New Again: Pee-wee Herman
PHOTOGRAPHY BY HERB RITTS. ARTWORK BY RICHARD BERNSTEIN.
When Paul Reubens was a stage actor and improvisational comedian performing with The Groundlings in Los Angeles, he created a character that quickly evolved into one of the most beloved and iconic pop culture figures of the 1980s: Pee-wee Herman. Pee-wee’s naïve, energetic persona appealed to those both young and old, and critics praised the inclusivity and progressiveness as well as the overall creativity and craftsmanship of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, a show geared toward children that ran from 1986 to 1990. But, much like Ren and Stimpy or Adventure Time, Pee-wee’s Playhouse was enjoyed by people of all ages. Prior to Playhouse, there was also The Pee-wee Herman Show (1981-1984) and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985).
Following a period of reclusiveness, after Reubens’ arrests in 1991 and 2002 for public masturbation and children’s pornography, respectively, The Pee-wee Herman Show made a brief comeback in 2011. For the first time since, this Friday, March 18, Pee-wee will return with an entirely new story, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, streaming exclusively on Netflix and produced by Reubens and Judd Apatow.
To celebrate Pee-wee’s return, here we revisit our 1987 interview with Reubens, who at the time was doing the majority of interviews and public appearances in character. The actor talks about the praise and controversies surrounding Pee-wee’s Playhouse and his predictions for the future of his character, nearly 30 years ago. —Wil Barlow
By Margy Rochlin
Time magazine art critic Robert Hughes recently volunteered that Pee-wee’s Playhouse, the Saturday morning kiddie show on CBS, is infinitely more interesting than most contemporary art. With this, Hughes provided cult star Pee-wee Herman with the third and final accolade that qualifies him for the Pop Culture Hall of Fame (first was a slew of rap songs dedicated to him, and second were the frantic, rabbit renditions of the Pee-wee dance that have become the standard touchdown celebration in the NFL). His appearance sometime this summer as a Mad magazine cover boy should prime him for his pop sainthood. For the uninitiated, Pee Wee Herman is actually the brainy creation of 34-year-old Paul Reubens (the diminutive of Paul Rubenfeld). The Pee-wee Herman Show began in 1980, when Reubens staged a series of midnight performances at Los Angeles’ Groundlings Theater, then moved to Hollywood’s Roxy for a six month run, which resulted in an HBO special. Along the way Reubens cameod in two Cheech and Chong movies and made numerous appearances on The Gong Show. His first real national break came with regular visits on Late Night with David Letterman, distinguished by Pee-wee’s uncanny ability to make Dave squirm.
Whatever groundwork he laid in his spare-budget feature film, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Reubens polished and consolidated for Pee-wee’s Playhouse. The sophisticated sparkle of the show comes not only from it’s whip-crack visual style, but also from making the most of already familiar Pee-weeisms. There’s the highly stylized Pee-wee look, his teensy gray suit, scarlet bow tie, bold talc-white face makeup and rubied lips – and his obsession with silliness. And if adults make up a third of Playhouse‘s 9.3 million viewers, it may be because of the way his comedic setups call back the childhood of the baby boom generation. Only with Pee-wee Herman would “That’s so funny, I forgot to laugh” be a punch line.
The show has provoked flowery praise from the critics (okay, Gene Siskel put it on his ten-most-hated list, but big deal), is top-rated and was nominated for twelve Emmys this year. Still, Pee-wee’s appeal is hard to pin down. David Letterman once theorized to The Washington Post, “What makes me laugh about this character is that it has the external structure of a bratty, precocious kid, but you know it’s being controlled by the incubus—the manifestation of evil itself.” But there is a sweetness to Pee-wee that can’t be overlooked. The episodes often culminate with an airy moral. And his cartoonily conceived visitors tend to be pure-hearted types who speak in thoughtful, innocent peeps.
If Paul Reubens used to gamely explore the underpinnings of Pee-wee if the press, he’s stopped since Big Adventure. This interview came with perhaps the most original, and not to mention contradictory, ground rule of recent memory: Paul would not be Paul, he would be Pee-wee, despite the fact that he would not be in costume or character.
