Comedy Bang! Bang!: "Pee-wee Herman Wears A Halloween Costume"
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Comedy Bang! Bang!: "Pee-wee Herman Wears A Halloween Costume"

B+

Comedy Bang! Bang!

"Pee-wee Herman Wears A Halloween Costume"

Season 2, Episode 12

It’s no secret that Paul Reubens’ Pee-wee Herman is one of Scott Aukerman’s hugest influences—on more than one occasion, I’ve seen him describe his terror at interviewing Reubens for his first appearance on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast, a live recording from South By Southwest. And the the TV show’s set, with its talking furniture and whatnot, is a very clear homage to Pee-wee’s Playhouse. So, much like the musical episode, this episode feels like Aukerman indulging one of his truest passions, and that exuberance is enough to carry the episode through, even if it drags a little at times.

I too love Pee-wee Herman. Every time Tumblr’s Don Rickles blogs the “I remember the Alamo” joke from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, I laugh. But Pee-wee’s shtick is very, very specific. Comedy Bang! Bang! is the kind of show for him, but he’s the only guest this week, and he pretty much takes over the show, which is technically Halloween-themed. Most of the sketches are dark and bizarre, but the Pee-wee Herman material is light and corny, with that expected tinge of weirdness.

It doesn’t gel as well as it should. Maybe Herman should have come by on a week not themed around Halloween? Scott’s in his Dracula costume the whole night, but there’s barely any fun to be had about it. First, Pee-wee (dressed as a cowboy) discusses increasingly complicated foods for the cowboy on the range (funny to have this episode to air right after Dalton Wilcox’s). Then, he brings a live snake to the set and it bites Scott. I liked that bit a lot more, in how it had fun building up to an obvious one-joke gag and then dealing with it for as long as possible.

Aside from that, Pee-wee is a fun presence, but not too memorable. A later ventriloquism act is largely unnecessary, as is his turning Scott into his mother and Reggie into a chicken. Still, it’s clear how much fun Aukerman had with Reubens on the show, and that exuberance carries the more leaden bits over the finish line.

I really liked the sketches on this week’s episode, though. The opening bit with Scott investigating haunted houses was fantastic, nicely mocking the fact that he didn’t get the concept of haunted houses and that he’s a comedian with no business conducting investigative journalism. The final murderous turn would have been great no matter what, but especially worked in the hands of the great Craig Cackowski, who was long overdue an appearance on Comedy Bang! Bang!

Scott using food to trigger Proustian flashbacks, but to investigate murders, was pretty fantastic too. Mr. Hell Man had a BOB from Twin Peaks quality to him, Scott eating that morning’s breakfast to look at his day planner, Scott’s grandma excited by the announcement of the new movie Argo back in the 1970s—just crammed with great jokes, and again, with a dark edge that’s just different to Reubens’ sensibility.

Probably the best, and most surprising gag of the episode was the callback to three early jokes: the heckling ghosts, Reggie’s giant cherries and his sugar cookies, which turned into a bizarre, unexpected, hilarious Pac-Man homage. Sometimes the most complicated gags can also be the simplest.

Stray observations:

  • Some children have encountered a Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s Monster.
  • Scott’s “axing the tough questions. Ugh, asking the tough questions. 15 years of speech therapy, and nothing. Well, back to you, opening credits!”
  • I liked Pee-wee whipping the old movies.
  • Reggie’s cookies are a little off. “What’s the matter? Did I use too much salt?” “Of course you did, Reggie, but that’s not the point!”