Pee-wee Herman became a Twitter trending topic Tuesday.
His response? “I know you are, what am I?”
Some things never change. Other things, though, have changed quite a bit since the 1991 indecent exposure arrest that all-but destroyed actor Paul Reubens’ gig as a TV and movie star playing Pee-wee.
Reubens is mounting an multi-pronged comeback as the bow-tied, manic man-child – appearing on “The Jay Leno Show” Tuesday night and opening a Twitter account as he readies to revive Pee-wee in a Los Angelesstage show in November.
Pee-wee, who appeared on Leno’s show sporting what appeared to be a wedding band, explained, “It’s abstinence ring!” – a not-so-subtle reference to the day Reubens turned a movie house into a playhouse of a sordid sort.
“I’m only two days into it – not easy!”
The TV appearance marked a reintroduction of the character. But social media may prove even more effective in re-establishing Pee-wee’s presence, giving him a direct way to connect with old fans and gain some new ones. He began tweeting Tuesday and amassed more than 20,000 followers in less than a day. “Pee-wee Herman” quickly became a top topic of tweeters, with most welcoming his return.
“I'm so glad you're back. I've watched Big Adventure three million times, The Pee Wee Herman Show on HBO another million,” read one typical post.
It’s not just technology that’s transformed since Reubens’ arrest. Two subsequent decades of celebrity misdeeds make his offense seem less than shocking by comparison.
Reubens’ arrest drew headlines, in great part, because he hosted what ostensibly was a Saturday morning children’s program. But it was a kiddie show that likely drew more adults than young ones. The kids who watched Pee-wee 20 years ago are long past the age of innocence.
So maybe it’s time to welcome back, Miss Yvonne, Cowboy Curtis and the gang, as Pee-wee reboots his campy retro humor for very different world. If Pee-wee’s looking for a word of the day to fit the times, perhaps he should try “Twitter.”
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.