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Marketing The Return Of Pee Wee Herman

Paul Reubens says the creative use of social media helped promote his Pee Wee character and connect with longtime fans.
Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News
Paul Reubens says the creative use of social media helped promote his Pee Wee character and connect with longtime fans.


Creative use of social media helped market the return of Pee Wee Herman to a national audience, according to the actor who created the character, Paul Reubens.

Reubens was interviewed at South by Southwest today editor-in-chief Mike Sampson. The two had a wide-ranging discussion about Reubens' three decade career and recent comeback. At least 200 people packed into a room at the Austin Convention Center room to hear Reubens speak as himself, not in his Pee Wee character.

"I love social media, and I'm really into it," Reubens said. His Twitter account has attracted more than 741,000 followers, and he partnered with the location-based check-in service Foursquare in late 2010 to promote his Broadway play in New York City.

"We had a list of about thirty spots I was hitting. I let people know where I was going to be all day long. Groups of people showed up at these different places and followed us," he said. Videographers followed Reubens and posted video of his excursion online.

"Being somebody of a slightly older generation, I've certainly needed some guidance [with social media]," he said. "I have to admit, years ago my initial feeling was, 'What? I don't have time for that.' But I've certainly become, I would use the word 'obsessed.'"

Herman also addressed his notorious career crushing incident in Sarasota, Florida, where he was arrested in 1991 for masturbating publicly in an adult theater.

"I felt like there was just a strong juxtaposition between my mug shot and my Pee Wee pictures, and there was never anything in between that," Reubens said.

"I would try to make the public believe I was a real person. It was really only performance art to me because no one knew at the time that I was a different person.  I went many, many, many years without ever being photographed out of character, until one day," he said to uproarious laughter from the crowd.

Reubens was shunned from the entertainment business until he was invited to act in the 1992 film Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

"I had a clause in my contract that I could look as much like my mug shot as possible. I just wanted to look like that.  So I had long hair and a goatee," he deadpanned.

Reubens shared his sense of bewilderment about his renewed success in the entertainment business. His Broadway play is airing on HBO and he is working with director Judd Apatow on a new film.

"People have been so loving and giving," he said. "It's been staggering being me for the past year."

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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