He arrived at Hollywood’s Hamburger Hamlet looking wan and slightly addled: Reubens is scripting the sequel to his feature film and planning a tour to promote the opening of Big Adventure in Europe. He is also co-writing and preparing a season’s worth of fresh Playhouse episodes. (Hint: New regulars include Floory the Talking Floor, a plump female swinger type and a Spanish-speaking character. Wave goodbye to Tito, the brick-muscled lifeguard, and Mrs. Steve.)
Few people recognized him on this day, and small wonder: His hair, cleansed of Butchwax, is soft and mysteriously dark brown; his face—drained of its prunish Pee-wee expressions—can be emotionless, almost blank at times. Even his bread stick-thin arms and legs look somehow more substantial in a loose maroon shirt and black jeans. Only when Reubens threw his whispery speaking voice into high gear could you sense that Pee-wee Herman resides inside this man’s body.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Who is your tailor?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: The original suit was designed by a guy named Mr. Jay from Hollywood. But nowadays I’m having the suit duplicated. At this point I have about three good suits and about three really raggedy ones.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Is it true that the name Pee-wee was inspired by a toy harmonica?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: Uh-huh. We were doing a sketch that was kind of a takeoff on the Comedy Store. We were all supposed to come up with a different type of comedian to play. I wasn’t a great improviser when I started there; I’m not really up on current events. I would always just mug, just try to get my laughs from making faces. So I decided to do a character who should never have become a comic—somebody you would see at the Comedy Store and go, “This person is never going to make it.” I had a little one-inch-long harmonica that said PEE WEE on it. I just loved the way it sounded—real memorable, a cool name. I was looking for a last name that was a first name. Growing up, I knew a kid who was the most obnoxious kid I ever knew, and his last name was Herman. And the rest is history, right?
MARGY ROCHLIN: How do you explain the makeup?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: I was going for the look of somebody who was indoors a lot.
MARGY ROCHLIN: So the whiteface isn’t a vaudevillian allusion? It’s supposed to look like you have a milky-white complexion?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: Yeah. I was looking to be pale, you know, like the kind of person who has that pigment in their skin where no matter what the weather is they have pink cheeks. I had a couple of friends like that. But it was all very instinctive in a way. I never really thought that much about it.
MARGY ROCHLIN: But you don’t deny that your makeup is rather pronounced.
PEE-WEE HERMAN: There’s always the part in television reviews that says “Then there’s the makeup.” Well, I’ll tell you this, if you ask children, they don’t know that. Kids don’t look at the show and go, “Oh my god, Pee-wee is wearing so much makeup.” I feel like even talking about makeup is ruining it for the kids.
MARGY ROCHLIN: I don’t think that age-group reads television reviews.
PEE-WEE HERMAN: Well, I’ve always imagined they do. I imagine their parents are saying [pantomimes jabbing a finger at a newspaper] “Look at what this says about your hero…”
MARGY ROCHLIN: I think some people feel unable to categorize what you do. Is it comedy or performance art?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: It’s a lot easier to say you’re a comic than a performance artist. Part of what I do comes from the fact that I don’t know any jokes to tell. And when I do they’re really flat and don’t work.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Weren’t you recently invited to the White House?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: I’m going to go to the White House soon. I was invited to go on the Easter egg hunt, but I had to guest host Joan’s [Rivers] show. Understand that I haven’t gotten my invitation yet, but I heard that they’re going to unveil it at the White House and we would get to go have a reception or lunch or something. Me and Clint and Bette and Olivia. Nancy, of course, will already be there.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Can you imagine what your encounter with the President will be like?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: [nods head vigorously] Don’t you think we sort of look alike? We’re both pale and we have pink cheeks-very pink cheeks. [Pee-wee’s arms fly out in mock embrace] “Ronnie! My twin brother.” I’m afraid to say too much because if they read this ahead of time they may not invite me.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Tell me about your anti-crack spot.
