The Playhouse Rationalization: Introducing My 4-Year Old to Pee-Wee Herman

“What is that?!”

I knew that accusatory tone too well. My 4-year old usually pulls it out of his arsenal when he catches me doing something secret in front of him, like taking bites of a cookie I have no desire to share with him (that weird conundrum parents get in when they want to set a good example, but, damn it, they also want a cookie).

This time the tone was related to something I was watching on Facebook. Jimmy Fallon had Pee-Wee Herman dub his voice into a The Dark Knight Rises trailer (You can see it here) and it was awesome.

I was having a hard time holding back my laugh, but watching that trailer was kind of off limits for the boy. While my son loves Batman, Christopher Nolan’s films are definitely out of his age bracket; hey, sometimes they feel out of my age bracket (I had a hard time getting near pencils for a week after seeing The Dark Knight).

Yet, when my son climbed on my lap near the computer, his focus wasn’t on Batman (which is a big deal for a four-year superhero wannabe), or Bane and his freaky mask, it was about the voice… all about the voice… the voice that could only belong to Pee-Wee Herman.

“Play it again.”

I’ve heard my son laugh a lot over the years, that’s no big news for any reasonable parent. Heck, the kid demands “tickle attacks” all the time, but this laugh was something else. It was richer, almost more from the gut.

This was getting him at a deeper level, and at that moment I was reminded again how much this was my kid.

See, Pee-Wee Herman always could make me laugh. Growing up I didn’t just have Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure memorized (I have strong memories acting out entire scenes with friends… Oh, and I also listed the film as one of my six all-time favorite comedies in this post a few months ago), but also the original HBO special.

Don’t believe me?

I convinced my cousin to perform the scene around shoe mirrors with me at a Boy Scout camp talent show when we were in sixth grade… No one got the joke and looking back it was bad choice on my part. I mean it was sixth grade!

“Daddy, who is that?”

I don’t know why it didn’t dawn on me earlier that my son, the kid who loves silly voices and physical humor, would dig Pee-Wee. I had two immediate and mixed emotions: one, an excitement over introducing him to this wonderful madness, and the other, guilt I didn’t do it earlier.

But was he really into this? Maybe this was just my own hope, so I showed him some youtube videos, trying my best not to sway his opinion one way or the other. But the laughter kept coming, especially when he could connect the comic genius to the voice.

Then with his eyes wide he turned to me and said:

“Can you get some Pee-Wee from the library?”

Yes, yes. I can. Whatever you want…

On Sunday, we watched our first episode from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and right from the beginning Pee-Wee had him hooked. Frankly, it was like crack for children. I could see his little mind taking it all in like a computer on overdrive, probably pushing out all of the lessons on the ABCs and addition in the process.

I began to wonder if this is how I looked to my parents watching Pee-Wee, that full unblinking stare, the constant laughter and the occasional talking back to the screen.

He even stated that Pee-Wee Herman is a good dancer. Since his mother has a master’s in dance from the University of Michigan, I was a little glad his mom didn’t hear that (All those years of showing him the occasional modern dance or ballet performance on TV down the drain).

This love of Pee-Wee is rich in my family. My brother saw the Broadway show live (lucky jerk) and my dad quotes from Big Adventure all the time. His favorite line: “Everyone has a big but, tell me about your big but.” (Don’t judge him too harshly- The line makes sense when you see the film.)

“He is so funny; really, really funny.”

So often as parents we get lost into two camps of television and film watching with our kids- education vs. distraction.

In other words, we either want something to educate our children, prepare them for all of the great things that we are sure they are destined for; or we need a break and we simply need something to distract them. (There’s the yin-yang of parenting right there.)

  • Educational Shows:  They always feel very soft to me. The environment of safety is there, even the lighting in the shows feel safe. There is no suspense or worry. Just the warmth of “let’s all sit down and learn something together.”
  • Distractions:  These may be animated or live action, but the key word is “action.” Everything is moving and fast. From Pixar to shows on Nickelodeon, everything is always in motion.

Yes, all of these are fine and serve a purpose, but what about the imagination? The creativity? Creating that ability to think outside the box?

That is what I see watching Pee-Wee Herman today and I can’t think of another show today that does the same thing for children. Seriously, not a one.

It immediately made me wonder if something important is being missed today. Anything can happen in the playhouse, the possibilities are endless and everything is worth screaming about, especially if it is the magic word. And first and foremost he wants to make you laugh.

So yes, as a parent, I think we need more shows like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and I am pretty sure my four-year old agrees with me… Now if I can just convince him to go as Pee-Wee for Halloween…

If you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my books? I had two novels published in the last few years, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here. Thanks for reading!

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2 responses

  1. Great article Scott…makes me want to watch PeeWee right now….shhhh you know where I am right now…but should you come downstairs and hear “laughter from my gut,” it’s all you and Grey’s fault! LOL

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