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OTRC: Pee-wee Herman is 'Top Chef' guest judge, eats pancakes

Pee-wee Herman, played by Paul Reubens, appears in a scene from the 1985 movie 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure.' / Pee-wee Herman, played by Paul Reubens, appears on the Bravo show 'Top Chef' on an episode that aired on Feb. 1, 2012. (Warner Bros. Pictures / Bravo / NBC Universal)

Pee-wee Herman recently appeared as a guest judge on "Top Chef," which saw the actor, also known as Paul Reubens, dining on pancakes.

The 59-year-old first played debuted his alter ego, known for his iconic red bowtie and high-pitched laugh, more than 30 years ago but stopped for almost two decades following a 1991 arrest for indecent exposure. Appearing in full costume, Reubens told "Top Chef" host Padma Lakshmi that his appearance on the Bravo culinary competition series was a "career highlight."

On "Top Chef," people participate in culinary challenges. The current ninth season is set in Texas. On an episode that aired on Wednesday, February 1, contestants traveled to San Antonio, home of the Alamo. In the 1985 movie "Pee-wee's Big Adventure,", Herman travels to the landmark to try to find his stolen bicycle. Parts of the movie were shot in San Antonio but most of it was filmed in California.

On "Top Chef," Reubens appeared dressed as Herman, complete with his iconic red bowtie, and pedalled onto the kitchen set on a red Schwinn bicycle. The contestants were told to make him pancakes, within 20 minutes.

"I love pancakes!" he said, enthusiastically. "I mean, I'm not going to marry one. But I love them anyway!"

Herman samples several types of pancakes, including ones shaped like Minnie Mouse, ones with Dippin' Dots and the winning dish, which contains crispy bits cooked with bacon and berries. He later said they were all delicious.

The contestants were also given bicycles to ride and told to obtain more ingredients and cook lunch. Reubens then sampled their creations, which included a vegetable-based egg salad with chicken skin vinaigrette, stuffed zucchini with braised beef cheeks, rice and goat cheese and a chicken dish that incorporated spinach, butternut squash, gorgonzola cheese and egg yolks.

"I have a lot of childhood issues with runny yolk that I'd have to lay down to talk to you about," he joked.

He told Lakshmi he was "so excited to be here in Texas."

"I came here to film 'Pee-wee's Big Aventure,' to the Alamo, many years ago," he said. "It's the first time I've been back. It's thrilling. Thank you so much for having me. This has been just a career highlight, honestly. It's been so exciting."

When asked about his advice to the contestants: "I would say just this - one thing: More butter."


For the past year or so, the character actor has been enjoying a comeback following a 1991 arrest of charges of indecent exposure at an adult movie theater. He pleaded no contest and paid a $75 fine. His hit children's series, "Pee-wee's Playhouse," was canceled following the incident, after four seasons.

Months after the arrest, Herman played Herman at the MTV Video Music Awards but would not appear in character again on screen for about 18 years.

About 10 years later, Reubens was arrested for possession of child pornography. The charges were dropped after he pleaded guilty to obscenity as part of a plea deal.

Reubens debuted Pee-wee Herman as a stage act in 1980. He played the character in the film "Cheech & Chong's Next Movie" that year before launching the "The Pee-wee Herman Show" on HBO. "Pee-wee's Playhouse" began airing in 1986. He also played the role in the 1988 Michael Jackson movie "Moonwalker."

After his 1991 arrest, Reubens continued to act, but played other roles. He appeared in the 1992 film "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and portrayed an FBI agent in the 1996 children's film "Matilda." He also played the recurring role of Andrew J. Lansing III in the 1990s series "Murphy Brown. He later appeared on shows such as "Pushing Daisies" and in the 2009 movie "Life During Wartime."

Reubens, who famously voiced the alien Max in the 1986 sci-fi movie "Flight of the Navigator," also provided voices for characters in 1990s movies such as "Doctor Dolittle," "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas."

He did voiceover work after his arrests as well, most recently for the animated series "Batman: The Brave and the Bold," the movie "The Smurfs" and the 2012 cartoon show "TRON: Uprising."

The actor revived his Herman character for the first time since his 1991 arrest in 2009 on "The Tonight Show," which was at the time hosted by Conan O'Brien. He later played the role again on episodes of "Saturday Night Live," "WWE Raw" and O'Brien's new TBS talk show, "Conan."

Reubens also made his Broadway debut in November 2010 with a show based on "Pee-wee's Playhouse" and "The Pee-wee Herman Show." The play ran until January 2011 and was also turned into an HBO special that earned the actor his third Primetime Emmy nomination.

In July 2011, Reubens dressed as Herman told fans at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego, California that his character planned to make his return to the big screen, saying he had teamed up with "Knocked Up" director Judd Apatow to make a "road picture across the entire country."

The movie would mark the first headlined by Herman since the 1988 film "Big Top Pee-wee," the sequel to "Pee-wee's Big Adventure," which also marked the big screen debut of actor Benicio Del Toro, who played Duke the Dog-Faced Boy.

(Pictured above: Pee-wee Herman, played by Paul Reubens, appears in a scene from the 1985 movie 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure.' / Pee-wee Herman, played by Paul Reubens, appears on the Bravo show 'Top Chef' on an episode that aired on Feb. 1, 2012. Credits: Warner Bros. Pictures / Bravo / NBC Universal)