In the early ’90s, when Paul Reubens was arrested for masturbating in a porn theater, the cult of Pee-wee Herman took on new proportions in San Francisco. We didn’t need Adult Swim and Miuccia Prada to tell us he was an icon — we’d already watched reruns of Pee-wee’s Playhouse over bloody Marys.
When his vintage porn collection got him into legal trouble a decade later, Paul Reubens Day was born: On the date of his first arrest, dozens of people in tight suits descended on North Beach for laughter and lewd behavior. While Reubens had gone to great lengths to clean up his act during the height of Playhouse’s popularity — eschewing junk food and hiding his significant smoking habit — grown-up fans always knew Pee-wee had an after-hours side. The original stage production of The Pee-wee Herman Show, created by Reubens and his fellow Groundlings in 1981, sold out five months of midnight shows at Los Angeles’ Roxy Theatre (with weekend matinees for kids) before it was turned into an HBO special of the same name. While more suggestive than shameless, the special captures the “happiest boy in the world” using a puppet to hypnotize female fans out of their clothing. A revival of the stage show is under negotiation, but the Incredibly Strange Picture Show tides us over with a screening of the televised classic tonight.
Wed., May 20, 8 p.m., 2009