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SXSW Film Conference Quickies

A Conversation With Paul Reubens

Fri., March 18, 2011

SXSW Film Conference Quickies
Photo by Gary Miller

A Conversation With Paul Reubens

Sunday, March 13, 12:30pm, ACC Room 18ABCD

Blame it on performance art, Paul Reubens said. "It" is the public outrage at his 1991 arrest in an adult movie theatre that put a quick end to red-hot character Pee-wee Herman. That is until now. More than 650 people crowded a SXSW Conference room to witness Pee-wee's – and Reubens' – second coming with an HBO filmed version of the Pee-wee Herman Broadway play premiering this month and a Pee-wee movie helmed by Judd Apatow (Reubens said he is sworn to secrecy as to the film plot) in the works. "I tried to make the public believe he was real," Reubens said of man-child Pee-wee. "For many years I would never be photographed out of character, until one day ...." He grinned at the crowd. "There was a strong juxtaposition of my mug shot and the Pee-wee character."

Reubens detailed how Pee-wee Herman was created during a long improvisation session in the late Seventies, when he was a member of the Groundlings comedy troupe. Fellow Groundling Phil Hartman has been credited with co-creating the character, and Reubens said the late Hartman bristled when Reubens decided to focus on the one character. "He was very frustrated with me for throwing my other characters away," Reubens said. "But the reaction was so different. I had this feeling I should concentrate on this."

Tim Burton wasn't studio execs' choice to direct 1985's Pee-wee's Big Adventure, but Reubens balked at their first suggestion. They gave him one week to find someone else who was "affordable, available, and agreeable." A friend had seen Burton's dog-as-Frankenstein short film "Frankenweenie." Reuben quickly fell in love with Burton's art direction and style. "He read it in one day and agreed to direct it in one day," Reubens said of the Big Adventure script. "From the very beginning, we had a shorthand."

CBS kept out of the way of Pee-wee's Playhouse, except for a handful of times prior to the 1991 arrest, Reubens said, including an extended urination gag and some sexual innuendo from Miss Yvonne. "The show was really a full-on kids' show," Reubens said. "We were aiming for something that would make a 6-year-old fall off the couch onto the floor." – Joe O'Connell

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