The second time, it’s spoken by a prison escapee named Mickey (Judd Omen), arrested for detaching a label from a mattress, in violation of the instructions. A pair of handcuffs dangles from one of Mickey’s wrists when he picks up the hitchhiking Pee-wee.
The final time, it’s uttered by P.W. (James Brolin), an actor hired to portray Pee-wee for a ludicrous attempt at a blockbuster studio flick of the adventure we’ve just seen. P.W. resembles and comports himself a bit like Chuck Norris.
In each instance, the notion of the loner and the rebel — which Pee-wee really is — and the solitary, romantic machismo of that line, is twisted in a sharp gale of mockery.
Pee-wee may be obnoxious, but he’s also a harmless infant, a collector of gadgets that keep him at arm’s length from emotional attachments; Mickey and P.W. are brutes, with streaks of kindness. And looking into some mirror of parody, each sees in his reflection the image of the others. Because they are, combined, an embodiment of the American psyche. At once infantile and swaggering, seething and self-absorbed and doing their best, bewildered and alone in a world they can’t begin to understand.
“Are you happy?” I ask Reubens.
He shrugs. “Part of me goes, what’s the point if you’re happy or not, you still have to get up and work. It makes more sense if you can find a way to be happy.”
“Then what’s the deepest source of your satisfaction?”
“Doing good work. I think I like what I do. I feel like I’m an artist. When people say, ‘I’m an artist because of you,’ it doesn’t get any better than that — though that wasn’t my goal when I set out.
“I was fairly confident that joining the Groundlings was a big, smart life-changer for me. I like the people in the group — a great combination of being nice, interesting people, and talented. They may be competitive but they’re also very supportive. The opposite of that was the Comedy Store, where everyone’s out for themselves. The Groundlings was a workshop with people who wanted everyone else to succeed. And that’s really what made Pee-wee possible.”
The Pee-wee Herman Show at Club Nokia, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., dwntwn.; through February 7. (800) 745-3000, ticketmaster.com.