Film Threat archive logo


By Rory L. Aronsky | June 30, 2006

“Show me a way to get away when I want to get my way!” – Lyric from the opening song

For what would become Pee-Wee’s Playhouse in the mid 1980s, The Pee-Wee Herman Show is frenetic, a quirky comedic prototype that would obviously be toned down later in its more famed form, but for the near hour spent watching Paul Reubens on stage at the Roxy Theatre as Pee Wee, it’s all the joy that comes from a comedian who knows what he was writing and during some moments, had to have been on crack or something close to it, or at least quantities of caffeine that could poison the average person.

Twisted innocence has never been as fun as it is here. Reubens plays Pee Wee as the ubiquitous man-child, involved in friendships with everyone he sees. The biggest and the best of these friendships is with Kap’n Karl (Phil Hartman, credited with an extra “n” on his last name), an opportunity for Hartman to really demonstrate why he would make people laugh years later and continuously, even after his death. He’s never been forgotten and in him offering Pee Wee his pipe to smoke and the “drawing lesson” he gives him, it’s no wonder Hartman exuberantly inhabited all the roles he played. He looked much happier being everyone, and especially living up those traits not present in most of us.

Interestingly, Reubens’s comedic ways don’t fly out of control as if they’d been sucked into a tornado. At the beginning, it all looks that way, but there’s actually a little-noticed rhythm, which works. Since this Pee Wee wasn’t yet the kids show host he soon would be, there’s room for adult-oriented gags, such as Pee Wee’s fascination with looking up women’s skirts, even using shoe mirrors with his friend Hammy (Tito Larriva) when Hammy’s sister walks onstage. Reubens is savvy enough not to make a big show of it and just as soon as the joke becomes apparent, it is whisked away, with the next scene already in place.

Reubens’s foremost talent is always remaining in flux, just like Pee Wee. One gets the impression that after this recorded performance ended, he was already at work improving on what didn’t quite get laughs and even sharpening that which did, working alongside the others who made this a cheery experience. The pop culturally renown Jambi the Genie (John Paragon) shares a few moments with Pee Wee, seizing the opportunity for good mature humor. Plus, with the clips used from a cartoon involving a villain made of pins and an educational film of the strangest sort, this is a rare comedic show where everything contributes to such a trip that as it ends, you literally feel like the rollercoaster just stopped. And that’s the best kind of comedy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon