Pee-wee Herman enters a biker bar

A bit about Pee-wee

Pee-wee Herman is a comic fictional character created and portrayed by American comedian Paul Reubens. He is best known for his films and television 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 to 1991. Another film, Big Top Pee-wee, was released in 1988, and after a lengthy hiatus, a third film, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, was released by Netflix in 2016.

Due to negative media attention following a scandal in 1991, Reubens decided to shelve his alter ego during the 1990s, 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 1992 at Spike TV’s Guys’ Choice Awards.

Origin

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, developed his improvisational skills and, with Hartman, he developed the Pee-wee Herman character.

In 1977, The Groundlings staged a performance in which its members created characters 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. Pee-wee Herman was born that night, his distinctive guttural, “Ha Ha,” followed by a low, “Heh Heh Heh,” laugh became the character’s catchphrase, as did 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-wee 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.

Sometime in 1979 Reubens debuted his character on the television show The Dating Game, appearing three times.

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 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 as 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. Reubens has said that he feels Pee-wee “resets” after each adventure, his experiences only changing him slightly, and compared him to Dorothy Gale at the end of The Wizard of Oz.

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