Giggly ’80s comedy icon Paul Reubens had tremendous success over two decades ago with his kid-friendly alter-ego Pee Wee Herman. The bow-tied chucklehead was the star of several films including “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” and “Big Top Pee-Wee” as well as a successful television series, “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” and despite being in the news for some of the wrong reasons in recent years, he has continued to keep the character alive, even bringing him to Broadway.
Now, in an interview with Rolling Stone to promote the new Blu-ray release of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” Reubens more than hints at bringing his famous character back to cinema.
“There’s going to be a big announcement any minute now. Yes. It’s been months and months of being right on the verge of being announced,” he told the magazine.
Furthermore, comedy hero Judd Apatow has been linked as producer to said film, which could mean that James Franco and Seth Rogen will show face, or it could simply mean that the whole joke of Pee-Wee Herman will get a modernized twist. But therein lies the question: will our generation embrace Pee-Wee Herman?
Humor has changed quite a bit since the ’80s. Some say it has cheapened, while others are just happy getting their kicks on Vine and YouTube. But even as a child in the ’90s, I felt like a bit of a black sheep in thinking that Pee-Wee Herman was hilarious. His humor is built around one big joke, and if you buy into that joke, it keeps delivering. If you don’t, it does nothing for you. A similar formula carried into the early ’90s with characters like “The Coneheads” and “It’s Pat” having legs for more than just a few laughs. But with a new comedy landscape in the digital age, it could take a very particular formula to make Pee-Wee shine in the eyes of today’s young audience.
Luckily, Appatow may be the perfect man for the job. Not only is he at the top of the rankings as for as today’s comedy directors are concerned, but he knows a thing or two about jokes that only seem to click with certain people. “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared,” two of his earliest endeavors, fell largely on deaf ears in their first go-arounds, but years later, their genius is realized and celebrated. Ever since, the director has found ways to seize an audience when it really counts, rather than waiting for a second wind years later, as proven with the tremendous success of films like “Knocked Up” and “Superbad.”
Many have been left excited by the idea of new Pee-Wee on the silver screen, which could start filming as early as next year, but chances are, most of them were part of the same crowd laughing hysterically to his antics back in the ’80s. The proof will be in the pudding, but the true challenge for both Reubens and Appatow will be finding a way to make new viewers truly “get it.”