‘Pee Wee’s Big Holiday’: We have a lot to thank Paul Reuben for–see it on Netflix

This might seem strange to some, but I love the concept of Pee Wee Herman.  It was quite a lot of fun for me to watch the first Pee Wee film in over twenty years on Netflix called Pee Wee’s Big Holiday.  It’s an exclusive for Netflix but has shown in a few theaters across the nation.  Pee Wee to me is such a wonderful character.  I get a lot of joy out of watching Paul Reuben play an adult who essentially never entered puberty.  His Pee Wee character is a fantasy look into what we all might look like if we never stopped being children—which most of the time I think is a shame—that we all do grow up.  I can say that my first daughter was literally born while watching Pee Wee’s Playhouse at the hospital in 1989, which my wife and I never missed together.  We looked forward to every Saturday so we could watch it together.  During that particular episode she laughed really hard.  There were no doctors in the room at the time as they were waiting for her to dilate, and my daughter was born.  I actually had to hold my daughter’s head to keep her from falling out into that little bag that is supposed to capture all the afterbirth.  Ironically it was that same daughter who was doing a photo shoot of me and we were finished for the day and had a rare afternoon together with only me, my daughter and my wife all in the same place when I noticed a Hollywood Reporter article about the new Pee Wee movie. So we sat down and literally watched it the moment that Netflix put it on their site.  It was one of the rare joys I have had in a number of years, I simply loved it!

I suppose this little proclamation requires a back story.  It has become a consistent observation that when a major social character who has the public eye out-lives the requirements of whatever system they are a part of, strange stories emerge to destroy their careers.  For instance, when Brett Favre was having a hard time retiring from professional football, stories about him sending pictures of his penis to females emerged to force him into retirement following a scandal to knock him off his pedestal.  Payton Manning was going through something similar; he was on the fence as to whether or not to retire when a story emerged from his college days attacking his squeaky clean image with sexual imposition.  The clear message to Payton was, “get out while you are on top so we don’t have to tear you down.”  The college story which had been kept under wraps for over two decades was a warning shot, and Payton wisely listened.  Paul Reuben had dominated 1980s comedy during a vibrant Reagan era and had outlived his shelf life.  This will just let you examine how much things have changed in just a few decades dear reader. 

After the movie that essentially got Tim Burton his big directorial break, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure came out in 1985 both Paul Reuben and Tim Burton launched themselves into successful careers that were wildly imaginative—and boyishly playful.  Reuben from 1986 to 1990 did a children’s show on Saturday mornings called Pee Wee’s Playhouse which featured Laurence Fishburne and many others on the smash hit—which was the show that my first daughter was born to.  In 1991 Paul Reuben was noticed by a sting officer masturbating at an adult movie theater and was arrested.  Paul Reuben offered to do a charity spot for the local police to make the whole incident “go away” but the press got a hold of the story and it essentially destroyed the career of Reuben and his Pee Wee character thereafter.

Toys “R” Us dropped the Pee Wee Herman toy line and CBS stopped airing immediately Pee Wee’s Play House and the character was effectively wiped off the map. Within months Paul Reuben was forced into hiding disgraced.  Of course over the next ten years as the Clinton’s moved into the White House that same media effectively destroyed the office of president by letting out all the sexually charged secrets of Bill and Hillary Clinton.  By the end of the 1990s masturbation in a movie theater was the least of our worries and with the advent of the Internet and home video markets, pornography exploded into virtually every home.  Masturbation was normalized and no longer taboo—in fact it was encouraged by teachers of progressive society. If Paul Reuben had been arrested just five years later, his story would have died before it ever got started, but forever after Pee Wee Herman had been established as a pervert dangerous to children.

Boldly Reuben appeared in Batman Returns which of course was one of the original superhero films that launched this modern era we see today from Warner Bros and Disney. Tim Burton loyal to Reuben because of their friendship from the set of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure cast the actor to play the father of the villain “The Penguin.”  Ironically on the modern television show Gothem, Reuben reprised his role from that 1992 film playing the father of the modern Penguin.  One thing that I greatly admire about Reuben is that he has been very tenacious—he has stuck around and fought his way through obvious discrimination to make a living for himself—even though the parts offered to him were greatly limited ever since that original arrest.  Reuben tried for years to get his Pee Wee character up off the mat and back out into the media world and he just couldn’t get any takers.  Nobody would touch it.

However, in 2015 because of the wild success of video streaming to give Hollywood a run for its money in production values, Netflix announced that they would take on the Pee Wee character once again giving Reuben a second chance.  They shot the short picture which I’d call essentially a remake of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure—only without all the special effects—and it was released in 2016 as an exclusive on Netflix.  So I was quite proud to be one of the first to sit down and watch it.  I have not laughed that hard in a long time.  Even at 63 years old Reuben played the eternally youthful Pee Wee perfectly.  It was a wonderfully innocent film full of fun and laughs.

There is nothing wrong with looking at the human species and criticizing its evolution—we have minds and were meant to think and question the nature of things.  Saying that, I think it’s a mistake to surrender our innocence as children to the barrage of hormonal ineptitude that we find after puberty—where biology takes over and we become a sexually based species.  I can’t help but think that this world would be so much better if we just took sex out of it and could interact with each other the way children do—innocently and full of inquisitive playfulness.  For context, I approach everything I do in life with playful optimism.  I just steered a multimillion dollar project to completion using a playful approach that kept everyone’s creative juices flowing without pretension through a very hard project with lots of technical complications.  So I clearly understand the benefit of Pee Wee Herman as a cultural character in our complex society and there is something very important about him—which was an invention of Paul Reuben.  We should all thank him for his philosophic contributions to the essence of our very foundations as human beings.

If you get a chance to watch Pee Wee’s Big Holiday, you should do it!  Its great fun, wildly original—and innocent.  I don’t think there was one sexually provocative innuendo within the entire story.  It was very much the kind of movie a 6-year-old child would have made, and I mean that as a compliment.  I wish more youthful innocence would find its way into the adult consciousness because when I look around at my contemporaries I see defeated people—people who gave up their childhoods and retreated into biological entities of procreation and easy marketing for product placement.  What Reuben has done with his Pee Wee character is very hard—he has maintained a youthful playfulness that most people lose at age 11 and kept touch with it well into his 60s.  And I admire him for it.  Now, if you don’t mind “I’m going to let you let me leave.”

Rich Hoffman

 CLIFFHANGER RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT

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