AN INTERVIEW WITH
INSIDE PEE-WEE’S PLAYHOUSE AUTHOR CASEEN GAINES
Revered by kids of all ages, Pee-wee’s Playhouse was a creative powerhouse of talent. Artists, designers, writers and actors all collaborated to create a variety program that would have a lasting impact on children’s television in the eighties and beyond.
Last year was the 25th Anniversary of the show’s end run in 1986 and Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Untold, Unauthorized, and Unpredictable Story of a Pop Phenomenon, is the first comprehensive look into the behind-the-scenes workings of that landmark show. The books’s author will be at Quimby’s Bookstore (1854 W. North Avenue) on Friday, February 24th to discuss the book, but we got a chance to talk to Caseen Gaines (also a high school English teacher) during his lunch break.
How many cities are you going to be visiting on this book tour?
I went to a number of locations. Quimby’s is currently the last stop that I have scheduled, but I’ve been to Manhattan, I’ve been to Brooklyn, I’ve been to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I’ve been to Cleveland and Chicago is the next stop.
The book came out in November of last year. How’s it doing, are you getting a good response from fans?
The response from fans has been phenomenal. It’s really great to get good reviews from publications, and we’ve gotten a number of those from Publishers Weekly, from Booklist, from The Village Voice, from The Advocate, however, it’s really important for me that Pee-wee Herman fans appreciate the book, and the feedback has been great. Also the feedback from people who have worked on the show—even a lot of the actors have reached out to me and said that they read the book and really thought it was accurate and really appreciated it.
How much access did you have to some of these people, the actors and the artists?
I reached out to about two hundred people. A number of people were really excited and enthusiastic about participating—a lot of animators and writers and directors on the show. Of course, there were some people who were disinterested. Paul Reubens did not participate in the book. He has a memoir that he is hoping to write in the future, so with Paul Reubens not being involved there were also a number of people that I did not have access to as well. But it was really great because it forced me to do some research, and I spent a lot of time researching the book in addition to interviewing people. Everyone is well accounted for. Paul Reubens is well-accounted for as well as the people who wouldn’t actually speak to me. If you read through the book you probably can’t even tell who spoke to me and who didn’t.
Was this a project you went to somebody with or were they looking for someone to write it and you thought you would be up for the challenge?
It was a project that I came up with. When Paul Reubens announced that he was coming back as Pee-wee Herman, I took to the Internet and was just kind of poking around for information and saw there was no central location for information about Pee-wee’s Playhouse—there’s a Wikipedia page, but there isn’t a book, there isn’t a documentary—the biggest, most important children’s show of the last couple decades and I was just amazed there was no forum for this. So it was a charge that I took up myself and I’m glad that I was able to interest someone in it so quickly and so many people signed on to participate with the book.
Anything stand out as something you were surprised or shocked to learn?
I think I was surprised at the number of other individuals that left their mark on that show. When you think about Pee-wee Herman you think about Paul Reubens, or if you’re really in the know, you think about a couple of other names as well—Gary Panter maybe, Laurence Fishburne,—but there’s so many people that were really pushing the envelope in terms of animation and comedy at the time. A gentleman named John Paragon, who played Jambi the Genie, was also a co-writer and co-director for the majority of the series. He was really a driving force and his style of comedy runs throughout that series. So I was surprised at the other people whose creativity contributed to the final product.
Any other projects that you have in the works?
I’m still promoting this one and this one is what is consuming my life at the moment (laughs), but there is a another project in the works that I can’t exactly talk about right now. There is another book that I’m working on, based on a movie this time, that is a behind-the-scenes look at another big, classic, pop phenomenon from the nineteen eighties, so stay tuned.
We will. Thanks, Caseen Gaines!
Ask Caseen about Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse on February 24, 7pm @ Quimby’s, 1854 W. North Ave., Chicago