How long is America’s memory? About 25 years, according to the Pee-wee Herman comeback.
It was 1991 when Paul Reubens, the man behind the tiny red bowtie and obnoxious laugh who streamed his playhouse antics directly into your family room to mesmerized kids, was arrested for masturbating in an “adult movie theatre.” His arrest was widely covered, Reubens terribly ridiculed, even when wholesome famous friends like Bill Cosby spoke up on his behalf, saying “Whatever (Reubens has) done, this is being blown all out of proportion” (I guess he was hoping people would remember this sentiment when it came turn for his own shit to hit the fan).
At any rate, Reubens retired the child-like character that had entertained and confused Americans for the better part of a decade, but Pee-wee Herman never died, he only went underground, and now like a groundhog heralding spring, his little rose-cheeked head has popped up in 2016, ushering in a new era of what’s appropriate for a host of children’s television. He’s been testing the waters for a decade, appearing at fan conventions, guest judging on Top Chef, and even doing a skit on SNL. Since nobody showed up to burn him on a stake, it seemed the way was clear for Netflix to greenlight a movie he’d been waiting a quarter century to make.
You may not know that the Pee-wee Herman character has been around since the late 1970s. Paul Reubens was performing for The Groundlings, only he wasn’t a typical comedian, having no talent for remembering the proper sequence of jokes, or even punch lines. So he and fellow Groundling Phil Hartman created the anti-comic character, a weird, manic, effeminate,ambiguous “boy” who got by on enthusiasm and catchphrases like “I know you are but what am I?” Pee-wee Herman was born, but was initially aimed at adults, appearing on The Dating Game, and in a Cheech and Chong movie. Eventually Reubens toned down the innuendo and became a childhood icon (although you only have to look as far as Cowboy Curtis, played by a young Laurence Fishburne, to know it was still there).
So now Pee-wee Herman’s back, bitches, and we’ve got Judd Apatow to thank for it. Hollywood has been milking the 80s nostalgia cow an awful lot lately, and Paul Reubens was of course anxious to re-write his beloved character’s ending. But what’s in it for Apatow? Apparently a little wish-fulfillment. A longtime Pee-wee fan, this was a film he thought people wanted to see. “I just think there are very few characters in comedy history as strong and hilarious as Pee-wee Herman. The first moment you’re sitting in a room with Paul Reubens and he starts pitching you things Pee-wee might say or do, you think to yourself, ‘This can’t be happening.’ The first time he put on the suit, I thought I was going to pass out.”
So Judd Apatow and Pee-wee Herman have $30 million dollars from Netflix to make a movie, and who do they call? Joe Manganiello, that’s who. It turns out, Magic Mike is Joe’s serious oeuvre, so get that straight in your head. Because when he’s between such serious roles, he’s available to be Pee-wee’s sidekick. Bet you never thought you’d live to see that. The plot of Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, which is nearly plotless, is this: Pee-wee has never left the small town he lives in, but one day a big, handsome movie star named Joe Manganiello drives through town on his sexy hog and the two hit it off as only two rootbeer-barrel-loving-boys can. Joe invites Pee-wee to his birthday party in NYC, and Pee-wee embarks on an epic adventure across the country. Or something like that.
This new adventure doesn’t have much to do with his other forays on the big screen or small screen, but if you’re a fan who’s been waiting for this moment for most of your life, there’s enough there to leave you satisfied. In fact, Reubens, now 63, hardly looks as though he’s aged a day underneath the familiar pancake makeup. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday isn’t likely to win any new converts though. It’s a silly little thing, a very small fluff on some pretty major wind, but yes: it is in fact a movie. And you can watch it now on Netflix.