Three decades after his first HBO special, Paul Reubens returns to the network on March 19th, in an exclusive presentation of his current hit Broadway show, The Pee-Wee Herman Show, shot at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre New York this past January. Having opened last November, the 90-minute show is full of subversive humor and childlike wonder, based on both the original stage show and the Emmy-winning Saturday morning TV show, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, which became a cultural phenomenon. The character was also brought to life on the big screen in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Big Top Pee-Wee.
During a recent interview to promote the HBO special, Paul Reubens talked about the longevity of Pee-Wee Herman, the possibility of bringing Pee-Wee back to the big screen (with Judd Apatow as producer), what he’s learned in the 30 years since his first show, and why he thinks there’s so much interest in the character again. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: When you began as Pee-wee Herman, what sort of longevity did you think this character would have? Did you think you would still be Pee-Wee Herman, 31 years later?
PAUL REUBENS: I had no idea. If anyone would have told me I’d be doing this 30 years later, I would have laughed. But now, I plan on doing it 30 years from now, when I’m 140.
How has the show changed from its stint in Los Angeles?
REUBENS: I changed quite a bit of material. We rewrote a lot of stuff, over the last four or five months, before the show moved from Los Angeles to New York, and a lot of it changed. I added a couple of sequences. I came up with a couple of ideas that I wanted to add to it. A lot of people who saw the production in Los Angeles came and saw it in New York City, and it actually changed more than I thought it had changed.
It’s great to see The Pee-Wee Herman Show back. What sort of movie offers are you entertaining, now that you’re back in the spotlight? Will we get to see Pee-Wee back on the big screen?
REUBENS: I’m so glad you asked that question because I’m working on a film right now for Judd Apatow. You may have heard of him. He’s the current King of Comedy in Hollywood and internationally, and he’s producing the next Pee-Wee movie, which is absolutely incredible. Me and a writer named Paul Rust have been working with Judd for the last six months, and we just turned the first act of it in, about three weeks before Christmas. We’ve taken a little break to complete the show and film it for HBO.
Is Judd going to direct that movie?
REUBENS: Judd has not decided. I guess he’s waiting to read the script, which is not completed yet. He’s just producing so far, and I don’t know who will direct it.
Is this going to be the long-awaited, dark Pee-Wee movie, or a more traditional Pee-Wee movie?
REUBENS: No, this is a way more traditional movie. The dark Pee-Wee movie probably won’t be happening until things get a little darker. This movie is going to be more like the traditional Pee-Wee. Judd really wanted to do a reality-based film that’s very much more like Big Adventure, so this is a road picture. That’s what we’re writing right now.
What do you think happened that is allowing you to be Pee-Wee again? What’s brought you back to the public consciousness, in such a big way, at this time?
REUBENS: Gosh, I really don’t know. Certain things, they just come back. It’s cyclical, you know. If you wait long enough, these suits come back and this tie comes back, and I think that’s what happened. I just waited long enough. And now, all the people seem to like it again.
If viewers were to watch the original Pee-Wee Herman Show on HBO and the new special, back to back, what would they notice?
REUBENS: Well, I think you’d probably notice that I got like way older. There are a lot of similarities. The new show is really inspired 100% by the old show. I did the stage show originally at the Roxy Theater, which is where we filmed it for HBO, years ago. And then, from there, I had a CBS television series that was greatly inspired by that stage production. So, when I went to rewrite the show, I added in all the characters from the CBS show.
The original production that HBO aired did not include Chairy, my talking chair, and Globey, my talking globe, or all the other inanimate objects that talk. I added a lot of the characters like that, but the plot is the same. There’s a love story, and I have a wish to fly in the show. That’s pretty much the plot. The New York Times said it was thin on plot, and they were right, but plot is not all it’s cracked up to be. It really isn’t, unless you’re doing a five-part miniseries. Then, you need plot. But, not for a 90-minute comedy special. But, all the stuff that people have been saying is that their face hurts when they leave the theater. It’s a very, very funny show. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and all of your faces will hurt when I’m done.
