‘Mecca Lecca Hi, Mecca Hiney Ho!’: 15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse’

‘Mecca Lecca Hi, Mecca Hiney Ho!’: 15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse’

Famously launching stars like Phil Hartman, Laurence Fishburne and Natasha LyonnePee-wee’s Playhouse still holds a place in the hearts of kids and adults who tuned in to watch Paul Reubens’ madcap imagination land featuring genies, puppets and talking furniture. Reubens’ Pee-wee Herman character managed to be maniacal and enduring, scoring big with Tim Burton’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, which led to the show’s creation. The comedian once explained, “I think my entire career path was determined for me when I was six years old, watching reruns of I Love Lucy on TV and thinking about making people laugh.”

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Today, Pee-wee’s Playhouse remains a cult favorite, so read on about the making of the show that taught Lyonne a valuable lesson and allowed Fishburne to play a role he always wanted…

The Intro Was Designed Around the Creator’s Hometown States

In an oral history of the show’s famous intro, animation director Phil Trumbo explained how the zany sequence came about: “Paul is originally from Florida, where they have things like snake farms and alligator ranches, these roadside attractions. I’m from Virginia, and I think Ric (Heitzman) and Gary (Panter) are both from Texas (and both part of the creative design team). Wayne (White) is from Tennessee (also a designer) — home of the schmaltzy Smoky Mountains. In the South, you have these bizarre pop-art museums and stuff. Civil War battlefields, mini-golf. There’s this giant fireworks stand called South of the Border in South Carolina, and it looks like Pee-wee’s Playhouse. It’s just this grotesque thing. In California, you have the giant donut, those stores, and stuff like that. There’s a lot of roadside attractions, feeling like a kid in a car, driving by these giant fiberglass dinosaurs for Dino Land, and you want to stop. Pee-wee’s Playhouse is where you can stop at every roadside attraction in the world.”

Cyndi Lauper Sang the Opening Theme Song

Surely one of the longest openings to a TV show ever, the Pee-wee’s Playhouse theme song was sung by none other than 1980s pop music icon Cyndi Lauper. Even though the song is credited to “Ellen Shaw,” it turns out that it was a pseudonym for Lauper, who stated in her memoir that she feared the number might end up harming her career.

S. Epatha Merkerson Couldn’t Stop Laughing During Her Audition

The Law & Order actress once shared that she couldn’t stop giggling during her audition, especially after the young casting assistant asked her not to. Merkerson recalled a bit in which she had to say/sing, “Dem bones dem bones dem, dry bones,” which cracked her up every time. The casting assistant, however, wasn’t amused, and Merkerson didn’t hear back from the show until two weeks later when she was asked to come back in since the casting agency was replaced. Merkerson said Reuben was at the second audition, and the pair immediately hit it off.

Natasha Lyonne Calls Pee-Wee Herman Her ‘Child Actor Dad’

Lyonne has expressed fondness for being part of the show when she was just a kid. However, she once shared a not-so-great memory of initially being very excited on “ice cream soup” day, thinking that they were really going to eat ice cream. Instead, it was less ice cream and more some kind of “movie chalk substance.” Lyonne remembers “being so perplexed at that giant lie, as I saw it, which was like, where’s my ice cream soup? Why am I eating, like, dirt sand? And I can still taste it.”

Why Reubens Decided to Mix Kids Content With Adult Humor

“I was a big fan of things I saw as a child where I could see my parents laughing at stuff that I didn’t really get and then revisiting things at an older age and seeing things I hadn’t seen the first time,” Reubens once explained. “I always got a big kick out of that, so that was something I always aspire to, and I kind of had some sort of inkling that it was tough on parents sometimes to watch entertainment with their kids if it was too much kid’s entertainment.”

‘Howdy Doody’ Was the Show’s Biggest Influence

CBS originally wanted to turn Reubens’ Pee-wee Herman character into a cartoon. “I’d had the stage show originally (The Pee-wee Herman Show), so I was much more interested in doing something closer to that, something live-action,” Reubens explained during a Rolling Stone interview. “So when they suggested doing a cartoon, I said ‘I’m not really interested in that; let’s do a real kid’s show.’ I was a big Howdy Doody freak growing up. I was actually on one show when I was a kid, in the audience, and was more interested in doing something like that. Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo, a lot of the local kids shows that were on a long time ago — those were the influences.”

