Pee-wee Herman returns to the spotlight in a new show

LOS ANGELES Sat Jan 23, 2010 6:31pm EST

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Pee-wee Herman, the nerd in the grey suit with red lipstick and the distinctive "heh heh heh" laugh, has come out of retirement after almost two decades, and the critics think he's still funny.

"The Pee-wee Herman Show" has been brought back to life in a new stage show that opened in Los Angeles this week. The original show inspired a popular film and television franchise in the 1980s and launched the career of character actor Paul Reubens.

But Pee-wee Herman and his children's TV show "Pee-wee's Playhouse" was dumped in 1991 after Reubens was arrested on charges of indecent exposure at an adult movie theater. It has taken him 20 years to work his way back into the limelight.

"It's been interesting coming back into the spotlight ... but it's been feeling very exciting. I'm totally excited. I don't even know what to say, heh heh heh," Reubens, 57, in character as Pee-wee Herman, told Reuters Television outside the show.

The revived version of the show, running until February 7, is based on the actor's original performances with Los Angeles comedy troupe, The Groundlings, in the late 1970s.

HBO made the show into a TV series in 1981, turning Reubens into a pop icon and inspiring the 1985 cult film "Pee-wee's Big Adventure."

"After all these years and a humongous sex scandal, the figure you created has an uncanny hold on us. More for adults than children, who wouldn't get any of the ever-so-slightly salacious double-entendres," wrote reviewer Charles McNulty in the Los Angeles Times

"I know you're trying to make a big pile of money and get a movie deal (good luck on both fronts!). But as far as I'm concerned, this marks the restart of a beautiful old friendship."

After Pee-wee Herman disappeared in 1991, Reubens remained in Hollywood and has appeared in various TV shows and movies including the 1992 movie "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" but his alter-ego remained out of sight, bar one or two appearances.

(Reporting by Bob Mezan, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)