Christmas at Pee-Wee’s Playhouse
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fruitcake
By Chris Roberts
It’s Christmas! We all know what that means. Peace on Earth, good will towards men & terrible holiday specials. Some are actually really good. Some are just awful. I was going to do The Star Wars Holiday Special. But my soul burns like holy water on possessed flesh whenever I get near my bootleg DVD. Maybe next year, kiddos. Some specials are so off the wall that they can’t be put into words. But let’s try, shall we?
If you grew up in the mid 80s through the 90s like myself, I don’t have to tell you how amazing of a time this was for television. Saturday morning cartoons were at their peak and anyone, it seemed, could have one.
Nothing, however, could prepare the world for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Pee-Wee needs no introduction. He was everywhere. And in 1988, everyone wanted to get in on Christmas at Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
We begin with a group of Marines singing an introduction to the special, where we’re introduced to the Playhouse gang, as well as Pee-Wee’s special guest stars. We kick off the actual special with Pee-Wee dictating his Christmas wish list to Conky 2000. Literally. A mile long list is shoved into a giant envelope to eventually be given to Reba the mail lady.
Now begins the running joke on this special: Pee-Wee gets fruitcake from all of his friends. Miss Yvonne is the first to give him his fruitcake, as well as a Christmas kiss. She is, after all, wearing mistletoe in her wig, er, I mean hair. Soon, all the anthropomorphic furniture and creatures want in on the action. And she is happy to oblige. Starting with Floory. The floor. Somebody has issues.
“Coming, Floory darling!” --actual dialogue
While Miss Yvonne disappears to make out with make believe, Pee-Wee gets a call from Whoopi Goldberg on the video phone. She’s begging to be on the Christmas special. It seems the guests are booked solid for another two years. I want to write a joke here about Whoopi having to make a terrible movie to kill time, but Jumping Jack Flash was 1986 and Burglar was 1987. So I’ve got nothing.
After that awkward conversation ends, we go connect the dots on Magic Screen. On a personal note, Magic Screen was my favorite part of the show as a kid. They make a sleigh that’s driven by Magic Johnson. He and the Magic Screen are cousins, you see. Don’t think about that too long or your brain will shut down. They’re chased by a polar bear until Pee-Wee bails out, leaving Magic Johnson to crash and be eaten by said polar bear.
Magic had the same look on his face when he found out The Magic Hour was being cancelled.
Suddenly, Pee-Wee realizes he hasn’t decorated the playhouse for Christmas. So he wishes for Jambi to decorate all at once. And it was so. Thus sayeth the Lord.
Reba the mail lady is here to pick up the giant envelope. And also to deliver Grace Jones in a giant wooden crate. Remember Grace Jones in Vamp? Neither do I. All joking aside, I had to Google “Grace Jones” to see if she was a drag queen or not. Sorry, Grace. You’re all woman baby. She wasn’t meant to go to the PLAYhouse, but the White House. Looks like Reagan won’t be getting the B-List celebrity he asked for under his tree. Another year of Nancy will have to do. Just say “NO”, kids. I digress. Grace sings The Little Drummer Boy while Pee-Wee does the Tequila dance. I’m almost certain that baby Jesus himself would be pleased.
You mean you aren’t the President?
Soon after, we find Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are making Christmas cards with a toothbrush and a potato, against their will. Merry Christmas Mouseketeers. Cher comes by to tell us today’s secret word (it’s “YEAR”) as Pee-Wee gushes about Cher’s presence in the playhouse. The King of Cartoons stops by and gives Pee-Wee two fruitcakes before tuning in Hollywood Squares, where Joan Rivers (face 2 of 5) wishes us a Merry Christmas.
Now, it’s snowing at the playhouse. I know this because Pee-Wee has screamed it at least 50 times. After a yellow snow joke, Pee-Wee is met by Cowboy Curtis. Look, gang! It’s Laurence Fishburn. He wasn’t always Morpheus, kiddos. We all have to start somewhere. We are then treated to Winter Wonderland as sung by the Del Rubio Triplets. You may not know them by name, but you know who they are. Three identical old women playing guitar in short shorts.