PEE-WEE HERMAN: It’s very serious and dramatic, and it will be shown in movie theaters. All back-lighting, and at first you don’t even know who is speaking. Vilmos Zsigmond is the cinematographer, and Mark Rydell is the director. All these people donated their time and services, and it was pretty amazing.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Do you think kids can accept Pee-wee Herman being serious?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: Yeah. I’ve been serious before. There are a lot of real serious moments in my movie. I try real hard in my first movie to have a lot of different levels to it. Not just one big, gigantic laugh. In fact, [Paramount] was really upset when they first read the script. They wanted two jokes per page. It may be funny, but there’s that whole scene in the basement with me losing it and going crazy, real upset. There’s the low-key scene with the waitress. My next movie is going to be even more in that direction.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Meaning?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: It involves a romantic triangle. I’m with one person, and I fall in love with somebody else. So I don’t really cheat on her, but it’s a dilemma.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Who plays your romantic interest?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: I can’t really get into it. It’s not going to come out for a whole year. I’m afraid somebody will rip it off. Haw, haw, haw. Flattering myself again. I’ll probably leave the script out somewhere and people will keep passing by, not even caring about it. Seriously, I just want to move ahead with the character.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Did you include the romance in your film as a response to people labeling you as asexual or of indeterminate gender?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: No. It’s just something I want to do. I never understand why people say that, though. A lot of the reviews of the show mention stuff like “His gender is confusing to children.” To me, it’s clearly male on my TV show. I don’t see the confusion. I don’t wear wigs or cross-dress. My name is Pee-wee. There aren’t a lot of women named Pee-wee. [laughs] Probably from this interview a lot of them will write to me [gruffly], “Mah name is Pee-wee and ah’m a woman.”
MARGY ROCHLIN: Larry “Bud” Melman once appeared in an episode of your show that someone described to me as looking like “Child Molester’s Central.” Was that the effect you were going for?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: No. People read so much into what I do. It’s fascinating to me because some of it’s probably there, but I haven’t thought of it. I mean, why would I, in a million years, want to do anything even remotely having to do with child molestation on a children’s show? See, I take having a kids’ show real seriously. I think it’s an enormous responsibility.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Did you read the article about you in L.A. Parent magazine? It complained that your show only deals with children at their level. In other words, it doesn’t help them transcend to the next level of maturity.
PEE-WEE HERMAN: I hated that article. I thought it was really wrong and they twisted a lot of facts. That particular article doesn’t address a lot of the good things the show does. For one thing, I’m very proud that there is one important subliminal message in that show: the ethnic mix of the cast. It’s very racially mixed, and it will be even more so this coming season. This fact is never dealt with, never discussed, and to me it’s a very positive thing for little kids to see as just no big deal. Like we had Miss Yvonne go on a date with Cowboy Curtis—a racially mixed couple.
MARGY ROCHLIN: I take it you’re less than fond of child psychologists.
PEE-WEE HERMAN: I just feel like it’s so weird that they would say all of that stuff. First of all, I don’t think it’s supported at all by anything. It’s theory. Also, the show was not designed to be The Electric Company or Sesame Street. It was designed to be wild… and fun… and entertaining. Period. Within that, as I’ve said, I’ve tried to be very serious about not having anything negative in it. It really encourages the golden rule and that kind of stuff. I don’t mean to come off like an egomaniac, but look at all the rest of the stuff that’s on. All the violence and guns. So-called action/adventure stuff. We’re better than that.
MARGY ROCHLIN: I was wondering, have you gotten a lot of comments about the fey undertones in Pee-wee’s Playhouse?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: I think people are reading that into the show. I don’t know what else to say. It’s not conscious. We didn’t sit down and tell Jambi [the Genie], “Act as queeny as you can.” But to me it’s a positive thing that the characters are all different kinds of people. Kids don’t… I was going to say that they don’t ostracize each other for being different, but they do—they’re really awful about that. In fact, even on our show two of the kids were sometimes really mean to the Oriental girl. They’d say stuff like “We have a club, and you can’t be in it.”
MARGY ROCHLIN: I’ve noticed that you have a particularly large following in the black community. Have you figured out why?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: I have a theory, but I think it’s wrong. And I want you to write that. My theory is that to at least part of the black population, Pee-wee Herman is sort of the ultimate wish projection of what a white person is like. Like a geek. But I also think in a way Pee-wee is very black. I’ll probably get myself in a lot of trouble here. But I just feel in a lot of ways black people are so much looser and cooler. Just as a culture, it’s so much more real. As Pee-wee Herman, I try to be, not black, but all those things. More toward the surface, like, “It’s okay to just be real.” In my experience I haven’t met too many uptight black people. I’m sure they’re out there. [laughs] Like I’m some big authority and I’ve lived in the inner city and ghetto.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Given the childlike nature of your show, can you recall one of your own childhood theatrical experiences?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: When I was about five my dad built a stage for me in our basement. A full stage, with a curtain, a backdrop and a dressing room. There were three colored spotlights—a red one, a white one, and a blue one. Blue was for nighttime scenes, and red was for when we were in hell. If the neighborhood kids wanted to use the stage, they had to incorporate me into the play. I remember one play was about this murderous mad scientist, and my whole part was to be the guy who got thrown into a vat of acid as the curtain went up. I was very pissed off at these older kids; they’d outsmarted me. In another play we had a love scene between me and my first-grade girlfriend. I had these two cardboard building blocks that I’d gotten for Christmas, and we nailed a board to them to make a park bench. Right in the middle of our big kiss scene, the board broke in half and I was practically paralyzed. It was very traumatic.
