RIP: Paul Reubens, Who Talked About Phil Hartman and Extra in This 2016 Interview

Editor’s word: Again in 2016, Westword printed its final interview with Paul Reubens, during which he talked concerning the late Phil Hartman and extra. Now that Reubens himself is gone, we’re republishing the piece:

The Pee-wee Productions emblem that kicks off the brand new Netflix movie Pee-wee’s Huge Vacation trumpets comedian-turned-actor Paul Reubens’ comeback because the previously ubiquitous man-child. Overlook about The Pee-wee Herman Present, Reubens’ fan-service-intensive Broadway extravaganza. Huge Vacation (which premieres March 18 on Netflix) performs like an un-self-conscious continuation of the character’s surreal Nineteen Eighties and ’90s adventures, the best praise one may give. We talked to Reubens about making out-of-time comedy, loving Russ Meyer and the late, nice Phil Hartman.

Westword: There’s surprisingly little in
Pee-wee’s Huge Vacation that dates the movie, save maybe the character’s love of kitsch and novelty amusements. What’s attention-grabbing is that Pee-wee is an ’80s icon, and within the ’80s, you had been riffing on nostalgia for the ’50s. Do you suppose individuals are nostalgic for an a historic model of the ’80s?

Paul Reubens:
I see that, however I strive very arduous to not be influenced by it. I do not suppose consciously about what interval I am referring to. I am actually conscious of it, however I wasn’t essentially evoking the ’50s with Huge Journey. There’s additionally stuff from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. This new film has ’70s and ’80s stuff in it. I feel it has extra to do with a normal form of classicism than the evocation of a particular interval. I similar to stuff that is easy, traditional and common.

My comedy’s all the time been about Pee-wee Herman, about me. However I feel I am throwing again to outdated comedy. What individuals like or don’t love about it’s that it is tremendous corny. If you watch outdated films, for instance, and understand: “Wow, they do not lower films like that anymore.” As a result of individuals do not have the eye spans they used to have. Folks at the moment are used to fast cuts. I am harkening again to a slower tempo. The joke construction of my comedy is completely different. These aren’t stomach laughs, not fun each second. I feel individuals are both thrown off by that or they prefer it.

Probably the most stunning references in
Huge Vacation is the three-woman lady gang, an homage to Russ Meyer’s Sooner, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! That appears misplaced in what usually appears like your model of ’50s-era suburbia. Have been you a Russ Meyer fan?

I feel Sooner, Pussycat! is among the most underrated American movies ever made. Nearly each single shot of that film is framed on the identical degree because the European filmmakers who had been getting such unimaginable consideration. There are numerous not-so-incredible Russ Meyer films, however Sooner, Pussycat! is a traditional by any customary. I might be very excited if younger individuals watching my film had been turned on to Meyer’s movie. It is required viewing, in my view.

I used to be virtually in a remake. Russ Meyer had talked about remaking Sooner, Pussycat! for a few years. And he advised me he wished to forged me because the gasoline station attendant. He is the man that Tura Satana says one thing to love, “What are you taking a look at, squirrel!?”

What do followers let you know they bear in mind concerning the character that you just would not essentially anticipate?

Folks inform me that the rationale that they turned an artist is due to Pee-wee’s Playhouse. I am happy with that. Lots of people inform me that I gave them nightmares due to Massive Marge [Pee-wee’s Big Adventure‘s spooky truck driver]. And lots of people suppose I can restore their Pee-wee doll.

I am conscious I’ve had an affect on individuals. That is a factor that occurs virtually mechanically when you’ve gotten a youngsters present, as a result of youngsters are very impressionable. I used to be very conscious that I wanted to be a task mannequin and that we had been gonna attempt to be educational with out feeling like that.

Let’s speak about a few your collaborators. Inform me somewhat about working with [underground illustrator/graphic designer] Gary Panter on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. The place did you meet him, and the way did you two design the playhouse collectively?

The punk motion was occurring on the similar time I used to be beginning out. I may see posters all over the place round L.A. for various punk concert events. And so they had been all Gary’s. I simply cherished his work. He additionally had a cartoon strip referred to as Jimbo. I sought him out and requested him, “Would you come see my character on the Groundlings? I get this five-minute phase there and am going to spin it off into its personal stage manufacturing. I might love so that you can do the poster.”

He got here to the present and stated, “I would like to do the poster. However I would additionally like to design the entire thing!” It was a kind of kismet form of issues. We had been in a position to speak in shorthand instantly. We had been very a lot in the identical ballpark.

One among your most fixed collaborators for Pee-wee, in each TV and flicks, was Phil Hartman. How would you describe the best way you two collaborated?

Phil was already within the Groundlings once I joined. He was one of many stars, and we turned associates immediately. Phil cut up his time between being a graphic designer and being an actor. He wasn’t actually positive what to pursue, so he was doing each. He all the time cherished Pee-wee Herman, however he used to provide me a tough time initially about specializing in this as an alternative of doing all of my different characters. I favored the thought of changing into Pee-wee, and letting the general public suppose Pee-wee was an actual individual. Phil was very pissed off by that. He thought I used to be … uh … squandering my expertise.

I employed Phil to co-write Pee-wee’s Huge Journey. We did not actually know what we had been doing at that time. We might each written stuff at that time, however it was largely simply improvising. Sitting down and consciously writing one thing could be very completely different than improvising. I purchased the Syd Subject guide on writing screenplays, and me, Phil and a man named Mike Varhol did precisely what was stated in that guide. I imply, precisely, proper all the way down to getting 3×5 file playing cards and writing every beat down and placing it on a bulletin board. We did each single factor like that. In consequence, Huge Journey is extraordinarily classical in its construction as a result of we had been actually doing it by the guide. So on web page 30, Pee-wee’s bike will get stolen. On web page 60, it will get discovered. It is a complete factor.

Phil and I collaborated for years. I introduced Phil and [fellow longtime collaborator] John Paragon with me to New York once I hosted Saturday Night time Reside. That was Phil’s introduction to Lorne Michaels. We labored collectively on a whole lot of stuff, together with a espresso group of a few of the different Groundlings: Phil, me, John Paragon … three males, and three girls. We had been going to exit and rule the world.

That did not work out excellent. I take into consideration Phil on a regular basis.