A comedian took his distinct character and made it into a kids television show in the 1980s – a fantastical place, filled with crazy characters and puppets called Pee Wee’s Playhouse.
Paul Reubens took his unique creation of Pee Wee Herman and made a series of unique productions based on the child-like adult.
Reubens first brought Herman to the stage as a stand-up comedy act, then as a special for HBO with The Pee Wee Herman Show, a film with Tim Burton titled Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, before working with CBS to create Pee Wee’s Playhouse.
Inspired by the kids programming he watched when young – The Mickey Mouse Club, Rocky and Bullwinkle and Captain Kangaroo – Paul Reubens worked with old friends and actors Laurence Fishburne, Phil Hartman, Lynn Marie Stewart, John Paragon and S. Epatha Merkerson.
The show incorporate puppet characters that Reubens had created in the past, and was focused on Pee Wee’s daily visit to the Playhouse, to hang out with toys, games, talking furniture and gadgets, the Playhouse gang and regular visitors: Miss Yvonne, Reba the Mail Lady, Cowboy Curtis and Captain Carl.
Each half hour episode would be fast, fun and colourful, and would showcase Pee Wee’s silliness and naivety – and subtle teachings of lessons for kids while always showing that odd or different were just part of the world. Reubens also had music created for the series – working with Todd Rundgren, Danny Elfman, George Clinton, Dweezil Zappa and The Residents. Singer Cyndi Lauper sang the theme song of the show.
The series, which had four seasons on-air, won 15 Emmys, and was notable for its wide range of guests stars, including Jimmy Smits, Oprah Winfrey, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Cher, Little Richard, Grace Jones, Magic Johnson, Whoopi Goldberg, Charo, kd lang and Frankie Avalon.
I saw a few episodes, mainly because of curiosity after seeing Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Although the show was directed at kids, there was a unique charm about the show, and I had a favourite character, a beatnik puppet called Chicky Baby.
Creating unique kids programming that also lured adults – a unique combination of the wacky and memorable was found in Pee Wee’s Playhouse.