On February 2nd, the night that “Lost” premiered, that was the second coolest bit of pop culture I enjoyed.
And I say that as a big giant honking “Lost” fan who stayed up until 3:00 AM writing a recap of this season’s opening two-hour salvo. No, the coolest thing about that evening happened a few hours earlier. My wife and I took our four-year-old son Toshi to the Nokia Live, right next to the Staples Center, not telling him what he was going to do. We got him into the theater and into a seat, and he still didn’t know why we were there. He thought we were just out to have dinner together.
When the lights went down, the announcer came over the PA. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Pee-Wee Herman Show!” And Toshi looked up at me, eyes wide as saucers, and said his new favorite exaggerated overreaction:
Words for the ages. If you didn’t get a chance to see the show during its run last month, it was incredible. It was a perfect hybrid of the original Roxy show that HBO shot back in the ’80s and the beloved “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” series that was on TV at the end of the ’80s. The Roxy show was a really sly parody of children’s shows, but the actual content of the show was sort of adult. Lots of insinuation and entendre. The “Playhouse,” by simple adjusting the material a few degrees, was a genuine kid’s show, and one of the greatest. The reason Toshi’s little mind was so blown by this particular event was because the very first show he loved… hell, the very first piece of pop culture on which he imprinted… was the DVD box set of both seasons of “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.” He used to dance by the TV when the theme song played. He could say “Pee Wee” before he could identify every person in our house by name. It was a BIG DEAL to him.
And amazingly, the 58-year-old Paul Reubens looked and sounded pretty much exactly the same as Pee Wee as he always has. The show was hilarious, and the audience seemed like a love fest, totally into the experience. From the moment Pee-Wee came out onstage and asked us all to stand and recite the Pledge Of Allegiance to the ending, where he finally gets his greatest wish, it was just pure smile. Nonstop.
I bought tickets for the show when they originally announced dates at the Henry Fonda Theater, and when they canceled that show and moved venues, I was on the road in Ireland, and we had to do some fancy footwork to deal with the issue. I wasn’t the only person affected, of course, and anyone who had tickets for the Henry Fonda shows was issued a special wristband before the show began. Afterwards, we were all asked to stay until the theater cleared out. Once there were about 100 of us left, Pee Wee came out from backstage to do some Q&A.
What sounded at first to me like a rather impersonal gesture was actually pretty amazing. Although he never formally dropped character, Reubens was incredibly revealing as he spoke about his career, including his early days at the Groundlings developing the character that he’s still playing 30 years later, and his plans for Pee Wee in a perfect world.
That world got a little closer to perfect for him today.
According to Pee Wee’s Facebook fan page, he had his first meeting today with his new agency, CAA. I’m guessing that one of the first orders of business is finding a way to preserve “The Pee Wee Herman Show,” because although Reubens said he’d be open to a run on Broadway, he doesn’t want to mount a real tour of the show. He was far more interested in doing a big PPV event, and if that happens, I’d expect there to be a DVD or a BluRay release of some sort after the fact.
But the thing I’m most interested in is the same things I’ve been interested for years now, the same thing I asked Pee Wee about when I interviewed him last year:
In the Q&A after the show, he talked openly about how long he’s been working on the script for the “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” movie, and how he’s almost 30 drafts in at this point. He considers it now the best thing he’s ever done, and the pride is apparent in how he talks about it. The movie deals with the King of Cartoons getting kidnapped, and the entire cast having to leave the Playhouse to go find him. There’s a scene where they all have to jump out of a plane, including Chairry, which is something I’d definitely pay for a ticket to see. In general, it sounds like a way to finally explore Cartoon Land, and a lovely call back to the creative energy of “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” the amazing 1985 film that really put the character on the map for most people.
There’s another script out there, though, that would have to happen after “Pee Wee’s Playhouse: The Movie,” which is NOT currently in production despite what the IMDb says. I know there were several nights where producers went to see the live show just to see the crowds and how they responded. After all, Reubens has had plenty of run-ins with infamy, and there was always some chance that the reputation was too damaged to bounce back. Not at all true, it seems, but those experiences have obviously left their mark on Reubens. The other script is called “The Pee Wee Herman Story,” and it’s an R-rated comedy for adults that is a thinly-veiled look at the experiences Reubens had in Hollywood making films with Cheech and Chong, starring in a major children’s show, then imploding due to legal problems and scandal. There’s a lot of material ripe for satire in his rise and fall, and the idea that both scripts are still both active concerns for him makes me very happy.
Here’s hoping CAA handles him well, and that they are able to make these films happen. If so, now’s the time, because I can’t picture Paul’s physical ability to play the character staying possible for much longer. It seems like this is it. Now or never. The audience is ready. Pee Wee is ready.
And now, finally, it seems like Hollywood may be as well.
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