Chatting with Paul Reubens, creator of everybody's favorite hyperkinetic manchild, it's hard to decide what seems odder: that The Pee-wee Herman Show is coming to Broadway in the first place, or that it took so long to get there. It's been more than 30 years since Reubens first donned the now-familiar red bow tie and gray suit. Yet the character remains as iconic as ever, despite some notorious incidents in the actor's personal life. There was, for example, Reubens's 1991 arrest for indecent conduct at a Florida porn theater, and another rap for possession of child pornography 11 years later—charges that were subsequently dismissed. Through it all, a generation raised on Reubens's Saturday-morning kids'-show-for-stoned-adults kept the faith, and now the Playhouse gang will make its debut at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Tuesday 26. Reubens spoke to TONY by phone from Los Angeles and weighed in on filling the white loafers once again.
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Are you feeling nervous about your impending turn on the Great White Way?
You know, I don't want to say that I'm stupid, it's just that I'm really good at not thinking about what's going to happen, so it hasn't really sunk in yet.
Would it surprise you to learn that the Gagosian Gallery is showing an installation inspired by a scene in the movie Pee-wee's Big Adventure?
Does it have something to do with the biker bar?
The reason I know about it—this is such a name-droppery story—but I'm working with Judd Apatow, who's friends with James Franco, who I believe is friends with the artist, and James Franco sent me an e-mail about it.
So you aren't that surprised.
Would it have been better to act completely surprised, or just drop a bunch of different big names?
Oh no, we're big on name-dropping here. I just brought it up to illustrate that Pee-wee is such a cultural icon. Is that something you think about?
You know, honestly, I have to very consciously make sure I don't think about it.
What would happen if you did?
What I fear would happen is that I'd lose my powers—that I wouldn't be able to do what I do, or write it, or perform it, or be it. I want to pretend that not that much time has passed....
Do people have trouble separating you from your character?
That's never happened with a family member, thank God, but in the last month, somebody I go way back with slipped up and called me Pee-wee accidentally. It was shocking. But yeah, over the years I've answered to Pee-wee Reubens, Mr. Herman and P.W. Paul Herman is the one I probably get the most.
For a long time, it seemed like you were trying to distance yourself from Pee-wee.
I never felt like I moved away from Pee-wee Herman. When I completed production on my TV series, I felt like, you know, time for a nice break. And that break turned into a really, really long one. But it wasn't because I was running away from that character.
But why bring him back now?
I just woke up one day and thought, Why not? I've watched practically every single thing else from the '80s get recycled, including The A-Team and The Dukes of Hazzard.
But it isn't technically a reboot, because you're playing it yourself.
I just couldn't get anybody to agree that it would be fine if it wasn't me [in the role]. Honestly. If John Stamos could be playing Pee-wee on Broadway, I'd really be able to focus on what I really need to focus on, which is to finish writing the show. And John Stamos would be talking to you.
The resemblance between you two is uncanny. This being Broadway, you're probably going to get a lot of unwitting tourists in the audience. How do you suppose they'll respond?
I was pushing to actually have a process where we'd weed out people who weren't big enough fans, so that the audience would be totally stacked in my favor. I couldn't figure out a way to make sure of that, other than to have a whole bunch of people in little cubicles, filling out applications.
One last question: I hear there are plans for another Pee-wee movie. Will there be a part for John Stamos?
All subsequent movies will probably contain some sort of John Stamos appearance, whether or not he agrees to take over the run of the show in January.
The Pee-wee Herman Show starts previews Tue 26 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.