NPR FOR THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t


In a 2004 interview on Fresh Air, Reubens explained that he created the character of Pee-wee Herman in 1977, while working with the Groundlings comedy troupe in Los Angeles. But he came up with the character’s name, he says, after looking for ideas at home. “I had a little one-inch-long harmonica that said ‘Pee-wee’ on it, and I knew a kid whose last name was Herman, and Pee-wee Herman sounded like the kind of name you would never make up,” he said. “It sounded like, you know, a totally real name made up by somebody whose parents didn’t really care about them.” Though Reubens got his start in comedy, he explained that he didn’t tell a joke as Pee-wee for many years. Instead, he says, he thought of Pee-wee as a type of performance art. He would climb on stage, revealing special toys from a giant bag while throwing Tootsie Rolls at the crowd. But then Saturday Night Live called, offering Reuben an audition. And he didn’t get a part. So Reubens decided to create his own comedy show, as he puts it, “completely out of spite.” “Before I even went home [after my SNL audition], I landed in Los Angeles and called my parents and borrowed some money from them,” he recalled. “And probably within two weeks, I had 60 people working for me for free, and we produced [Pee-wee’s Playhouse.]” An HBO special followed. In 1985, Reubens made the feature film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure with Tim Burton. That movie led to his TV series, which ran on CBS for 5 years, earning 22 Emmys. MORE

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