Paul Reubens is having a late-career moment. He’s starting a 25-city road show celebrating the 35th anniversary of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, he’s at work on a radio project (a Pee-wee podcast?) and is in talks to develop an animated series centering on the puppets from his old TV show’s Puppetland.
Plus he’s been pitching studios on The Pee-wee Herman Story. (According to a new interview in The Hollywood Reporter, Pee-wee gets sent to a mental hospital for shock treatment for his alcoholism.)
At 67, making a late-career splash, as beloved as Pee-Wee is, might seem like an uphill climb, but he told THR in a recent interview,
“People have argued I’ve done everything consciously or unconsciously to destroy [the character]. But it’s the brand that won’t die. It’s still around.”
Ruben’s friend, Cassandra Peterson, better known as Elvira, remembers,
“The first time I saw Paul, I thought he was the funniest person I had ever seen in my entire life. I just remember staring at him and going, ‘I want to be his best friend.’ “
According to THR,
Everything about Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which ran on CBS from 1986 to 1991, was ahead of its time. The sets were designed by the punk-rock cartoonist Gary Panter, while the stop-motion animation was created by the same company that designed MTV‘s eye-popping interstitials. Devo‘s Mark Mothersbaugh composed the theme song, which was sung by an uncredited Cyndi Lauper. The cast drew from some of Reubens’ Groundlings favorites (Phil Hartman reprised his sea-captain character for one season before going on to bigger things at SNL) plus some new faces like S. Epatha Merkerson as Reba the Mail Lady (until she found Law & Order fame) and Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis (who, of course, would play The Matrix‘s Morpheus).
Fast-forward to 2010, after one hit and one Pee-Wee sequel flopped,
Judd Apatow urged Reubens to collaborate on what became 2016 Netflix movie Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, which the streamer’s content chief, Ted Sarandos — a comedy aficionado with a soft spot for Pee-wee — greenlit at a budget of $30 million. Reubens had a hard time making it. He remembers repeatedly clashing with Apatow over how Pee-wee looked on camera.
“Judd kept going, ‘You look great.’ And I’d be like, ‘No. Sorry. It doesn’t work for Pee-wee Herman. I don’t mind looking my age in something else, but I don’t want to look like that in a Pee-wee movie. There’s a creepy weirdness to it. It looks like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?‘ “
But then Reubens saw what modern-day postproduction de-aging technology could do. When the final results were screened, Reubens couldn’t believe his eyes — and it gave him an idea.
“I was so buoyed by that, I realized, I could do [Pee-wee] for 10 more years if I wanted to. I think I could do it for a while longer, and just fix my face.”
Reubens still wants to make his dark Pee-wee movie, even if nobody else does. According to several well-placed sources, he’s been aggressively shopping the Pee-wee Herman Story script around town and has agreed to make the movie for $15 million, half the budget of Big Holiday.
One deep-pocketed super-fan from the U.K. (who showed up to a meeting in full Pee-wee costume!) has offered to put up $10 million of his own money for the budget, according to the source (Reubens wouldn’t confirm). It’s now up to Reubens to find the rest.
“I do feel like it’s going to probably happen. I have a couple of people that are interested. But this is Hollywood. A couple people interested and five bucks will get you five bucks.”
(Photo, Avalon; via THR)