The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of Pee-wee Herman

Growing up as a kid in the 80’s there was nothing better than Saturday mornings.

We had cartoons like Transformers, GI Joe, He-Man and Thundercats, just to name a few.

Then there was this:


I can’t really pinpoint exactly why Pee-wee struck a chord with most of us. I think it was simply that there was this guy who was just really a big kid. He was wacky, lived in a house with talking furniture, gadgets, dinosaurs and just had fun. It was everything that we would want someday as an adult. You know, never growing up.

Then, Pee-wee made a trip to a certain theater, and his empire came crumpling down. Almost twenty years later, Pee-wee Herman is making his much deserved return.

Here’s a look at the rise, fall and resurrection of everybody’s favorite man-boy.

Pee-wee Herman was created by Paul Reubens, while part of the famed improv group The Groundlings in the late 70’s. It’s believed that Pee-wee first came to life in 1977 when Reubens created a character that couldn’t remember jokes. The character had a distinctive laugh and rebutted insults with the famous line “I know you are, but what am I.”

A custom grey suit, a red bow tie and being inspired by a 1950’s kids TV host by the name of Pinky Lee, Pee-wee Herman was born. To complete the transition, Reubens got the name from a miniature harmonica called the Pee-weiny herman.

In 1980, after failing to land a spot on Saturday Night Live, and despite making a cameo as Pee-wee in Cheech & Chongs Next Movie, Reubens was going to turn it in. He then had the brilliant idea to bring Pee-wee to the stage.

With some cash borrowed from his folks, and the help of 60 people, including one Phil Hartman, the show became a reality. The show, as we should all know, centers around Pee-wee playing with toys, singing, dancing, hanging out with his pals and having the dream to really want to fly.


The Pee-wee Herman Show played for sell-out crowds at L.A.’s The Roxy for five months. It gained national exposure when HBO aired it as a special on September 11, 1981.

For the next three years, Pee-wee took his show on the road across the States. He also made several appearances on Late Night with David Letterman.


With a growing following, it was time for Pee-wee to make his feature film debut.


On August 9, 1985 Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was released by Warner Brothers. It was directed by some guy named Tim Burton, with a score composed by someone else you may have heard of, Danny Elfman. The flick did well at the box office; it cost $6 million and took in $45 million, despite mixed reviews, it has become a cult classic.

From there, Pee-wee’s career skyrocketed.

He hosted the show that once denied him a gig, SNL, on November 23, 1985. Then, of course, came Pee-wee’s Playhouse.


CBS debuted the pilot episode on September 13, 1986, which fascinated audiences and critics for 45 episodes during five seasons. It even earned 22 Emmy Awards.

While still banking on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, there was also another film, Big Top Pee-wee, released on July 22, 1988, in addition to appearances on shows like Sesame Street.


Then, in July of 1991 Reubens was arrested for masturbating in an adult theater while visiting the fam in Sarasota, Florida. Despite the support of friends, colleagues and the overall public, Pee-wee’s decline was imminent. CBS pulled the plug on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Toys-R-Us stopped selling Pee-wee merchandise and Disney-MGM studios suspended a video of Pee-wee discussing how voice overs work during studio tours.

Pee-wee mug

Pee-wee made a few last ditch appearances following Reuben’s arrest. He famously appeared at the 1991 VMA’s where he asked, “Heard any good jokes lately?” He then added one of his famous catchphrases, “Ha, that’s so funny I forgot to laugh!”

In 1992, he popped up at the Grand Ole Opry during a tribute to Minnie Pearl, and then, Pee-wee disappeared.

Pee-wee VMAs

Paul Reubens, however, began to branch outside of his Pee-wee persona. He appeared in movies like Batman Returns, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Mystery Men and Blow.

But, we wouldn’t see the last of Pee-wee Herman.

In 1998, Fox Family began airing reruns of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which Adult Swim would also do in 2006. The following year, while promoting Mystery Men, Reubens informed the world during an episode of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, that he planned on working on a new Pee-wee flick.

Reubens again suggested the possibility of a third Pee-wee movie during an interview with NPR in 2004. In October of 2006, Pee-wee showed up at the Chiller Theater Expo. He then made his first national appearance since 1992 at Spike TV’s 2007 Guys Choice Awards.

Steve-0 & Paul Reubens

More recently, on Thanksgiving Day, 2009, Pee-wee was a guest on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel Live on December 8, 2009.


Beginning on January 12, 2010, The Pee-wee Herman Stage Show: The Return will debut at the Club Nokia in L.A. until February 7.

And, the rumors of a third Pee-wee movie continue, which would be based on the TV series, as well as, the possibility of taking his new stage show on the road.

Don’t know about anyone else, but I’m completely ready to get some white shoes and do the Pee-wee dance to “Tequlia” for Pee-wee’s big comeback.

Leave a Comment

  1. Zack Kempo says:

    Dude this is like way cool. I like it


  2. Chris says:

    Go Pee Wee!!!

  3. Christo says:

    You forgot to mention he hosted a TV game show called You Don't Know Jack!.. based on a popular video game at the time..

  4. Kent says:

    He was WRONGED. He was busted doing something that all adults do in porno theaters (HE'S AN ADULT, HE'S NOT REALLY PEE-WEE, YOU ASSHOLES).

    He deserves a comeback more than anyone else I can think of right now. I hope he takes his place back.

  5. Dana says:

    Pee Wee is Cool but Miss Yvonne was HOT!

  6. jojo says:

    actually the whole situation with him and the theatre was all do to the police and an employee.

    the theatre was an illegal theatre. the police went in for a raid. pee wee happened to be there and an employee noticed who he was. then reported it to the police and the media.

    from there it went out of control.


  7. Anon says:

    Oh. My. God. That’s Laurence Fishburne.

  8. Erik Stone says:

    Pee Wee rocks. Totally unfair what happened to him. I’m stoked that he is back.