At 19, the future director worked part time as a security guard at the studio where “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” shot. He paid particular attention to Laurence Fishburne, asking him questions about Spike Lee and pitching him the movie that would become Boz n the Hood.
Singleton gave an interview for the bonus features about his time at the Playhouse!
Season 1 was shot on a fifth floor loft in New York that was so hot, they brought in an air conditioning unit they appropriately named Airy.
For season two, they got an LA studio which allowed them to remodel, add new characters like Floory and Clocky, and add a wall to the other side of the playhouse. They even improved Chairy with animatronic eyes controlled by the operator inside with foot pedals.
That catchy title song with a high pitched female voice was none other than ‘80s treasure Cyndi Lauper herself.
Reubens and George McGrath gave their lyrics to Mark Mothersbaugh to arrange, and Lauper sang exactly what they gave her to the tune that Mothersbaugh composed.
To film the hyperactive opening sequence, Reubens and the puppeteers had to shoot and sing in slow motion for footage that could be undercranked and played at normal speed. They did 20 takes of the stop motion animation intro, over seven weeks.
While it’s apparent that “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” employed actors of color and women, you’d never know who was working behind the scenes.
Many people in the bonus features marveled at all the people of color and women who got technical jobs on the show. Laurence Fishburne said it was the first time he ever saw a female camera assistant.
Reubens was so animated when he played Pee-wee that the cinematographers had to come up with new techniques to keep him in frame.
They used a special dolly arm so the camera could turn on a dime whenever Reubens did. They watched the framing on a monitor to make sure they kept him in frame, and opted for close-ups so you would never see the studio ceiling above the Playhouse.
For extreme closeups, they had to put a light in the matte box around the camera or Reubens’ face would block all the light from the camera!
Everyone remembers Jambi’s incantation, “Mecca lecca hi mecca hiney ho.” John Paragon shared where he first invented the phrase.
As a Groundlings performer, he starred in a sketch as a Hawaiian waiter. He said the line as gibberish Hawaiian, and later repurposed it on “The Pee-wee Herman Show,” where it was such a vital component of the act, it became a regular saying on the Saturday morning show.
In a playful moment, Laurence Fishburne reveals where he thinks Cowboy Curtis is today. He suggests that Curtis’s daughters oversee the ranch now, and Curtis himself greets customers at his restaurant.
Reubens seems like a playful sort with everyone but two incidents in particular came to light on the Blu-ray. He could tickle Kevin Carlson, the actor inside the Conky robot costume, and Carlson didn’t like it. Carlson would wheel away when Reubens was provoking him.
He also liked to make S. Epatha Merkerson (Reba the Mail Woman) break into laughter as well. She would stair at the plant to avoid eye contact with Reubens, but he would keep mugging until she broke.
The “Penny” cartoon was a regular feature of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” but it was never the same Penny twice. They would find real little girls to tell stories from a child’s perspective that they could animate.
Penny could be between the ages of five and seven, in New York or L.A., and if you watch them all in a row you can totally hear the voice change!
Reubens didn’t want to sell sugar to children, so he insisted that a line of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” trading cards be packaged without a stick of gum.
He was pretty hands on with all the merchandise, particularly insisting that the talking Pee-Wee doll have a pull-string, rather than an electronic recording of his voice. I still have one of those in my parents’ basement.