"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 8 October 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.

"In my mind, I wasn't sitting in the theater in my bow tie and suit." That's how Paul Reubens describes the downfall of Pee-wee Herman in his recent interview with Vanity Fair. While we'd never deny anybody a little incognito R&R, the fact that Reubens has not returned to the bow tie and suit in the eight years since his unwilling exposition indicates more than just a tragic underestimation of the good will the public still feels toward his character. (Really, wouldn't you rather see the poor man back in the big shoes than trying to breathe life into forgettable walk-ons in Buddy and Dunston Checks In?) It raises the crucial question of our age: Who would ever want to stop being Pee-wee Herman? You'd think the ease and steady employment of playing a reliably one-note character would be appealing to any career-minded notable; but sadly, outside of Central Casting, it seems everybody has always wanted to direct. For Fly Girl and anti-ironist alike, being typecast or pigeonholed is a fate worse than infomercials.

It's all a bit disconcerting for the average American, who would like nothing better than to win renown as The Guy in the Commercial Who Says, "It controls the seeping so I can work!" For the rest of us, the celebrity's dread of being typecast is not only perverse, but fraught with painful memories of Bill Murray in The Razor's Edge, of John Wayne playing a Mongolian (and getting a lethal dose of Los Alamos radiation for his troubles), of Lying Joe Isuzu's Empty Nest star turn, of Eddie Murphy's "Party all the Time." There is, in fact, some satisfaction (if little actual entertainment) in the ritual of regret and return to middling competence that inevitably follows these missteps, in Kevin Costner's inevitable fallback to crushingly dull baseball films, in Leonard Nimoy's humbler-but-wiser I Am Not Spock sequel, I Am Spock. When all else fails, there's always gravity.

Until then, we applaud the more death-defying efforts to break out of career stagnation and predict a few for the near future.


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