Pee-Wee turned up on Jay Leno's show Tuesday night, and his appearance evidently gave the dull program a ratings boost over what the relentless NBC hype machine could deliver. I tuned in only for Pee-Wee, and the tepid monologue and goofy schtick that preceded his arrival were a chore to sit through: Gyrating Shakira was pronounced "Hot"; Tom Delay on Dancing with the Stars, "Not Hot". Batten down for gales of laughter!
Pee-Wee (Paul Rubens was NOT in the house) was a little subdued compared to appearances of old. I remember him back in the late 80s on Letterman (I think), being much more manic and smart-aleck bratty (for lack of better term). With Leno, he was still a little nutty, but polite and even officious. His best joke was his opener, in which he responded to Jay's "What's new?" query by ostentatiously displaying a gold band on his left ring finger. "It's my abstinence ring," he explained. Someone at CBS news evidently didn't get the joke.
Pee-Wee is promoting his live theatrical show, which (he announced at the end of his segment) has proven so popular that it had to be relocated to a larger theater to accommodate all who want tickets. The show combines elements of the kiddie-oriented "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" TV show with the original "Pee-Wee Herman Show," an adult-focused (and double entendre-riddled) revue that introduced Jambi the Genie, Miss Yvonne, and other characters who would later be part of the "Playhouse" gang.
Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Tim Burton's feature-film directorial debut, remains a favorite movie of mine. (His follow-up flick, Big Top Pee-Wee, is an unfortunate mess.) I'm a big fan as well of his TV show, Pee-Wee's Playhouse. It had fantastic production design and was subversive, for kiddie fare in the bland "Care Bears" 80s. I was in my 20s when it aired, but I loved the "everything talks" conception of the playhouse; the idea of kids across America waiting to "scream real loud" whenever anyone at home said the Secret Word of the day; the vintage "King of Cartoons" animations; the "bad influence" of Pee-Wee's tough-guy puppet pal Randy; and the authentic 50s-kiddie-show cheesiness of Conky the Robot.
I won't be in L.A. anytime soon, so I hope the new show gets taped, or that there's some other way in which I can check out the revival of Pee Wee from here on the East Coast.
In the meantime, there's a consolation prize. Leno wasn't the only place PW turned up this week. He's a trending topic on Twitter today, and I just learned he's tweeting as @peeweeherman! Hope I made you look!