|Pee-Wee Herman was born in Los Angeles, on the stage of the Groundling's comedy theater in Hollywood. Paul Reubens, a member of the troupe (also home to Phil Hartman, Lisa Kudrow, and many others) began noticing the rising popularity of his recurring character and decided to take it to the next level. Together with some Groundlings cohorts, Reubens performed and videotaped The Pee-Wee Herman Show at L.A's Roxy Theater.
Three years later, Pee-Wee made it to the big time in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, a feature directed by Tim Burton and co-written by Phil Hartman. Finally, in 1986, Pee-Wee arrived on television, with the long-running and immensely popular show Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
Playhouse was heavily influenced by live action children’s shows of the 1950’s like The Pinky Lee Show and The Soupy Sales Show). Every day, Pee-Wee, dressed in a tight gray suit with a red bow tie and sporting a cropped haircut, would arrive at the playhouse and greet his friends, including Chairry, a talking chair, Pterri, a puppet Pterodactyl, and Globey, a French globe.
Conky, the resident robot, would give Pee-Wee the word of the day. Whenever it was spoken, everyone was told to “Scream real loud!” and they would. Pee-Wee also got a daily wish from his genie-in-a-box, Jambi, a blue, disembodied, turban-wearing head. Jambi would grant the wish by intoning the magic phrase, “Mekka lekka hi, mekka hidy ho…”.
Several human characters also visited the sow, including Cowboy Curtis, Captain Carl (Hartman), and Miss Yvonne. The King of Cartoons would lug in a big projector and show a portion of an old cartoon, while claymation sequences featured the Dinosaur Family, a diminutive clan that lived in a mouse-sized hole. Other regulars included bad boy puppet Randy and the precocious claymation girl Penny.
Sometimes Pee-Wee would teach the viewing audience things like how to make ice cream soup or what to do indoors on a rainy day. The man-child also corresponded with a Japanese pen pal named Oki Doki. When the fun was over for the day, Pee-Wee would say good-bye to the kiddies at home and fly away on a red scooter.
During the series' run, another film called Big Top Pee-Wee was released. When it did not perform as well as the original, it signaled a shift in the Herman empire. Shortly thereafter, Reubens was arrested for indecent exposure, and the series was cancelled. Some fans have speculated that Reubens was tired of playing his high-strung, high-voiced alter ego, and would have said of Pee-Wee’s demise, “I meant to do that.”