Pee-wee Herman's Strange Visit to The Jay Leno Show

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Pee-wee Herman's ballsy bid for a comeback launched last night with the debut of a Twitter feed (one lucky follower will receive a Picturephone call from Pee-wee today), and a visit to The Jay Leno Show that can only be described as strange -- just not the right variety of strange. The star of the brilliant Pee-wee's Big Adventure and equally brilliant children's show Pee-wee's Playhouse emerged in his gray plaid suit looking oddly of-the-moment -- Mr. Herman wouldn't be out of place strutting through the halls of Sterling Cooper assessing workplace productivity.

Only when the camera pulled in for a close-up did the age lines shatter the illusion; something about rouge over wrinkles conjures birthday party magicians more than bicycle-obsessed manchildren. Still, the solemn, nasal inflections were there, interrupted by those yelps that accompany shows of enthusiasm and/or frustration, and for a moment, Pee-wee was back. An opening joke about chastity rings suggested we were in the presence of the filthier, early Pee-wee, not the family-friendly incarnation who'd brought the greatest success. (Clean Pee-wee is the Pee-wee most of us know and love, and he'd be best to capitalize on that one, not bring back memories of the infamous porn theater arrest that unjustly snuffed the character out of existence.)

The problems really began, however, when Pee-wee slipped into his alter-ego Paul Reubens perhaps a bit too comfortably, rattling off a personal anecdote about a childhood Thanksgiving pageant we had once heard on Letterman; this led into a bout of verbal diarrhea that Leno, looking as uncomfortable in his chair as just about any seated person could possibly look, was powerless to suppress. A salad bar segment that followed was truly bizarre, but at least got Pee-wee out of raconteur mode and Leno out of that damned chair.

We wouldn't completely write off a Pee-wee comeback just yet, though. Every time he slipped in a familiar line or Pee-weeism, it got a huge, nostalgic laugh. Just keep the Paul out of Pee-wee, and bring on the laughs.

His show at the Henry Fonda in Los Angeles runs from November 19-29.



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