How Paul Reubens Brought Pee-Wee Herman Back One More Time — As a Radio DJ

Paul Reubens’ last efficiency as Pee-wee Herman is extensively thought of to be the characteristic movie Pee-wee’s Large Vacation, produced by Judd Apatow and launched by Netflix in 2016. However Reubens truly returned because the character a minimum of yet another time, albeit in a very totally different format: radio.

Airing Nov. 26, 2021, the Pee-wee Herman Radio Hour was a one-time broadcast that noticed the enduring character play KCRW music DJ, with visitor appearances from Jack White and Charo in addition to Pee-wee’s Playhouse characters like Chairry (Alison Mork), Conky (Josh Myers) and Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart). Whereas ostensibly a strategy to port Pee-wee into a brand new format, one of many broadcast’s producers — Most Enjoyable proprietor/founder Jesse Thorn — says it additionally fulfilled a longtime fantasy for Reubens, who died Sunday (July 30) at age 70 following a six-year bout with most cancers.

“We had ideas to incorporate elements of the Playhouse and all of that, but central to it was that Paul loved the idea of being an FM radio DJ” of the type that dominated the airwaves in the course of the FM radio revolution of the Nineteen Sixties and ’70s, says Thorn. In truth, Reubens was so earnest concerning the gig that whereas recording the published, Thorn says that he, fellow producer Julia Smith and Myers — who wrote a lot of the published with Reubens — “had to remind Paul repeatedly that it was a comedy show,” including, “It was very clear that this was a sincere career dream of his.”

Whereas the press launch saying the undertaking contained a letter written by “Pee-wee” that made it sound like the results of a last-minute, fan-driven marketing campaign, in actuality, the published took practically three years to return to fruition. It started, says Thorn, after a KCRW staffer learn an interview with Reubens wherein he talked about his affinity for the station. That led to a gathering between Reubens and then-KCRW program director Gary Scott; the station subsequently reached out to Thorn to supply.

Thorn’s first assembly with Reubens concerning the undertaking passed off at Café 101 in Hollywood, the place Reubens informed him his causes for eager to debut the character within the radio format. “He loved doing Pee-wee Herman and was trying to find ways to do Pee-wee Herman without having to go through what he had to go through in his 60s to be Pee-wee Herman on screen,” Thorn remembers.

Produced on a funds of simply $10,000, the present proved to be a time-consuming course of partially as a result of Reubens was “an extraordinary perfectionist,” says Thorn. Paul Bennun, then KCRW’s chief content material officer who oversaw the undertaking for the station, says Reubens was “a natural producer” who was “punctilious and demanding” (the present went by numerous rounds of edits earlier than making it to air, says Thorn) but in addition “joyful and gentle and inclusive.”

“He found himself in this position with moral and commercial ownership over this character, and he wanted to make sure that it was projected in ways that were as true to his moral objectives as to anything else,” says Bennun.

For added star energy, Reubens enlisted movie star associates Charo (who had beforehand appeared on a 1988 Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas particular) and White — who first met Reubens when the actor appeared in a Raconteurs music video — to visitor star on the published.

For the present’s music playlist, Reubens leaned closely on traditional soul, weaving in such tracks as “Back Stabbers” by The O’Jays, “You Got the Love” by Rufus, “I Can’t Get Next to You” by The Temptations and “Come Back Baby” by Aretha Franklin.

“Paul had a specific vision, and the vision was driven by that idea of being a classic FM radio DJ, like being Sly Stone on KSOL in San Francisco before he was a singer,” says Thorn. “There was never a moment where he said, ‘What if we threw Huey Lewis in there?’ It was always going to be Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin.”

Neither Thorn nor Bennun knew that Reubens had most cancers after they labored with him on the undertaking, however in hindsight, Thorn believes Reubens’ need to play the character on the radio — which exacted much less of a bodily toll — might have been a clue. “The only indications that I had were that I knew that he didn’t have it in him to do the character physically anymore,” he says.

Whereas there have been discussions to supply extra episodes, the Pee-wee Herman Radio Hour remained a one-off. Being the fastidious performer Reubens was, it merely couldn’t be carried out to his requirements regularly with the sort of funds the station needed to work with. “[KCRW had] this idea, like, ‘Oh, we could just make a bunch more of these,’” says Thorn. “And I was like, ‘I would love to, but Paul does not want to do the cheap version of this.’”

“There was a lot of goodwill and we really wanted to find out a way of extending the life of that project,” says Bennun. “But sadly, we weren’t in a position to make any very firm commitments at the time.”

Thorn and Bennun each have fond reminiscences of collaborating with Reubens.

“He was the sweetest, most humble person to work with…He really cared about how the character was portrayed,” says Bennun. “It really mattered to him that the finest detail was going to be done in the way that Pee-wee would do it.”

For Thorn, who had watched Pee-wee on display whereas rising up, working with Reubens was the belief of a childhood dream.

“My job is to meet people I admire,” says Thorn, who additionally hosts the Most Enjoyable/NPR interview podcast Bullseye. “It’s a big deal to sit in a room with Pedro Almodóvar or talk to David Letterman. But I was sitting in that studio in KCRW and I [thought]…the rest of my life I can say, ‘I made something with Pee-wee Herman.’”

You may hearken to the total Pee-wee Herman Radio Hour broadcast right here.

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