As a kid I was always enthralled by the character of Pee-Wee Herman. I memorized and wore out the VHS of Big Adventure, was perplexed when I saw the DVD (original cardboard box version) that they included biographies of the Herman family tree, and even loved the Big Top Pee-Wee. Needless to say, Playhouse was also a huge influence on me (I always wanted a Magic Screen and a pair of Big Underwear). I never blamed Francis for stealing that bike, I would do anything to get it as well. So to find out today that the actor who’s real name was Paul Reubens passed away was a bummer of major magnitude. To pay tribute to one of my childhood favorites, I’d like to tell a small story.
Back in 2010, I got wind of Pee-Wee trying to make a sort of comeback, after being cast aside due to his infamous arrest. Sure he had bits and parts throughout his career, but nothing crazy substantial since his days as Pee-Wee in the 80’s. I became a “fan” on his facebook (Yeah, remember when it was “Become a fan” button?) and he started to promote a new resurgence of the Pee-Wee character by producing a new play. I quickly started gathering up as much information as I could and ended up being able to convince both my friends Brady and Eric to join me in watching Pee-Wee live on stage in a new Playhouse Broadway play. At this point, I was also trying to woo a ladyfriend, and thought it’d be keen to take her on a date to a play. So just two days later I ended up asking her out and taking her back to Los Angeles to see it again.
Sadly the auditorium double booked our seats, and we got moved to a really bad nosebleed section with a giant pillar blocking half of the stage. I tried to play it cool, but it was really ruining the mood, so I ended up talking to a manager and they compensated us with moving us up front to the second or third row in the center. Pretty much one of the best seats in the house. We also got to stay for the extra Q&A session with the cast. I remember sitting in awe as Paul Reubens came out and talked with the audience for a while, and taking questions. People asked about a new Pee-Wee movie, and he said he was in the middle of two different scripts, one where it was a Playhouse movie where Cherrie moves out of the Playhouse and the whole gang takes a road trip to find her and bring her back. Another one was a much darker toned Big Adventure style that sounded a bit too mature for a Pee-Wee film. Neither of these films ever got made, but he did end up making Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday thanks to Netflix, which, while it wasn’t my favorite, I did end up loving most of it (besides and super weird intro with the alien).
However, after a bit, Paul Reuben’s asked if there was anyone who had anything to say about the show, I raised my hand and he called on me. I told him about the bad seating from earlier and the big pillar and he kicked into Pee-Wee mode and started talking in character. He asked if I got to witness the Big Ball of Foil, and a couple other things, and for that brief two or three minute period I was talking with Pee-Wee Herman and he made me feel special and honestly cared what I had to say. He saw I was a big fan, as I was wearing a Pee-Wee Suite T-shirt when no one else was dressed up at all, and it was a special moment that I’ll always cherish. We ended up staying after and I tried to get his autograph, but sadly the manager said he was only doing a few since this was more of a test to see if the show could actually work on real Broadway. I did end up getting to meet some of the other cast, along with Ms. Yvone who really was the most beautiful woman in Puppetland. She signed my playbill and gave me a hug and said I was sweet for showing up.
The character Paul Reubens created all those years ago, still brings joy to me. Pee-Wee brought me close with some of my best friends, as we made popsicle sticks of Amazing Larry at work, or watched the film so many times that we knew it by heart even in French (seriously listen to the movie with French acting, it’s really funny), or even listening to the Music Only track with commentary by Danny Elfman. I'll still never understand why they cropped out the Road Sign tracks and rope, or the bottom for the never ending chain.
Paul Reubens is one of those unique character actors that I always loved watching no matter what, and it’s really a shame he died so young. I’ll always be fond of the Pee-Wee character and will cherish that memory of meeting him as my favorite celebrity encounter. My cousin Matt said it before I did, but… Au revoir, Pee-Wee.