Paul Reubens turns 60: Pee-wee Herman’s origins revealed
(Photo: Everett Collection)
Monday marks Paul Reubens' 60th birthday. He has appeared in such films as "Blow" (2001) and "Mystery Men" (1999), but his most famous character is -- and will likely always be -- Pee-wee Herman.
For those of us who grew up on "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" on the big screen and "Pee-wee's Playhouse" amid Saturday morning cartoons in the '80s, it may be surprising to learn that Pee-wee didn't start off as children's fare. In fact, early Pee-wee would have gotten an R rating if he'd been in the movies.
Pee-wee first appeared on a Los Angeles stage in 1977 as part of a performance by The Groundlings comedy troupe. The troupe has been famous over the years, in part, for being a place where Lorne Michaels would pluck talent for "Saturday Night Live." And back then, Reubens was working with Phil Hartman. (Hartman joined "SNL" in 1986. Reubens was almost cast on "SNL" in 1980 but lost out to Gilbert Gottfried.)
Having developed a close camaraderie with Hartman, Reubens created his Pee-wee character with Hartman's help. "I loved the idea of a last name that could be a first name. And 'Pee-wee Herman' didn't sound made up," Reubens has recalled. The famous Pee-wee giggles and voice were based on a character he had developed in his youth -- one that had evolved into a cartoon character.
(Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)
Eventually, Pee-wee was made into its own stage show at The Groundlings and Reubens stumbled upon a way to create early hype with free tickets: "I've never told this to anybody: We only sold 20 tickets to each show, and all the rest of the tickets were comps," Reubens said during a recent interview with Scott Aukerman. "When my show opened, we had a waiting list of hundreds and hundreds of people, and it seemed like it was this impossible ticket to get. It was this huge, big success because there were only 20 tickets to be had."