I’m going to do you a favor. I’m going to tell you about the greatest Christmas special that was ever made. Not Charlie Brown. Not those Rankin-Bass stop-motion things. Nope, it’s the “Pee-Wee Herman Christmas Special” from 1988, and it is, without a doubt, one of the most insane things ever put on television.
Before Pee-Wee completely ruined his career for things he did in a pornographic movie theater, he was riding high. The Christmas special was the culmination of all of his success through movies and television. It was a full hour long, twice as long as a normal episode, and it was shown in prime-time.
The guest-list … my God, nothing like this guest list could ever be recreated today. Oprah Winfrey, Cher, Magic Johnson, Little Richard, Whoopi Goldiberg, Charo, Joan Rivers and Zsa Zsa Gabor … all in the same show! Sure, they didn’t all appear together, and some kind of phoned in their appearances (literally, in some cases), but still, all of those names in one show is amazing. Other than an awards show, no guest list like that has ever been assembled for anything. And this was just “Pee-Wee’s Christmas Special!” Even a pre-“Matrix” Lawrence Fishburne makes an appearance as the mullet-sporting Cowboy Curtis.
“Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” was a very out-of-the-box kids show, and they managed to squeeze everything into one special. This is really the only episode of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” you will ever need to see. All of the puppets and claymation skits are included. All of the recurring characters (the King of Cartoons, Ricardo, Reba the Mail Lady, Miss Yvonne, etc.) have their own little segments and somehow, the spirit of Christmas is intact.
Sure, there’s lots of singing. Grace Jones – who you might best remember as Arnold’s co-star in “Conan: The Destroyer” (oh, who am I kidding, you don’t remember that) – comes out of a box in plastic clothing and sings “Little Drummer Boy.” K.d. lang puts on one of the most gender-ambiguous performances ever with “Jingle Bell Rock” (seriously, for years, I wasn’t sure if k.d. lang was a guy or a gal), and then there’s the Del Rubio Triplets. Never heard of ’em? To picture them, take your grandmother, put her in a mini-skirt, and multiply her by three.
Charo sings “Feliz Navidad” while a robot plays the maracas. Little Richard ice skates with a magic screen. Zsa Zsa Gabor comes in with a talking cow. You can search for years and never find anything this incredible in all your life. And I am fortunate enough to own a copy with the original 1988 commercials (four words: Zack the Lego Maniac).
Now, you didn’t think I would tease you with this article if you couldn’t go out and find this yourself, did you? Last year, the special was released on DVD. You’ll have to hope that a place like Best Buy will still have it. If not, because it’s still fairly new, locating a used copy shouldn’t be too hard to do.
Seriously, though, if you’re into geek nostalgia, you don’t get much better than this. And if Pee-Wee had just refrained from satisfying his biological urges in public, it is very likely that this special would be an annual holiday tradition that everyone could experience.