The middle one looks like Olympia Dukakis in drag
The ladies finish their song and Pee-Wee teaches Little Richard to ice skate. Sort of. Little Richard spends the whole bit with a pillow strapped to his butt. I will let that joke write itself.
Once we’re back in the playhouse, the gang is warming up with hot cocoa while k.d. lang sings the most spastic rendition of Jingle Bell Rock I’ve ever personally witnessed. Now, I’m not a k.d. lang fan, so I don’t know what kind of performer she is. But I can say with absolute certainty that this isn’t what you’d see at Lilith Fair (hey kids, remember Lilith Fair?)
No, k.d. It is not OK.
Now that the musical seizure has ended, Pee-Wee is hanging Christmas stockings. Naturally, Pee-Wee has two. And they’re bigger than his fireplace. Clocky then reminds us it’s time for a Penny cartoon. I loved Penny as a kid, but I don’t remember her being so hard to understand. I almost put my VCR in slow motion to see if I understood her better.
While all the fun is going on around them, Frankie & Annette still aren’t done with the Christmas cards. Massa Herman ain’t too happy ‘bout that boss. They mention they’re hungry, so Pee-Wee gives the bread and water. Way to roll out that red carpet…
Countess the Cow brings Pee-Wee more fruitcake, as well as her friend Zsa Zsa Gabor. Who gives a f--k what she thinks? Dick Cavett didn’t and neither did Freddy Krueger. That goes double for Pee-Wee Herman. The phone rings and he takes off.
My nerdiness requires at least one mention of Elm Street in this article
Who is on the phone but Dinah Shore AND Oprah. Yes, that Oprah. Nothing says hot 80s three way like Dinah Shore and Oprah Winfrey. Dinah sings the 12 Days of Christmas, but Pee-Wee doesn’t have time for that crap. He puts a dummy inside the video phone booth and jumps right into the next segment.
Ricardo comes by to wish Pee-Wee “Feliz Navidad”. Pee-Wee is having a hard time saying Merry Christmas in Spanish. So who should help Pee-Wee with “Feliz Navidad”. One word: Charo.
When Ricardo’s Mexi-Mullet fails, send in the C-List Latina.
Once the song is finished, Charo gives Pee-Wee another fruitcake and dances the coochie-coochie before Miss Renee comes to the playhouse to teach us all about Chanukah. The eight crazy nights are dolled out to Pee-Wee all at once with eight fruit cakes. Mozel Tov Pee-Wee. Miss Renee shows Pee-Wee a dreidel, who immediately spins it into the mouse hole where the claymation dinosaurs live. They’re lighting the menorah and eating candy. I’m assuming they converted. I can’t prove it. Eat me, I had to watch this, you didn’t.
The wait is finally over and the Christmas party has started. Pee-Wee is making everyone, including Miss Renee, whom we just established is Jewish, sing Christmas carols. Randy decides to be a jerk as per usual and unplug the lights from the tree. So Pee-Wee decides to tell Randy about the true meaning of Christmas with a Cliff’s Notes version of the birth of Jesus. Randy then gives Pee-Wee a fruitcake and goes about his merry way. Then, Pee-Wee reveals the new wing he has had added to the playhouse by shirtless Mexican day laborers made entirely of fruitcake. Feliz blahblahblah Pee-Wee Herman.
Finally, Santa arrives to give us all what we want, the end of this special. Santa tells Pee-Wee he asked for so many things that he isn’t going to be able to give gifts to any of the other children of the world. Pee-Wee thinks about it and sacrifices all of his gifts to help others. In turn, Pee-Wee gets to help Santa deliver all the gifts on Christmas Eve, as the credits roll.
As a kid, I loved Pee-Wee. I had the Playhouse playset, Pee-Wee Colorforms (Google it, they happened) and even a Pee-Wee ventriloquist dummy. Watching this again brought me back to a special place in my childhood where Santa was still real and dreams came true. I am now the parent of a three year old who is just discovering the magic of Christmas, as well as Christmas specials. One day, he’ll get to look back and see how sappy and terrible they truly are. But until then, I’m gonna let him dream. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
Me, Christmas 1989
- Chris Roberts