• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #114: Pee-Wee Herman

Updated: Jul 3, 2019


"I know you are, but what am I?"

There are some weird things in this world, make no mistake. And one of the weirdest is the frenetic, bizarre man-child Pee-Wee Herman. The fact that he exists is strange enough, inhabiting a world ostensibly for children of sensory overload, anthropomorphic household objects, and blatant sexual innuendo. Pee-Wee is a freakshow. His Saturday morning program, Pee-Wee's Playhouse, sandblasted the senses of my generation with cacophony, clashing colors, and the plotless wanderings of a lunatic in a plastic nuthouse of his own making. I watched one of these shows with my boys recently (they're on Netflix, if you dare), and it was like eating every sugary kids' cereal at the same time in strawberry Quik. I didn't know whether to laugh or have a seizure.

In fairness, I did laugh, partly from nostalgia, and partly from genuine mirth. Pee-Wee's trademark vocal explosions are still entertaining, and his stringless-marionette physicality is equal parts funny and disturbing. But forget Playhouse - Pee-Wee's magnus opus is his first feature film, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. That thing is a masterpiece of the odd, a sprawling epic of timeless awkward scenes and hilarious dialogue. This Pee-Wee, outside of his carefully constructed bubble, reveals himself to be a confident, ribald hero, a bulletproof, swaggering loner and rebel who manages to charm, dance, and insult his way out of situations that would daunt Bond or Jones or Solo. His infectious laugh and childlike enthusiasm in his single-minded pursuit of his bike somehow makes for an unsettling, satisfying experience. I'm not saying it's right, I'm just saying it's so. Go ahead and listen to him laugh. I dare you not to laugh with him.

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