For anyone old enough to have come into pop cultural consciousness in the mid-'80s, Pee-wee Herman casts a long shadow — albeit, an almost transcendently nerdy shadow, one most often recalled dancing atop a bar to the Champs' jaunty instrumental “Tequila” in his 1985 breakthrough movie “Pee-wee's Big Adventure.”
The impish man-child with an outsized laugh and an undersized grey suit became an improbable icon, graduating from guest appearances on “Late Night With David Letterman” and cameos in Cheech & Chong movies to his Saturday morning children's show, “Pee-wee's Playhouse.”
The show enjoyed cult-like popularity with grown-ups and kids alike, thanks to the man behind the character, Paul Reubens. The character's run continued with “Big Top Pee-wee” (1988) and hit its apogee with the release of his own talking doll, a kitschy toy that brays Pee-wee's adenoidal catchphrase — “I know you are, but what am I?”
Until 1991, when everyone stopped laughing with him and Pee-wee became a national punch line. That year, Reubens was busted for indecent exposure at a Florida adult movie theater. CBS unceremoniously dumped his show; late-night comedians and op-ed writers feasted on his predicament and Reubens retreated from the public for nearly two decades.
In 2010, Pee-wee reemerged with a limited engagement of a 90-minute, live version of “The Pee-wee Herman Show” at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles.