You remember, right? Chairy, the secret word (which is zyzzybalubah, by the way), Ms. Yvonne's snacktime recipes... It hasn't been that long, has it?
For most of us born in the late seventies and early eighties, Pee-Wee's Playhouse was an institute second only to God (and even his was an unstable position). You owned the figurine or you were nothing, and there must be something wrong if you couldn't whip out a good 'I know you are but what am I?' at the drop of a hat. Pee-Wee was your friend, and as lovable as he was goofy. Pee-Wee... understood.
Pee-Wee's Playhouse premiered on the CBS network in 1986 when they were seeking a ratings booster and landed on Paul Reubens' popular underground character, Pee-Wee Herman, with the offer of a Saturday morning kid's show. Reubens was given an eye-popping budget of $350,000 per episode--which was as much as most sitcoms at the time--and complete creative control, with three minor exceptions: he couldn't say 'I'll show you mine if you show me yours', stab potatoes with pencils, or walk around with toilet paper stuck to his shoes. Reubens directed many of the episodes and also contributed in writing, along with Phil Hartman.
Paul Reubens' character was a boisterous man-child, dressed in a gray suit two sizes too small with a red bow tie clipped to his white shirt, shod with white patent leather shoes. He exuded a sarcastic enthusiasm for 50s and 60s pop culture, all the while giggling and encouraging children to scream. Accentuating his pale complexion were bright lipstick and pink cheeks. Pee-Wee related to children of all ages, having the size of a grown-up but the rascally, me-me nature of a child.
Along with Pee-Wee were other big supporting characters: Laurence Fishburne played Cowboy Curtis (woooo-weeee!); Phil Hartman was Captain Carl; Miss Yvonne was the next door neighbor; the King of Cartoons stopping by with another sample; and the neighborhood kids Opal, Elvis, and Cher stopped by from time to time. And who could forget Jambi the Genie, the head in a box who granted Pee-Wee's wishes? (Makalaka hai maka hiney ho, anyone?) Along with the 'real' people, there were characters such as Pterri the Pterrodactyl, Chairy the chair, the Cowntess, and Conky the robot.
Pee-Wee's Playhouse mixed different styles to create a completely diverse, original television show. The set was a combination of 50s diner and futuristic style, from its bright red interior to the funky-shaped teal blue door. The overly bright, technicolor landscape often met with classic television elements, such as reworked cartoons from the 30s and 40s, puppets like Pterri the Pterrodactyl and Randy the Bully, and claymation featuring the adventures of Penny and the dinosaur family living in the mouse hole.
Featuring various, colorful characters, Pee-Wee's Playhouse is best described as "a postmodernist collage of queer characters and situations that seemed to fly in the face of dominant racist, sexist, and heterosexist presumptions." The Playhouse was forthrightly multi-racial and multi-situational: beautiful girl-next-door Caucasian Miss Yvonne went on a date with African-American Cowboy Curtis; Ricardo, a Latino soccer player, often spoke Spanish with no translation; Reba was the African-American mail-lady; Jambi the Genie was portrayed as a dishy gay man (or head as the case was) in a purple, rhinestone-studded box; and tough, gruff taxi driver Dixie was a possible lesbian. This along with its campy double entendres ("Is that a wrench in your pocket?) made it more appealing to adults. So forget about Spongebob Squarepants. Before any kid's shows were appealing to adults, there was Pee-Wee's Playhouse.
Every Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m., Pee-Wee's Playhouse aired on CBS, and each episode of Pee-Wee's Playhouse could count on at least two things: the secret word and the lesson learned. The secret word could be 'banana'. It might just be 'bag'. Either way, whenever you heard it you just had to jump up and scream along. And in each episode, we all learned a valuable lesson along with Pee-Wee. It might be something as preachy as honesty or as fun as learning to throw a pajama party but Pee-Wee had to learn, and so did we.
Sadly, Pee-Wee's Playhouse, along with all reruns and store merchandise, was pulled after Paul Reubens was allegedly found masturbating in a XXX theater in 1991.
Pee-Wee's Playhouse was an institution for my childhood, a Schoolhouse Rock for the 80s, and is perhaps best summed up by its theme song, sung by Cyndi Lauper:
Come on in, and pull yourself up a chair (like Chairry!)
Let the fun begin, it's time to let down your hair!
Pee-wee's SO excited,
'Cause all his friends have been invited (that's you!)
To go wacky, at Pee-wee's Playhouse!
There's a crazy rhythm, comin' from Puppetland (what that?)
Dirty Dog, Cool Cat, and Chicky Baby are the Puppet Band (yeah!)
He's got a couple of talkin' fish,
and a genie who'll grant a wish -
Golly, it's cuckoo at Pee-wee's Playhouse !
Globey's spinnin', Mr. Window's grinnin',
'Cause Pterri's flyin' by (hello!)
The Flowers are singin', the Picture Phone is ringin',
And the Dinosaur family goes, "Hi!"
Mr. Kite's soarin', Conky's still a snorin',
There's the flashing Magic Screen.
The Cowntess is so classy, Randy's kinda sassy -
A nuttier establishment you've never seen!
Spend the day with Pee-wee and you'll see what we mean ! (Come on!)
Get outta bed, there'll be no more nappin'! (Wake up!)
'Cause you've landed in a place where anything can happen -
Now we've given you fair warnin'!
It's gonna be that kind of mornin'-
For bein' wacky!
For getting nutty!
Golly, it's cuckoo!
At Pee-wee's Playhouse!
Oh yeah... zyzzybalubah.
Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman
John Paragon as Jambi, the Genie/Pterri, the Pterrodactyl
Phil Hartman as Captain Carl
Johann Carlo as Dixie
S. Epatha Merkerson as Reba the Mail Lady
Gregory Harrison as Conky, the Robot/Mr. Knucklehead (voice)
Ric Heitzman as Mr. Window/Cool Cat/Salesman/Flowers/Fish (voice)
Roland Rodriguez as Tito, the Lifeguard
Lynne Marie Stewart as Miss Yvonne
Shirley Stoler as Mrs. Steve
Gilbert Lewis as King of Cartoons
William Marshall as King of Cartoons
Diane Yang as Cher
Natasha Lyonne as Opal
Shaun Weiss as Elvis
Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis
Suzanne Kent as Mrs. Rene
Kevin Carlson as Clocky/Conky/Floory (voice)
George McGrath as Countess/Fish/Flowers/Globey (voice)
Alison Mork as Chairry/Chicky Baby/Magic Screen (voice)
Alisan Porter as Lil' Punkin
Anna Seidman as Penny (voice)
Vic Trevino as Ricardo the soccer player & World's Strongest Man
Wayne White as Dirty Dog/Fish Flowers/Mr. Kite/Randy (voice)
mr100percent says re Pee-Wee's Playhouse: the best rush of happy i've got in recent memory is when they had an episode of Family Guy where Peter does an entire Pee-Wee Herman bit, turning his entire house into the playhouse and forcing Brian in a box to be Jambi. Lois: Oh my God, you turned our living room into Pee Wee's Playhouse?