Comebacks?, Film, Movies, News

Mekka Lekka Hi Mekka Hiney Ho: Judd Apatow Set to Produce Pee-Wee Herman’s Comeback Film

Elisabeth Dickson :: Thursday, July 1st, 2010 5:50 pm

Judd Apatow, director/producer of Knocked Up and Superbad, has just confirmed that he is developing a new Pee-Wee Herman film project, with a screenplay written by creator Paul Reubens and Semi-Pro screenwriter Paul Rust. Apatow, who signed onto the project after seeing Reubens perform as Pee-Wee in a one-man show last winter, told Daily Variety, “Let’s face it - the world needs more Pee-Wee Herman. It’s so great to watch him return with such relevance.”

While the upcoming Apatow/Reubens collaboration will be greatly anticipated by every ’80s kid with a bong and a sense of irony, as a child of the Barney era it’s hard for me to get excited about Pee-Wee’s “return to relevance.” I was two when Pee-Wee was cancelled, so I can’t remember a time when he was ever really relevant; in fact, I can’t remember a time when Pee-Wee represented anything other than a source of great anxiety for me. My only exposure to Pee-Wee was through ABC Family reruns, and I never thought that he posed anything but a threat to my safety. With his pasty, silent-film star makeup, shellacked hair and gleefully psychotic giggle, Pee-Wee Herman seemed like the kind of guy who copulated with infant corpses in his spare time, and it turns out that this evaluation wasn’t quite off the mark (if you replace “infant corpses” with “hand” and “spare time” with “adult movie theater”).

Although I am now savvy enough to acknowledge that this darkness was part of Pee-Wee’s intended appeal, I never understood how he achieved cult icon status for guys like Apatow and kids a few years older than me, who reminisce about Pee-Wee with the same excitement that my friends reserve for discussions about Salute Your Shorts and lace chokers. For those who came of age during Pee-Wee’s heyday, the grey-suited naif is considered a symbol of childhood innocence, while those who remember his 1991 porno theater arrest (and a less well-known 2001 child pornography bust) view him as a symbol of childhood corruption. In some circles, Reubens is even considered a sort of perverse comic genius, a bizarro renegade who subverted children’s television tropes from within.

These various readings of the Pee-Wee Herman character have contributed to the weird, wide-ranging icon status that Pee-Wee currently enjoys, mostly because Paul Reubens himself has always subscribed to the Madonna school of self-reinvention. Over the course of an almost thirty-year career, Paul Reubens has evolved from a racy stand-up comedian (he first introduced the Pee-Wee character at the Groundlings) into a children’s television personality to a legitimate actor, receiving critical acclaim for his role as a hairdresser in Blow.

This series of reinventions ensures that Pee-Wee (and by extension Paul Reubens himself) will continue to enjoy cultural relevance in some form or another; that having been said, it’s pretty incredible that a children’s television character has survived in the public consciousness for as long as it has (especially considering that before last winter’s L.A. show, Reubens had not appeared in public as Pee-Wee in over fifteen years), and it’s even more incredible that Reubens’ career has survived as well (not to invoke a double standard argument, but if Maria from Sesame Street was caught diddling herself in a porno theater, you can be sure as shit that the only place you’d see her fifteen years later is on the Aisle 4 register at Home Depot.)

Reubens’ chameleon-esque reinvention talents aside, it’s difficult to determine whether or not the Pee-Wee movie will actually prove successful. Although the support of an industry giant like Judd Apatow tips the odds in Pee-Wee’s favor, we’re dealing with a franchise that stopped being financially lucrative twenty years ago. At a certain point, nostalgic value will no longer translate into box office revenue, and Gen-Xers will stop throwing their money behind a Pee-Wee comeback because they’ll find some other fucked-up children’s TV show to get stoned to (my personal favorite is “The Wiggles.” I’m just saying.) Ultimately, the world may not “need” more Pee-Wee Herman, but if that’s what we’re getting, then we might as well shell out the hard-earned pot dollars for a final terrifying hurrah with Pee-Wee, Chairy, Jambi and the gang (and a Seth Rogen cameo as Cowboy Larry’s younger brother Steve probably couldn’t hurt either.)