Recently, pop star Katy Perry’s appearance the long-running children’s show Sesame Street was pulled from the air due to parental outrage. The controversy stemmed from Perry’s outfit, an ice skating costume with a sheer, mesh overlay that revealed the tops of her breasts.
Perhaps parents wouldn’t have been so outraged if the show she was appearing on wasn’t Sesame Street, but instead, Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
Playhouse, which ran from 1986 to 1991 on CBS, is enjoying a resurgence as a stage production, coming to Broadway at the end of this month. Playhouse is best remembered for appealing to both children and adults, something many kiddie shows try and often fail to do. In an interview for the September ’10 issue of Playboy, Reubens says of the initial idea for Playhouse,
“As an older teenager and young adult I watched [The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show] and went, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t catch a lot of this when I was a kid.’ I liked the idea of doing a kids’ show that would operate on more than one level. The original stage version and now this updated stage version that’s going to Broadway are like that, too. There’s a lot of innuendo and double entendre. Kids can watch and laugh. If they laugh at a dirty joke, then they already know something I didn’t teach them. If they don’t laugh, it goes over their heads, but their parents can appreciate it.”
Most innuendoes on Pee-wee’s Playhouse were slight. Take this moment from season five’s “Chairy-tee Drive.” Pee-wee (Reubens) and his friend Ricardo (Vic Trevino) were going through items that Pee-wee was planning to donate to charity when Globey the Globe wheeled over and offered his donation:
GLOBEY: I’m donating my dickie.
RICARDO: (laughing): What?
PEE-WEE: (taking the dickie from Globey): A dickie. It’s a fake turtleneck.
RICARDO: Ohhhhhh. (laughs) Right.
Most kids probably had no idea why Ricardo thought the word “dickie” was so funny. Maybe their slightly older brothers and sisters did, but odds are, most children in Pee-wee’s intended audience didn’t.
Miss Yvonne’s Wild Ride
In the fifth season episode titled “Something to Do,” Pee-wee becomes so bored, he wishes for a to do list. After following directions such as dressing up as a pirate and showing the audience at home a French music video from the sixties (yes, you read that correctly,) Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart, definitely bearing more cleavage than Katy Perry) comes along and helps Pee-wee finish the list. However, she becomes distracted when she notices Pee-wee’s mechanical horse…
Now, although adults can see that Miss Yvonne clearly came, the kids simply think she had a good time and her hair got messed up due to the back and forth motion.
Reba the Mail Lady Gets Examined
Poor Reba the Mail Lady (pre-Law and Order S. Epatha Merkerson.) In this episode from season four, “Dr. Pee-wee and the DelRubios,” Pee-wee’s favorite mail lady has a splinter, and doesn’t know what to do about it. Pee-wee decides to take matters into his own hands by giving her a medical exam.
Many adults watching the show may have laughed or were probably shocked that Pee-wee was trying to look up Reba’s skirt with an outdated medical accessory (which, in turn, dates Pee-wee’s Playhouse as many Baby Boomers may remember the mirrored headbands, not so much Gen X or Gen Y.) The children? Perhaps they thought Pee-wee was trying to clean the mirror. They also probably missed the dog thermometer joke as well.
In season three’s “Fire in the Playhouse,” Pee-wee tries to meditate, only to fall asleep. The playhouse puppets, curious to know what Pee-wee’s dreaming about, use Jambi the Genie (John Paragon) to help them find out:
Definitely not as scandalous as Miss Yvonne and the horse or Reba and the mirrored headband, but given that Super Pee-wee is giving Miss Yvonne an x-ray exam? Yeah, he’s not looking for broken bones.