One Saturday morning when my kids were young, I heard them giggling hysterically in the living room. I stuck my head in the door to see what they were watching. In about eight seconds I was hooked and laughing along with them. On the screen was this skinny little man with a powdery white complexion, wearing a tight-fitting, shiny gray suit and a red bowtie. It was my first, but by no means my last, glimpse of Pee-wee Herman. I became an instant fan of the show, just like a lot of other adults I know.
Everything about Pee-wee seemed to be very different from the many other, predictable kids’ shows at the time. Pee-wee had this crazy little guttural laugh in the back of his throat followed by a low giggle. Instead of walking, he skipped with his hands and arms stuck out like a cormorant airing his wings. And he had a supporting cast of playhouse characters who were almost as original as Pee-wee himself.
Miss Yvonne was a shapely neighborhood gal who wore tight ‘50s dresses and sported a poofy hairdo. (It was clear she and Pee-wee had a thing for each other.) There was Globey, the talking globe and Cowboy Curtis, played by Laurence Fishburne before he became a film star.
When the movie, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure came out, I was amazed and delighted both at the originality of the story and how well the absurd characters of his television playhouse translated to the big screen.
The shocking thing about Paul Reubens, the inventor of the Pee-wee Herman persona, is that I have never seen him break character. Whether he was a guest or a host on a late night show, or appearing some other type of venue, he never cracked.
But the best thing about Pee-wee, I think, has to be that he keeps reminding us how very important it is to hold onto some parts of your childhood, no matter how old you are in years. In Pee-wee’s world, it’s okay to bounce a ball so high you know you’re never going to catch it or to take a few whimsical skip-steps as you’re walking down the street. It’s good to laugh when you notice you’ve come out of the bathroom with a strip of toilet paper stuck to your shoe and it’s good to give inanimate objects like your car or your bike or your globe a name.
In Pee-wee’s world, it’s okay to be yourself and have fun doing it.
So, next time someone catches you committing some kind of stupid error, like mispronouncing their name or talking to yourself out loud, just give them that delightful little Pee-wee Herman laugh. “Ha-Ha-heh-heh-heh!” And if someone calls you something derogatory like a jerk or a moron, give them the definitive Pee-wee retort: “I know you are but what am I?”
If some wise guy tries to make you the butt of a stupid joke, the Pee-wee reply is simply: “That was so funny I forgot to laugh.”
I’m pretty sure that Pee-wee Herman has almost never forgotten to laugh; and that alone makes me laugh.