (with red bow tie) that was his uniform on his Saturday-morning TV show, Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which aired on CBS from 1986 to 1991. But it’s not the Pee-wee Herman memorabilia, which sits near W.C. Fields’ top hat and Brendan Fraser’s George of the Jungle loincloth, that sets off Reubens OCD. Instead, the trigger is Bob Hope’s honorary Oscar. “When I was a kid, I’d always watch Bob Hope and go, like, ‘I know he must’ve been funny, but is he past his prime?'” Reubens says. “What I’m trying to prove now is that I still have it, I’m still around—I still am Pee-wee Herman, and Pee-wee Herman is still funny. So I’m feeling very Bob Hope—hoping I don’t see a parallel.” Yes, that’s right: The 57-year-old actor, best known for embodying the oddball man-child with the puppet friends (and also for two tawdry scrapes with the law), is about to don the skinny suit again to perform as Pee-wee for the first time in 19 years. Starting in early January in Los Angeles, Reubens will star in an elaborate live show in which Pee-wee yearns to fly, gets his wish, and then gives it away. For anyone who likes allegories, as Reubens does, this one is a doozy … In July 1991 Reubens was arrested for indecent exposure in an adult theater in Sarasota, Florida. He pleaded no contest while maintaining his innocence, but the resulting media feeding frenzy derailed all things Pee-wee. With his alter ego sidelined, Reubens spent several years out of the public eye, writing and collecting—obsessively. He fervently hoards everything from sunglasses to foot-measuring devices, fake food to yearbooks (he has amassed 8,000 of them). He played the occasional bit part before finally landing a career-resurrecting role: as a hairdresser turned drug dealer in Ted Demme’s 2001 drama Blow. Then, just when things were looking up, police raided Reubens’ house and, in 2002, arrested him for having what authorities called a collection of child pornography. In fact, the offending “collection” comprised a VHS tape of Rob Lowe’s sex romp and turn-of-the-century erotica images featuring men and women—but no children. Friends vouched for Reubens, saying he was an insatiable collector who often bought in bulk, books and magazines in particular, and that there was no way he could know everything he’d amassed. It didn’t matter. Even though his child-porn charges were ultimately reduced, 16 months later, to a misdemeanor possession-of-obscenity rap, the damage was done. To most people, Pee-wee was a kiddie-porn-purveying perv. “All this stuff that happened—the quote-unquote treatment I received—was not an inducement to come back to work,” Reubens says now. He looks good—clean-shaven and pale, with a closely shorn Pee-wee ‘do, trim blue jeans, a black-and-green retro short-sleeved button-down, and black Cole Haans. “To wait for somebody to give me permission to have a career wasn’t going to happen, you know?” … “I don’t want anyone for one second to think that I am titillated by images of children,” Reubens said on Dateline NBC. “The public may think I’m weird. They may think I’m crazy. . . . That’s all fine. As long as one of the things you’re not thinking about me is that I’m a pedophile. Because that’s not true.” But Reubens’ fondness for Pee-wee never went away. “I always loved being that character,” he tells me, his eyes tearing up as he recounts his previous evening’s activity: introducing the annual outdoor screening of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure at the Hollywood Forever cemetery. ‘There were 3,000 people there,’ he says. “I could feel the love.” Pee-wee never seems to have been far from his mind … The new stage show—which will have about a dozen cast members, including puppeteers (and will feature familiar memes like “today’s secret word”)—will be true to that spirit. Out of respect for his slain friend Phil Hartman, who played Captain Carl, that character has been retired; Cowboy Curtis, the part Fishburne played, will get a larger role in his place. Reubens has also struck a first-of-its-kind pact with Ticketmaster to reach out to diverse audiences. When e-mail alerts appeared to be sent to mostly white consumers, one of the show’s producers complained to the booking company; the employee he reached revealed she was African-American and that she had grown up watching Pee-wee. “She said, ‘It was not lost on me that the King of Cartoons was a black man, and that had a big meaning for me.’ It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to somebody versus being ugly,” Reubens says, turning introspective. “This is where Pee-wee and me may not be relevant anymore, seriously.” I posit that kindness, pluralism, and fun with tape might be just the balm for what ails us today. Pee-wee won’t be our savior, Reubens says. “I can’t be that, because that doesn’t work for comedy.” But isn’t the resuscitation of this eighties-era Peter Pan itself a quixotic rescue mission? The question prompts a duh-Dottie-don’t-you-know rejoinder that sounds more like Pee-wee than Paul Reubens: “You can’t save the world.”
This article fails to mention that Reubens booked and sold tickets for a string of shows to take place here in LA in November at The Henry Fonda Theater (David and I had tickets) but he canceled all those shows and postponed his performances until January. It’s unclear if Reubens just wasn’t ready to the perform live or if the fast sale of all available tickets at the smaller theater inspired him to move the shows to a bigger venue (and therefore more money) but there is interest to see him perform live again. David and I haven’t decided if we’re going to try and buy tickets for the new shows just yet … we were intrigued when it was just a tiny show for fans. I fear it’s now become a bigger spectacle for money and I’m not sure I’m all that interested any more.