Pee Wee Herman’s birthday is August 27th. Actually, that’s not true. Paul Reubens’ birthday is on that date. Pee Wee is a fictional character.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that.
Pee Wee was created and developed by Mr. Ruebens. For doing so, Paul made millions and became famous. He also was saddled with each and every one of us calling him by his character’s name until the day he passes away (hopefully not anytime soon). On that day, we will all mourn Pee Wee’s passing.
My first sighting of Pee Wee came in a Cheech and Chong movie (“Next Movie”) in which a little weirdo popped in sporadically to snort massive amounts of cocaine and growl mostly unintelligible lines.
Don’t expect it to make sense.
It was a Cheech and Chong movie.
Legend has it that Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin, veterans of the L.A. comedy club scene, would often give screen time to stage guys. They were nice that way. They gave Pee Wee his first shot at stardom, of sorts.
His is a face you remember and I realized, watching him on screen, that I’d seen him somewhere before. Years later, thanks to our friend the internet, I solved that mystery. I had seen Paul Reubens. He played a character on Michael Keaton’s short-lived sitcom “Working Stiffs” (1979 – it lasted three whole episodes).
And then came the HBO Special.
I estimate that I’ve seen the original “The Pee Wee Herman Show” a million times. That’s a rough guess. It’s probably more. Like classic rock fans who wish they could have seen Hendrix or the Doors or the Beatles live, I have always wanted to have been in the theater when the Groundlings first presented Pee Wee.
To have been able to see Ruebens, Phil Hartman and Lynne Marie Stewart do their stage act at the Roxy Theater in 1981, before the HBO cameras filmed it, before the material was sanitized, has long been a fantasy of mine.
They were among the hottest and sharpest minds in live comedy and were all on stage performing a wildly funny show, night after night.
And it almost never happened.
Reubens was the last guy cut from the second casting of Saturday Night Live (he lost out to Gilbert Gottfried). Broke and ready to leave show business, he decided to give it "one last try". He borrowed $3000 from his folks, wrote and produced a stage show that was one half 1950’s kiddie TV and one half midnight show at the Groundlings, and it clicked.
I’m telling you, I’ve seen it a million times.
I’ve often wondered whether having Pee Wee take off was a curse for Paul Reubens. Yes, it did make him a lot of money. A lot. And it opened doors for his career outside Pee Wee. (I thought he was great in “Blow”), but, as Elvis, Fonzie and Goober learned before him, once you create a unforgettable character, you’ll be that guy forever.
This month Pee Wee turns sixty.
Actually, Reubens turns sixty.
Pee Wee is, and always will be, nine or ten.
They're not the same person.
Sometimes it's hard to remember that.