A Metal Legend Worked on the Show

Rob Zombie first formed his band, White Zombie, while working as a production assistant on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. He once told Joe Rogan that he didn’t really get to know Reubens and Hartman, with his biggest interaction with Reubens being the time he redirected him to the bathroom. Future Boyz n the Hood and 2 Fast 2 Furious director John Singleton also worked on the show for a summer, saying, “It was amazing.”

The Adjustments Reubens Was Forced to Make

While Reubens had almost complete control of the show’s production, there were things the network wanted him to change from time to time. “In the first episode, the network said, ‘You can’t stick that pencil in that potato because pencils are sharp, and you might encourage kids to stab things,’” Reubens told The A.V. Club. CBS also once sent over a letter about an episode “where there was a fire in the playhouse, and a firefighter showed up, and he and Miss Yvonne were flirting, and he said, ‘You have to have a smoke detector,’ and she said ‘I have one in my bedroom, above the bed.’ They asked us to change that for subsequent airings of the show, so we went in and looped dialogue over it, so instead, she said, ‘I have one in my kitchen.’ I put it back to the original version for the DVD release.

There was also a note from the network to tone down the sound of Pee-wee taking a leak, so they added a score to the bit. Reubens felt that these changes were pretty reasonable, as he never felt the show was pushing the envelope just for the sake of doing so.

Hartman Felt That Reubens Was Typecasting Himself

Hartman and Reubens immediately got along when both met in the Groundlings. Reubens hired Hartman to help write Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and from there, they did the TV show with Hartman playing Captain Carl.

Hartman accompanied Reubens when he hosted SNL (that’s how Hartman met Lorne Michaels and ended up on the show himself), and according to Reubens, his friend wanted him to do more than just his Pee-wee Herman character. “He always loved Pee-wee Herman, but he used to give me a hard time originally about focusing on this instead of doing all of my other characters,” Reubens has remembered. “I liked the idea of becoming Pee-wee and letting the public think Pee-wee was a real person. Phil was very frustrated by that. He thought I was, uh, squandering my talent.”

Fishburne Has Always Wanted to Play a Cowboy

Fishburne told Entertainment Weekly that while he’s always wanted to play the role of a cowboy, “I just didn’t get to do it the way I thought I would” because Cowboy Curtis isn’t exactly John Wayne. He does, however, harbor a special place for the show, stating that Cowboy Curtis gave him “the opportunity to give a lot of people a lot of joy and make people smile and laugh, which is not something that I often get to do in the work, because I mostly work in the dramatic part.”

John Paragon Was Laid to Rest in a Jambi Urn

Paragon was a Groundlings member along with Reubens and ended up playing Jambi the Genie on the show. He was cremated following his death in 2021 and laid to rest in an urn designed to look like his character’s box. 

The Show’s Award-Winning Makeup Artist

Makeup artist Ve Neill — who would win three Academy Awards for her work in Beetlejuice, Mrs. Doubtfire and Ed Wood — was the hand behind the colorful faces on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. She won a Daytime Emmy Award for her contributions to the show, which included making Hartman look like a Florida Man.

Lynne Marie Stewart Got to Write Two Episodes

The actress who famously played Miss Yvonne said that the show’s creators gave her the opportunity to write some episodes. Stewart penned Season One’s “Rebarella” and also Season Four’s “Let’s Play Office” along with some co-writers.

Reubens’ Main Goal With the Show Was to Make the Kids Feel Included and Not Preached At

“We never talked down to kids,” Reubens once explained. “It was a show that assumed its viewers were very young but very smart. It never seemed like a kid’s show if you actually were a kid. We weren’t under the auspices of something like the Children’s Television Workshop, where a certain part of the content has to be educational, I’m guessing. We tried to disguise anything that might seem overtly like a lesson or a lecture, but we still got some important points across. It’s tough to make a kid’s show; it’s even tougher to make a kid’s show that real kids like. And I take great pride in the fact that that’s what we did.”

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