I grew up watching Pee-Wee’s Playhouse in the early 90’s. It was one of the few Saturday morning kids’ programs that starred, not animated cats or bouncing bears, but an unusual looking, make-up wearing, grown-up man. He talked funny, he laughed funny, his hair looked weird and he only had one outfit. My ten-year-old self didn’t get it. But many, many people did and still do.
Pee-wee's Playhouse with Paul Reubens and Chairy
Paul Reubens, the actor behind Pee-Wee Herman, got his comedic start with the Los Angeles-based improv troupe The Groundlings in 1977. Joining forces with fellow Groundling Phil Hartman, Reubens developed the zany and effeminate character Pee-Wee for stand-up and comedy gigs. When Reubens didn’t make the cut for the Saturday Night Live improv team, he crafted his own live show which HBO taped and released to their cable customers. In 1985, with some growing success, Reubens went on to write and star in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, a feature film loosely based on Vittorio De Sica’s critically acclaimed Bicycle Thief. Although the film wasn’t a success at the start, it soon became a cult classic. Thirty years later, Reubens’ fans are just as committed to the man with the funny laugh.
Pee Wee’s Burlesque House opens at Carnegie Stage this weekend for Pee-Wee and non-Pee-Wee fans alike. The show is the brainchild of Pittsburgh Pee-Weeites, Heidi Nagle (Harvey WALLbangers ) and burlesque dancer and educator Boom Boom Bridgette. As Nagle puts it: “This is a burlesque variety show with a Pee-Wee’s Playhouse theme.” The eclectic showcase will feature local burlesque dancers and comedy acts with Pee-Wee himself as the master of ceremonies.
Below are excerpts from the delightful interview I had with Heidi Nagle and Boom Boom Bridgette as we talked about the art of the strip tease, body acceptance and of course, all things Pee-Wee.
Boom Boom Bridgette
Heidi Nagle is HN, Boom Boom Bridegette is BB and Marianne Bayard is MB
MB: So… why Pee-Wee?
HN: I've always been drawn to his child-like silliness, wackiness, and sass...he's definitely influenced my own comedic style as an adult... And I think it's safe to blame him for my own "boisterous" laugh!
MB: And the marriage of Pee-Wee and burlesque?
HN: This whole thing came about because over the summer Jessica and I were talking about our eternal fondness for Pee-Wee and Pee-Wee’s playhouse. Boom Boom has been producing burlesque for many, many years and she sort of said HEY if I put together this Pee-Wee’s Playhouse themed burlesque show, would you want to help and would you want to be PEE-WEE?! And I was like, first of all... yea! This is like... my whole dream is coming true. And I went to Hans and Ginny (Gruenert of Carnegie Stage) and said, I got this idea… and they of course said when!?
MB: Are you going to be Pee-Wee doing burlesque?
HN: Pee-Wee stays fully clothed.
BB: Yea, you’re not gonna see Heidi’s bits and pieces this time… though hopefully there’ll be future shows though…
HN: Yea, we'll see ...maybe I'll be hooked.
MB: What is burlesque?
BB: It’s the art of the strip tease. It could be clothing removal - it is traditionally clothing removal, but it’s not always down to nudity. It's the comfort level of the performer and sometimes has to do with the venue or the theme or whatever, but it is the art of the strip TEASE. You might only be removing a glove, or you may only go down to under garments and lacy things, or you may go down to pasties and like a thong… they have a thing that is called a C STRING- it’s exactly what is sounds like, it’s like a slap bracelet for your cooch.
MB: Oh hey!!! (I had to Google it. It’s exactly like she described).
MB: What drew you to burlesque as opposed to any other performance style?
BB: I mean I’m a ham - I like showin’ off - I like runnin’ my mouth. I was the girl in high school that changed in the bathroom stalls - don’t look at me, I hate my body - and you know we all still have those days. You know, a good friend of mine, he asked for some risque photos - and I thought, of me?? And I just thought, oh my gosh, this guy that’s like, way out of my league wants to see my body and maybe my body isn’t that bad… and at about that time burlesque made its way into Pittsburgh. And I was involved in the fetish and kink communities, fetish performances. I was familiar with the dark side of the web and burlesque showed up and I went to a couple of shows and I said, my god that looks like fun - I want to be doing that. And one of my friends, she was a performer and she’s like, well there’s tryouts next week - why don’t you come and try out? - and I was like… maybe. I tried out - I made their beginning troupe and then the troupe exploded and broke up and then I started doing things on my own.
MB: What excites you most about burlesque and why do you teach it?
(I loved this part...)
BB: I think it was about me finding my own and finding myself, or at least finding a part of myself… All of our stage personas are just the hidden pieces of ourselves. They’re that self that we want to show that isn’t acceptable anywhere else-- that loud self, that extravagant self, that naughty self, that naked self, and being on stage it’s ok to bare that and (not be judged). You’re being judged, but in a good way- if I was loud and obnoxious in the middle of Walmart - I wouldn’t get the same approval as being loud and obnoxious on stage….That attraction for finding myself both in a mental form as well as coming to terms with my own body, and liking my own skin and liking who I am - that’s really why I started - this was a journey of self discovery. Can I learn not to hate myself? And I learned to not hate my physical form. And now I want to teach others not to hate their physical forms as well.
MB: And have fun I imagine, too -
BB: Definitely – nothing’s more fun than prancing around in sparkly underwear.
MB: Is this show just for Pee-Weeites?
HN: Fans of the show will see familiar characters. And (for) people who haven't watched the show, it will still be accessible in an entertaining show-way. But we’re really aiming towards the fan base who grew up with Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Pee-Wee’s Big Top… and even a little Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday!
BB:... it’s a variety show… it has something for everyone.
MB: When is it?
HN: The show is this Saturday February 8 at 8pm and Sunday February 9 at 2pm.
What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than watching some people strip down as characters from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse?
Don't miss Pee-wee's Burlesque House!
Saturday Februray 8 and Sunday February 9.