Paul Reubens, MTV Video Music Awards
Credit: Pee Wee Herman: Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect


WHAT HAPPENED Paul Reubens, the artist formerly known as Pee-Wee Herman, was known for his nerdy, bow-tied children’s TV persona until his arrest in a Florida movie theater for indecent exposure won him an unexpected kind of fame. Appearing soon afterward as a surprise opener at the VMAs, he exposed his…still intact sense of humor. His opening line: ”Heard any good jokes lately?”

WHY IT MATTERED Proving he had the gumption to poke fun at himself, Reubens soon won small roles in ”Batman Returns” and ”Mystery Men.” Four years later, he earned an Emmy nod for an appearance on ”Murphy Brown,” then took his first departure from comedy with a dramatic role in ”Blow” (starring Johnny Depp and Penélope Cruz) — Pee-Wee had escaped from the stigma of being a punchline.

BEHIND THE SCENES Frattini: ”It took a lot to convince Mr. Paul to do this. It had to be a surprise, it couldn’t be announced, and if people knew about it, he wasn’t going to show up. We snuck him in the back door to a private holding area down below the stage. I think there were probably 4 or 5 people in our entire crew of 500 who actually knew this was going to happen. We never rehearsed it. We had given him a few ideas of what to say, but those were really his words.”