MARGY ROCHLIN: You can be seen as two people: as the infantile pawn of a marketing mastermind or as the creative genius behind the show. Which is more accurate?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: I’m probably somewhere in between. I’m the person with the final say on everything. I really love being in that position. It’s weird, in a way, because, for example, I can sit in the room with the other writers and just keep saying no until there’s something I really like or until I come up with something. In that respect the proportion of what’s mine and what’s other people’s is controlled by me. It isn’t even fair to talk about. I’ve always been very interested in ensemble work. One reason why I don’t go out and do a stand-up act is that I did it once and I found it unsatisfying. I don’t really like being out there by myself. I like reacting with other people.
MARGY ROCHLIN: In your public appearances you always appear in character, as Pee-wee Herman. Do you do that to retain the mystery of your own personality or because it’s your meal ticket?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: It’s probably both of those things, although I don’t really like to look at Pee-wee as my meal ticket. It’s more to maintain some kind of mystique.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Still, sometimes it must be strange. What’s it like, for example, to go into a men’s room dressed as Pee-wee Herman?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: I use the ladies’ room. [laughs] Just kidding! Do you mean is it weird, like do people say, “There’s Pee-wee peeing?”? No, not really. I had a really fun time this past New Year’s Eve. I was in the men’s room in a nightclub, and Sean Penn was in the next stall. We were both standing up and could see each other, and we were having this conversation like, “Hi how’re ya doing?”, And I just kept thinking that we were going to pee on each other or ourselves. Ah, I love that story…. What was the original question here?
MARGY ROCHLIN: Maintaining a mystique…
PEE-WEE HERMAN: A large part of the reason I want to be so mysterious is so that I can move on and do something serious at some point in my career X years from now. It might be very difficult otherwise, because I’m… wild. Take Steve Martin. As a viewer, even I can say to myself, [wagging a finger disparagingly], “No, no, no. You wanted to go out and act really crazy, and now that’s how I’m always going to think of you.” So I feel the only way I’m going to be successful in moving on is if I keep a separation.
MARGY ROCHLIN: What’s it like coming face to face with your other half, with a Pee-wee imitator?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: Me and Toni Basin and David Lee Roth once went to this club on Santa Monica Boulevard called Peanuts. It’s a lesbian bar. Their show had three male dancers, three female strippers, two female impersonators and a Pee-wee impersonator who lip-synced “I’m the Luckiest Boy in the World,” from my album. It was so bizarre, really frightening. The guy didn’t look anything like me and was kind of heavy, but I wanted to be encouraging, so I went and told him how good he was.
MARGY ROCHLIN: You seem to have a real kindhearted streak. Take, for example, your behavior on Joan Rivers’ last show before she was deposed. It seemed as if you felt responsible for keeping the mood upbeat.
PEE-WEE HERMAN: I did, in a way. Because even though it was the last show, Joan and the producers didn’t want it to be maudlin. I was just trying to have a good time but still be sensitive to the situation. I think I was. I brought out a gigantic “Good Luck” horse-shoe-shaped wreath, like the kind of flower thing you give a horse. Then Joan and I slow-danced to “Save the Last Dance for Me.” And before that I toilet-papered the set and threw Slime and Silly String all over.
MARGY ROCHLIN: But there was still an air of sadness.
PEE-WEE HERMAN: It was real sad, kind of nostalgic. I had been on the first show. When they announced that she was going to have her own show, I just called her up and said, “I’m with you all the way.” Her manager was really excited, because there was so much controversy surrounding the situation that they were afraid people wouldn’t want to be on her show. So they called me back on the same day and said, “You can’t be on the first show.”