How topical is the show?
REUBENS: I didn’t really want to make it too topical. I didn’t want to make it about New York.
Have you been in touch with your Pee-Wee’s Playhouse co-star Laurence Fishburne at all?
REUBENS: Laurence came to the opening night in Los Angeles. Laurence played Cowboy Curtis in the CBS television series, but he wasn’t available because he’s got that CSI show. So, an incredible actor named Phil LaMarr, from Futurama and many, many, many different things, is playing Cowboy Curtis. I got a great photo of the two of them together, on opening night. Laurence loved the show. And S. Epatha Merkerson, who played Reba the Mail Lady on the CBS show, came in New York to see the show. It’s been extremely star-studded, both in New York and Los Angeles. All the big stars have come to see the show.
What’s the format of the HBO special? Is it just a recording of what was on Broadway?
REUBENS: I’m so glad you asked that question because it’s going to look very different than anything that’s been done like this before. We shot for two days. The show is going to look so completely different. Both (director) Marty Callner and I have worked quite a bit, in the last 30 years, and we know a lot now. We shot only one live performance, and we shot the show without an audience and pulled the cameras up on the stage. We have angles. You’re going to see angles, during the live performance of a show, that you have never seen, in anything like this. You never see the cameras on the stage. It’s usually shot from the back of the house, and we shot from the back of the house, but you’re going to be able to see inter-cut footage where the cameras were really up on stage, and panning and moving. I think it’s going to be really staggering. Visually, I think it’s going to look like nothing that’s ever been shot before, in terms of a live stage production, so I’m really excited about it. I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s going to look like. I think it’s going to be visually dazzling, as well as funny.
Was there anything different that you added or wanted to stress because it was being shot?
REUBENS: Not really, no. I’ve been so happy with the show. I spent months and months and months tweaking every word and rewriting, and I’m really very, very happy with the show. When I knew we were going to do it for HBO, it was so exciting to me that I started to think about changes to it, but I love the show so much as is. We didn’t really change anything. We shot an ending that may or may not be in the show, that would happen after the curtain call.
Who is doing the voices for your talking inanimate friends?
REUBENS: Oh, we have incredible voice actors. Mostly, they’re the actors in the show. Josh Meyers – who is the very, very funny, better-looking brother of Saturday Night Live head writer Seth Meyers – is playing a firefighter in the show, and he does a lot of the male puppet voices. And, we hired a girl here in New York – a local actress, named Lexie – and she is doing most of the female voices. There are a couple of other another actors augmenting some of the characters. It’s been incredible. They sit in a little booth during the show.
Since you did the CBS show, there are a lot more TV networks out there, some of which cater entirely to kids. Have there been any talks at all about you reviving The Pee-Wee Herman Show as a weekly series, or a series of specials, beyond the Broadway play?
REUBENS: Yeah, it’s been being talked about for a couple of years, actually. I almost did it with Nickelodeon. All the big networks have approached me, and I’m just weighing out the offers and sifting through them.
If you did another camper van trip across America, like you did in Big Adventure, now in 2011, how differently would you do it this time? Would you avoid certain states?
REUBENS: I’ve grown so much as an artist that I’m not quite sure yet what the movie is going to be. I’ve only got the set-up to getting out on the road, but I don’t really know what’s going to happen yet. Although, I’ve been greatly influenced by Russ Meyer’s film, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! I think some biker chicks will come in and aid in my getting across the country. That could be different. I can’t guarantee that, though.
If you had your own network, Pee-Wee TV, what would you put on your network?
REUBENS: I would put on all the underdog people. I would probably scan the D-list, because you could get all those people for really cheap, and then do reality shows with them. I’d put all kinds of crazy stuff on. I would just put a camera in a mall and have people walking by it, 24/7, for a few weeks, until that was canceled. And then, I would show people out in Central Park, making snow people. I actually hope to have a sitcom of some type on HBO.
THE PEE-WEE HERMAN SHOW ON BROADWAY premieres on HBO on March 19th