Breakfast with Pee-Wee Herman

12.16.09 8 years ago 6 Comments

AP Photo/Danny Moloshok

When it rains in LA, traffic becomes even more unbearable than usual.

And since I am fortunate enough not to have to commute to downtown Los Angeles every morning, I’m really not used to just how godawful it can be when you do have to get from Northridge, which is the far end of the San Fernando Valley, all the way to the Staples Center.  According to Yahoo! Maps, that trip should take 47 minutes.

Try two hours and eleven minutes.  Thanks, Los Angeles.

Even so, it was worth it on a recent Monday morning to make that wretched drive so I could spend some time talking with Pee-Wee Herman about his return to the spotlight.  This January, Pee-Wee will be appearing in a brand-new stage production that will run for a full month, featuring many of the beloved characters from “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.  From January 12 to February 7, Pee-Wee and Miss Yvonne and Globey and Pterry and many more will all be taking over the stage at Club Nokia @ LA Live.  The 90-minute production will tell the story of Pee-Wee’s desire to fly, and what happens when he’s given one wish.  Will he use it to fulfill his own desire, or will he help his friends, who are in desperate trouble?  Original cast members like John Paragon and Lynne Marie Stewart will join new cast members like Phil Lamarr, who steps in for Lawrence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis.

There’s been a bit of controversy getting here.  Originally, the show was supposed to run at the Music Box Theater, and tickets were sold, but then cancelled.  One of the first things I wanted clarified at the press day was what happened, and the answer was fairly simple:  at the Music Box Theater, there were several other events booked to run concurrently with Pee-Wee, meaning they would have had to strike the set, clear out, then rebuild after each event.  With the technical complexity this show requires, that would have been impossible, and so they went after a venue that would let them stay standing for the entire run, and Club Nokia actively campaigned to get the show as a sort of announcement that the venue can support more than just music concerts.

There was a short press conference in which Pee-Wee talked about how excited he is to be returning to performance, and then we were introduced to producer Scott Sanders (“Elaine Stritch: At Liberty”) and director Alex Timbers (“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”) to talk about their work on the show, while also being shown some costume designs for the production, including a bedazzled Pee-Wee…

… some designs for the fabulous Miss Yvonne….

… some new duds for Cowboy Curtis…

… and a glimpse of a bunch of other new and old Playhouse characters…

… as well as a model of the new Playhouse set…

… before they finally broke us into small groups for the main event, some time to chat with Pee-Wee himself.  Here’s a short highlight reel of what we talked about, including the moment when another reporter’s nine-year-old son asked Pee-Wee who his favorite character is, and my existential question for Pee-Wee which seems to have caught him off-guard…

Right now, there are no plans for the show to tour.  Pee-Wee was born in LA originally and feels like this is an LA show.  However, if the show is a success, I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone greenlight “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: The Movie” immediately.  They need to do it now, because this feels like the last moment Paul Reubens will be able to fully immerse himself in his most famous character.

At the end of the event, as everyone went to leave, a few stragglers were given a chance to take a picture with Pee-Wee, and when I got home and showed Toshi the photo, he was so mad at me that he was speechless.  He has no idea he’s going to see the show in February, as soon as I get back from Sundance, and he definitely doesn’t know about the coolest surprise of the night.  Anyone who bought tickets for the Music Box Theater shows who had to switch them out for the Club Nokia dates will be sent a voucher just before their new dates.  That voucher will allow them to stay after the performance and attend a meet-and-greet with Pee-Wee as a way of apologizing for all the lost air fare and hotel fees that many people experienced because the show moved.  I fully expect his head to explode when that happens.  For now, he just looks at this photo…

… and envies me with the intensity of a burning-hot sun.  I feel like seeing Pee-Wee perform live is one of those things that I never expected to see happen, and talking to him about it was a rare and lovely opportunity.

And Pee-Wee, if you read this, do me a favor… tell Paul he was great in “Life During Wartime.”

Special thanks to my buddy Scott Swan for shooting the interview, and to our own Alex Dorn for putting the video together.

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