So, What Is the Big Deal Over Pee-wee?


Pee-wee Herman, a.k.a. Paul Reubens, was arrested by three cops in Sarasota, Fla., for touching himself in a darkened adult movie theater. He was charged with indecent exposure.

Me, I don’t get it. The guy was practicing safe sex. We should put him on an AIDS poster and offer him a public service spot.

Instead, CBS canceled summer reruns of the Emmy-winning “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” and Disney-MGM Studios stopped showing a tape starring Pee-wee at its theme park in Florida.


Reubens was harming nobody. He was disturbing nobody. Such theaters, licensed by the state of Florida, cater in part to lonely men who watch the movies in order to touch themselves.

And ask yourself this: Wouldn’t you rather have these guys touching themselves in X-rated movie houses than have them touching themselves next to you at “Dances With Wolves”?

I learned from reading the press accounts that the movies Reubens was watching were “heterosexually oriented” and go by the titles “Tiger Shark,” “Turn Up the Heat” and “Nancy Nurse.” The act of which Reubens is accused is “a natural and nonharmful behavior for individuals of all ages and both sexes,” according to the 1984 report of the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States.

The theater was dark. Reubens was sitting alone. So to whom was he exposing himself? And who was he harming? Society? Don’t make me laugh. This is a society in which people line up for days to get a ticket to watch Madonna touch herself on a lighted stage.

The only people who were offended or even saw Reubens’ alleged act were three undercover cops waiting in the theater to nab these sad men for getting their jollies.

Three cops! The police are always telling us that if they were only given the proper resources, they could effectively fight crime. And how do they prove it? By assigning three officers to roust movie theater mopes.


And which, when you get right down to it, is the more indecent behavior?

“I knew people fooled around with each other in the theater,” Reubens allegedly told the cops after being arrested. “But I thought it was OK to be by myself.”

Does this sound to you like there was criminal intent in his actions? Does this sound to you like he was trying to hurt anyone? Expose himself to anyone? Take advantage of anyone?

And don’t tell me that cops have to enforce all the laws on the books. They don’t. They and, more important, their bosses exercise wide discretion in which laws they enforce and which they do not.

But what was Reubens doing at that theater in Sarasota? Why didn’t he just rent a movie and play it on his VCR? Well, he is a graduate of Sarasota High and was visiting his parents. And he probably didn’t want Mom or Pop walking in on him with “Nancy Nurse” on the screen.

Reubens came up $22 short of the $219 bail he needed to get out of jail. So a sheriff’s deputy, who had known him for years, gave him the extra money. And she was immediately hit with a one-day suspension.

Reubens had, according to the police, offered to perform a children’s benefit if they didn’t arrest him. Which is probably the most pathetic thing of all: Reubens is so naive he doesn’t even know how to bribe a cop.

We will never know what might have happened if Reubens had said: “I’ll give you guys $10,000 each to forget about this.” But no. He doesn’t do that. Instead he offers to perform a benefit for children.

Arrest this guy? They ought to give him a good citizen’s award.

But wait. Didn’t he betray the trust that parents and children had placed in him?

Well, I have seen most of the first Pee-wee Herman movie and clips of the second. I have seen maybe five minutes of his TV show. From that, and from analyzing his costume, his manner of makeup, speech and actions, I think I can pretty well sum up his public image:

He portrayed the kind of guy who would touch himself in a darkened movie theater.

And if you stuck your kids in front of his show so they would stop howling and give you a few minutes of peace, you have no right to be outraged or offended now. More than most movie stars, Paul Reubens portrayed exactly what he was.

Oh, yes. He has a “pattern” of such behavior. In 1983, he was picked up for allegedly “loitering and prowling” in front of an adult bookstore. The charges were later dropped. And 20 years ago, when he was 18, he was arrested for marijuana possession. Which puts him in about the same league as the current nominee for the Supreme Court.

The charge Reubens now faces is a misdemeanor and he has entered a plea of not guilty. But the outcome of his trial doesn’t matter: He is destroyed. This is his punishment for being a lonely guy in our society.

They say he touched himself? Big deal.

I’d still rather shake hands with Pee-wee than the cops who arrested him.