Here’s a small fact: I was terrified of Pee-Wee Herman, after hearing loose details about Paul Reuben’s “incident” in 1991. (As a kid, I understood that “Paul Reubens was arrested in a bad theater, and now they don’t sell his things anymore because he’s not good for children!” So, there was a lot of missing pieces in my 7-year-old head that I filled with the worst situations ever.) Fortunately, America seemed to forgive Reubens – which is a good thing, because he’s amazingly talented.
The character of Pee-Wee emerged in 1980, and was featured in a live stage show. In 1985, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure came to theaters, and after its success, CBS approached Reubens with a proposal to make a live-action Saturday morning children’s program, which we all know today as Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. The show – which took place in a magical house filled with talking toys, furniture, secret words and people yelling about cartoon clips – featured many surprising guests and talents throughout its 5 seasons.
But where are they now?
Paul Reubens as Pee-Wee Herman
Reubens started Pee-Wee to be featured as a character for SNL, but after auditioning, he didn’t get to the spot in the 1980-1981 lineup (it went to Gilbert Gottfried instead). After some resentment, he decided to start his own show and take his character to L.A.
His theater incident mentioned earlier was while Reubens was on hiatus – he was burned out from playing Pee-Wee for years, and was in town visiting relatives. Unfortunately, the backlash caused him to just take a few bit parts for a few years. In the early 90’s he had a part on a few episodes of Murphy Brown. In 1999, he co-starred in the underrated gem Mystery Men, and later he played a hairdresser turned drug dealer in the 2001 drama Blow.
In 2002, his house was searched by police, who found a bunch of vintage erotica. Reubens turned himself in to the Hollywood division of the LAPD and was charged with possession of obscene material improperly depicting a child under the age of 18 in sexual conduct. While the charges were dropped in 2004 (as he claimed it was innocent art, and not pornographic), it caused him to stay out of the limelight again, choosing to take care of his father in Florida until his passing in 2004.
Reubens brought Pee-Wee back in 2009, and decided to perform live once again, for a new generation. The show was at the Music Box and Club Nokia Theaters in Los Angeles, and moved to the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in New York City in November of 2010 for a limited run.
Reubens finally made his way onto SNL in 2011, in a digital short where Pee-Wee and Samberg get drunk and assault Anderson Cooper.
Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis
Fishburne has had a very impressive resume after his stint as the singing, jheri-curled cowboy on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. A year after the show went off air, he starred as Furious Styles in Boyz n the Hood, Vinnie in 1993’s Searching for Bobby Fischer, Othello (in – well, you can guess) in 1995, and of course, our good buddy Morpheus.
But – wait! I’m not done yet! Fishburne starred in Predators in 2010 and Contagion in 2011, plays Perry White in this year’s Man of Steel, and also joined the cast of Hannibal, as Dr. Jack Crawford, head of Behavioral Sciences at the FBI.
Lynne Marie Stewart as Miss Yvonne
Named “the most beautiful woman in Puppetland”, Miss Yvonne appears in every episode of the show. Also, she’s a skilled nurse! But what’s Lynne Marie Stewart up to?
Well – do you watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? Miss Yvonne is Charlie Kelly’s Mom. I know, right?
Besides being Mrs. Kelly, Stewart has also appeared in an episode or two of Raising Hope, 2 Broke Girls, Comedy Bang Bang, and was in the movie Bridesmaids, playing Maya Rudolph’s Mom.
Phil Hartman as Captain Carl
Hartman played the shy yet gritty Captain Carl in the first season of the show, and it pains me to realize that Hartman would have totally been the “winner” of this update had it not been for his tragic death in 1998. Hartman was shot by his wife, Brynn, while he was sleeping – Brynn, who was on drugs at the time, committed suicide hours later, leaving two young children behind.
Hartman starred in almost everything good, but was best known for being a SNL cast member from 1986 to 1994. He was best known for his impressions, and played almost 70 characters during his run – one of his most famous being Bill Clinton (but one of my personal favorites being Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer).
They knew him backstage as being “The Glue”, which creator Lorne Michaels explained later: “He kind of held the show together. He gave to everybody and demanded very little. He was very low-maintenance.”
From 1995 to 1998, Hartman starred on NBC sitcom NewsRadio as news anchor Bill McNeal, which earned him a posthumous nomination at the Emmy’s for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
S. Epatha Merkerson as Reba the Mail Lady
Reba may not have understood the Playhouse, but she was a good sport about it. For Merkerson, it was her first role, but definitely not her last. Merkerson is probably better known her role as NYPD Lieutenant Anita Van Buren from 1993 to 2010 on NBC’s Law & Order, appearing in more episodes of the show than any other cast member.
After too many people became curious about what the “S” in her name stood for (she maintained her theory that it was “Sweet”), she legally changed her first name to S – while she prefers to be called Epatha, which was the name of an influential grade school teacher her father had.
“I didn’t know who Pee-wee Herman was, so if, you know, for fans of the show, if they watch like the first episode that I ever did, I think it was a big party and he just kept making me laugh because I had never seen the character before,” said Merkerson to NRP. “The director was angry and he was like how can we get through this scene? And I said I have to look at the plate. So the entire [time] he’s serving hors d’oeuvres, I’m looking at the plate, and we’re still good buddies. [Paul Reubens] still, to this day, knows how to make me laugh like no one else.”
Chairy, as Herself
Chairy the Talking Armchair was found on the side of the street in 2007, presumably in New York, looking wet and neglected. Flickr user callalillie (Corie Robie) snapped a picture of the poor, washed up furniture surrounded by garbage (perhaps after a rough night out.) Reports on the chair haven’t been forthcoming since, but we hope she’s in good health. Or finds help, if necessary.
No word on the current condition of Clocky.
And finally – A Fact!
While Pee-Wee had a few kids around as “The Playhouse Gang” (one set in season one, and a second in season two) it has to be known that one of the original gang members is the amazing Natasha Lyonne, currently starring in Orange Is The New Black. Lyonne starred as Opal, and here’s a video of her reflecting on her acting work after a friend made a montage of her few scenes – she was six years old at the time.