MARGY ROCHLIN: Were you afraid that you’d be blackballed from the Tonight Show?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: I’m already blackballed. The official word I’ve gotten is that Johnny Carson doesn’t feel “comfortable” with Pee-wee. So I’ve only been on the Tonight Show twice, and both times it was when Joan was guest hosting.
MARGY ROCHLIN: What do you imagine Johnny Carson is afraid of?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: I don’t know. I can be on the Tonight Show, but not with Johnny. He uses my name in his monologue all the time.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Have other hosts seemed uneasy with Pee-wee?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: [in a singsong Pee-wee lilt] Like David Letterman, for example? Not really. I think the first time I was on The David Letterman Show, he didn’t quite know what to expect. I think people generally are just a little afraid. But I usually go in ahead of time, like at a rehearsal, or a meeting, and tell them, “It may appear that I’m going to go haywire, but I’m not.” I always map out what I’m going to do. Still, a lot of it is improvised. I feel that when I was on David Letterman, he could relax for 15 minutes. When I was out there he didn’t have to worry, “Is this going to go in the toilet?” I think he knew it would be funny and he would have a good time. I think Joan knew that, too. One time on Joan’s show I had a radio that was a woman’s doll—you would lift up her nightie and turn her nipples in order to change the channels and volume. I knew someone would say no to that, so I just didn’t show it to them beforehand. It was a live show, so what could they do? Hit the trapdoor button?
MARGY ROCHLIN: A lot of people feel that a talk show is the next logical step in your career.
PEE-WEE HERMAN: I’d love to do a talk show, to tell you the truth. But I’m too busy for it. It’s just too much work. I’d really like to do something like The Crank Call Show that’s on cable in New York. It’s so great. It’s a very cheesy set with a folding chair and a little TV tray with a phone on it, and they just flash their number for the whole half hour and people call up and curse and go, “Your mama’s a whore,” and “You look like an asshole” to the host. It’s hilarious. I’d like to have a show that’s like a cross between a regular talk show and The Gong Show. Almost like Fernwood 2Night.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Weren’t you and your former partner, Charlotte McGinnis, on The Gong Show something like 10 times?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: Yes, but I was always in disguise. I’d wear masks or weird get-ups so you couldn’t recognize me. I was always afraid that if somebody caught on that it was me, I’d never work again. We came up with such good acts. We had “The Sensational Sound Effects of Betty and Eddie,” which was us doing dialogue from movies. We had a French alley-cat-burglar act called “Les Chats.” The whole idea came from trying to win Worst Act of the Week, because we had already won Best Act—you could still win the same amount of money. So we did this act where we had on cat ears and masks and black leotards, holding these bags of money and jewels. We danced to “The Alley Cat Song.” We did this terrible dance. [marches his finger tips backward and forward across the table while humming.] Our whole plan was that they would gong us and we would pretend that since we were French we thought we had won. Like we didn’t know the rules. But the act was so bad that all three judges just kept watching, thinking we might finally do something at the end. Our plan was ruined.
MARGY ROCHLIN: One of your most often repeated quotes is from Newsweek: “I don’t want to be a 50-year-old man with a really bad toupee and a face lift doing this.” Do you have a fear of being Pee-wee forever?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: No. I mean, it’s up to me. I’m fortunately not in a situation where someone owns me. When I’m ready to pass the crown down to my son, that’s what I’ll do.
MARGY ROCHLIN: What son? Is there a Pee-wee Jr. I’m unaware of?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: Not yet. Not that I know of. [laughs] But eventually I hope to have a son who, later on, I can make be Pee-wee Herman. Isn’t that the whole point of having children? To make them do whatever you want? “You will go into show business. It’s three o’clock and it’s time for your tap lesson.” [laughs] No, I’m only kidding.
MARGY ROCHLIN: You once said that the future licensing of Pee-wee products hinged on the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Well, it was successful. What’s in the works?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: Ralston-Purina is developing a cereal with me called “Pee-wee Chow,” and it’ll be in the shape of little dog-food starts. It’s going to be the healthiest cereal for children. It’s being sweetened without sugar and has all kinds of added vitamins and minerals. I want the television commercial for it to show a mother pouting it into a bowl and putting it on the floor, and the kids crawling over and eating it like dog food. I don’t think Ralston-Purina will go for that, though. Tomorrow I’m recording dialogue lines for the Pee-wee talking doll, which is the thing I’ve always most wanted to happen. It will say classic Pee-wee lines—”I know you are, but what am I?” A lot of people have wanted me to do a board game.
