Paul Reubens is by far best known for his iconic character, Pee-wee Herman. After nearly 40 years in the man-child’s white loafers, it’s easy to forget that he’s an accomplished actor in his own right, having gotten his start at the same famous Groundlings Theater as Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks.
In fact, he recently told Chris Hardwick on The Nerdist podcast that he considers himself part of a small club of performers, including Cassandra Peterson (Elvira) and Sarah Colley (Minnie Pearl), who have become famous as someone else. When you dig deeper, though, you quickly find the eclectic career of a character actor that’s been overshadowed by his own legendary spawn. Here’s a look at some of Paul Reuben’s most interesting roles beyond Mr. Herman.
11. The Blues Brothers, Waiter
In one of Paul’s earliest films, he plays a snooty waiter at Chez Paul Restaurant, who can barely contain his disdain for the obnoxious “Joliet Jake” Blues. From these meager beginnings, few would have guessed the legendary career to follow.
10. Mork & Mindy, Dick Nimitz
Childlike, impish, and with a spastic streak, Mork had a lot in common with Pee-wee Herman. Here Paul plays Dick Nimitz, and you can already see hints of his famous character, who was headlining sold-out stage shows when this episode was filmed.
9. Meatballs Part II, Albert/Hara Krishna
A cash grab sequel, this bizarre film boasted an eclectic cast, including a young John Larroquette and Empty Nest’s own Richard Mulligan. This would be the last movie Paul would appear in before Pee-wee’s Big Adventure would turn him into a superstar.
8. Star Tours, RX-24
Every child of ’80s who was lucky enough to make it to Disneyland will remember this legendary Star Wars ride. Paul Reubens provided the voice for the inept pilot droid, RX-24, who guided us through the adventure, and provided a lot of childhood memories.
7. Batman Returns, Penguin’s Father
Not only is Reubens amusing in his wordless cameo as the upper crust father of Danny DeVito’s Penguin, his scenes are also a mini-Pee-wee’s Big Adventure reunion — besides reteaming him with director Tim Burton, Diane Salinger (aka Simone) plays Penguin’s mother.
6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Amilyn
Wanting to have fun with his troubled reputation, Paul is rumored to have designed the look of his character after his now iconic mug shot. While this movie would go on to become a much more popular television series, Paul’s performance is often praised as the highlight of the film.
5. Murphy Brown, Andrew J. Lansing III
Another step on the comeback trail, Paul popped up on this hit show as one of the few people Ms. Brown thought could handle the job as her secretary. He ended up appearing in six episodes, reestablishing himself in Hollywood in the process.
4. Mystery Men, Spleen
Based on the Dark Horse comic, Mystery Men seems ahead of its time now, commenting on a superhero genre that had yet to take off in movies. Still, Paul made an impression as Spleen, a man cursed with the powers of extreme flatulence. Look, a guy’s gotta work.
3. Blow, Derek Foreal
With Ted Demme’s Blow, Paul was officially back. Often considered the dawn of a new era in his career, this part would open up the doors for the more dramatic roles that followed.
2. 30 Rock, Gerhardt
As former childhood fans of Pee-wee grew up, and took the reigns of power in Hollywood, Paul started popping up in more and more parts. Between 30 Rock, Reno 911, Tom Goes to the Mayor, and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job, the former and future Pee-wee Herman had a chance to play with a whole new generation of comedians.
1. The Blacklist, Mr. Vargas
Most recently, Paul has settled into a comfortable niche as a character actor, playing a variety of eccentric characters. Here he plays a creepy operative who can’t stand the sight of blood.
Watch Paul channel his inner Clarence Darrow in a clip from tonight’s Portlandia season finale below: