On Sunday (July 30th), the world lost a true iconoclast when Paul Reubens, the actor better known as Pee-wee Herman, died at age 70. Throughout his career, the comedian bridged the worlds of adult and children's comedy with his beloved series of movies and TV shows: Pee-wee's Playhouse, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Big Top Pee-wee and more.
While Pee-wee Herman was a character that anyone could love no matter their demographic makeup, he was never an entertainer fans particularly associated with metal or hard rock. However, that's not entirely fair, as several big bands in the heavy-music sphere — Mr. Bungle, Rob Zombie and Twisted Sister — had direct connections to Pee-wee's universe of outsider humor.
Below are the unexpected links between three headbanging icons and the late, great Pee-wee Herman.
The first season of Pee-wee's Playhouse was shot in New York, not Los Angeles, in an un-air-conditioned loft on Broadway. The iconic set design was led by artist, underground cartoonist and punk musician Gary Panter, and among the crew was 21-year-old production assistant Rob Cummings, a.k.a. Rob Zombie of metal band White Zombie.
"Back in 1986 I was lucky enough to be working at a place called Broadcast Arts in NYC when they announced they were doing his new show Pee-wee's Playhouse. It was a very unconventional set up with the playhouse built in a loft space on Broadway, not a sound stage," Zombie recalled on Instagram. "I can still remember his first day in the office. Everyone was waiting for Pee-wee to step off the elevator when the doors opened out stepped Paul looking exactly like his mugshot.
"He took one look at the live band playing 'Tequila,' rolled his eyes and walked straight into a meeting. Everyone was bummed. I thought it was hilarious. Only talked to him once. He asked me where the restroom was and I said ' right over there.' After the first season they moved the whole show to California and the rest is history."
Pee-wee's Big Adventure climaxes with a wild chase through the Warner Brothers Studios back lot, as our bow-tied hero is pursued by bratty child actors, Santa and Godzilla, in a sleigh pulled by a motorboat, nuns and more. Havoc is wreaked across various film shoots and a music video — for Twisted Sister. Pee-wee narrowly misses the convertible singer Dee Snider is on the hood of, but Santa and Godzilla are not so lucky.
"I was a real big fans of his," Snider told Robb Flynn on the No Fuckin' Regrets podcast, "and we met at the MTV New Year's Party and it was a mutual admiration thing. A year later, we were doing five nights with Maiden at Long Beach Arena and Paul called me and said, 'I heard you're in town, would you do a cameo?" They jumped at the chance and were even more excited when Paul suggested the song should be 'Burn in Hell.'"
On Pee-wee's 1981 breakout HBO special — a filmed version of the hit show he performed at The Roxy in L.A. — there's a sketch built around a Fifites educational etiquette video titled "Mr. Bungle." In the clip, Pee-wee describes a Mr. Bungle as "someone who has terrible manners," and the bit goes on to characterize him as a gross weirdo with messed-up hair who doesn't wash his hands and disobeys every law of civil society.
Naturally, this wily Mr. Bungle appealed to the sensibilities of absurdist musical prankster Mike Patton, who named his iconic avant-metal band after the Pee-wee show villain. Fittingly, Patton would go on to break every rule in heavy music with his band's increasingly chaotic and experimental albums, so it was a fitting moniker.
This article is based on and partially excerpted from a piece originally published by BrooklynVegan.