The Reel Review


Paul Reubens is Pee-wee Herman, an over-stimulated, 1950s-era children’s television show host, in this adult-themed, satirical sendup of the era’s dated and corny social norms. Recorded live at Los Angeles’s Roxy Theatre, the 1981 HBO comedy special was the start of Reubens’ four decade-long television and film career.

Paul Reubens and Phil Hartman in The Pee-wee Herman Show

Conceived by Reubens as an homage to such low-budget 1950s kiddie-shows as Howdy Doody and Pinky Lee, The Pee-wee Herman Show co-starred and was co-written with fellow Groundlings improv members Phil Hartman, Edie McClurg and John Paragon, along with writer Bill Steinkellner. The hour-long show, with its avant-garde funhouse set, is framed as a briskly paced variety program, as seen through the energetic eyes of a naive and super silly Herman.

Paul Reubens, Edie McClurg and Lynne Marie Stewart in The Pee-wee Herman Show

With a slew of quirky characters – Captain Carl, Mailman Mike, Miss Yvonne, Clockey, Jambi the Genie, Hermit Hattie and Pterri Pterodactyl – the show manages to be both sweet and cleverly subversive, as it makes fun of, and even leans into its own ridiculousness with lots of innuendos and sly adult humor. Reubens, as the amped-up Pee-wee, along with his lovable band of misfits made The Pee-wee Herman Show a one of kind that definitely was way ahead of its time.


• Paul Reubens came up with the idea of The Pee-wee Herman Show after losing out to Gilbert Gottfried in cast auditions for Saturday Night Live. Reubens died from cancer on July 30, 2023 at the age of 70, six years after the removal of a brain tumor that he’d kept secret from the public.

• The excerpt of the Mr. Bungles video featured in The Pee-wee Herman Show is an actual educational video created in 1960. “Is that a big enough piece of cake, or what?!”

John Paragon and Cassandra Peterson in HBO’s 1983 special Paragon of Comedy (left) and Paragon (right)

• John Paragon, who portrayed Jambi the Genie and voiced Pterri the Pterodactyl, died at his home in Palm Springs in April 2021 from heart disease and chronic alcoholism. His close friend and collaborator Cassandra Peterson (Elvira: Mistress of the Dark), who credits him with helping create her Elvira persona, held onto his ashes for over a year before interring him at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

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