MARGY ROCHLIN: What about trading cards?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: I have a deal with a company that’s going to do cards without the gum. I don’t like sugarless gum, and I don’t think it’s much better for you. Hopefully, we’ll use lenticular [3-D] cards that change when you move them. And tattoos. [laughs] I always thought it’d be fun to have permanent tattoos and not say they were permanent. Kids would put them on their arms and stuff and their parents would be scrubbing them and scrubbing them and they wouldn’t come off. It would be a good advertising for the show in the future. A whole generation of kids with these Pee-wee tattoos.
MARGY ROCHLIN: I’m not sure about the permanent Pee-wee tattoos, but for the rest, it sounds like all your dreams have come true.
PEE-WEE HERMAN: I’ve had so many dreams come true this year. Like, I was in Back to the Beach. We shot all night long, and all night long I got to stand next to Annette Funicello. Then at the end she gave me an autographed picture that said, “Dear Pee-wee, you would have made a great Mousketeer….” It was really amazing. I just wanted to burst into tears when she gave me that.
MARGY ROCHLIN: You should have asked her to sing on your upcoming Pee-wee album, the one I keep reading about. By the way, when’s it coming out?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: Don’t ask the record company that. I just haven’t done it yet.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Will it consist of children’s songs or original tunes sung in a straight-ahead style?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: It will be as good as I can sing. I’m going to try to do as many styles as I can. A salsa number, rock and roll, country…. I’ve talked to a million people about it. Obviously, I’d love Prince to do it. Obviously, I’d love Prince to do it. [In a Pee-wee growl] I’m sure he’ll produce the whole album for me. Look—these people are recognizing me at that table over there.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Aren’t you concerned that your singing debut could go the way of Bruce Willis’?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: Not at all. I think I’ll just blow him out of the water. I don’t think Bruce Willis can compete with me. I have a much better voice. My album will be a billion times better. I don’t think this will be a vanity album. It’s the most natural progression for me to becoming a singing sensation next. And so many people have offered to be on it. Eddie Van Halen… and Prince, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper will probably be a backup trio.
MARGY ROCHLIN: You’re friends with Prince, aren’t you? How did you two get together?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: The first time I met Prince he invented me to his birthday party in Minneapolis. It was a costume party and I came as a beatnik—a beret and a charcoal goatee. He was dressed like an executioner. I talked to him for awhile and he didn’t know who I was, and when I told him he was real surprised. Later, I was talking to these three huge, fat men, and it turned out they were Sheila E., Wendy, and Lisa. They were like fat Blues Brothers and talking with thick New York accents. It was a really wild party. This story has no punch line; I just wanted to tell it.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Well then, I’ll follow up with a non sequitur. What directors would you like to work with?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: John Waters, Woody Allen…. I’d love to work with Francis Ford Coppola. I met Coppola on an airplane. For about a year—when someone else was paying for it—I used to fly back and forth from New York on Regent Air. It was so cool. It was like being in a wax museum: You’d get on the plane; and every single person is somebody really, really famous. It just killed me. On one flight you’d have Linda Gray, O.J. Simpson, Robert De Niro, Carol Burnett, Loni Anderson and Burt Reynolds… and Francis Ford Coppola. Once, when a friend of mine was house-sitting for him, I stuck my picture and resume in his dictionary. I’ve always wondered if he ever found it, but I was too shy to ask.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Do you plan to direct your next movie?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: No, I was going to direct it, but it sounds too ambitious. I think there’s a danger that some people look at the success of my first movie as a fluke. So I want to make sure that my second film is an even bigger success. Then if I direct my third movie and it’s terrible, it’ll be okay. I’d love to direct, and I think I’d be a great director, but… I’ve been approved by the studio to direct, which I think is a cool jump of faith for them. Or proof that they’re really stupid. But I don’t think so.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Would you ever do a nude scene in a film?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: Maybe. I might be doing one in the European version of my second film.
MARGY ROCHLIN: Really? Frontal nudity?
PEE-WEE HERMAN: [laughs] Frontal, but with a cut right before they get to… and, you know, an insert, with John Holmes to stand in for the close-up shot. Then I’ll really start getting the mash letters.
THIS INTERVIEW ORIGINALLY RAN IN THE JULY 1987 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.
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