I Was a Teenage Theater Tyrant (Ep. 117 - Pee-wee Herman)

This Week's Guest: Tom Lenk

Have you ever proved yourself wrong? My guest this week is actor Tom Lenk, who appeared as Andrew on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Tom was convinced for years that he lacked the skills that seemed to come naturally to other actors -- and so he was terrified when cast in a show that demanded more of him than he thought he could deliver. Facing that challenge changed the course of his career -- thanks in part to confidence he absorbed at an early age from the most beautiful woman in Puppetland.

By the way, Tom's the subject of a new documentary coming out this month called Nerdgasm. The film follows his quest to stage a show in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and it's available to watch on Amazon starting June 16th. 

And the Sewers of Paris is independent and ad free thanks to the support of listeners. If you're enjoying the show, head over to SewersOfParis.com and click "Support the Show on Patreon" to help keep the show going for as little as a dollar per episode.

And one more note -- I'm going to be at the Lyst Symposium in Copenhagen this coming weekend, from June 9th to June 11th, presenting a talk about queer sex, love, and relationships in games. If you're in Copenhagen, come check it out, or follow along with my travels on twitter @mattbaume. I'll be visiting several European cities all throughout this summer to report on international LGBT issues -- and hopefully, to visit the actual Sewers of Paris.

This Week's Recommendation: Pee-Wee's Big Holiday

Thanks again to Tom for joining me, and head over to TomLenk.com to check out his work -- including the documentary Nerdgasm, available June 16. The doc's about what happens when you push through self-doubt and believe in your own abilities, and for my recommendation this week, I hope you'll watch another another movie about queer self-confidence: the Netflix special Pee Wee's Big Holiday. 

Now I am not a big believer in nostalgia reboots, which are almost always unable to live up to the unreliable memories of the original. But somehow Pee Wee's Big Holiday is a bundle of unmitigated charm and delight, just like Pee Wee himself.

The film is centered around friendship, and the lengths to which we're driven by feelings of affection. Pee Wee plays a small-town boy who's never vacationed far from home. But when he meet a famous hunky actor named Joe, he takes the plunge and goes on an epic journey to New York for Joe's birthday party.

The story tingles with queerness throughout, from the breathless interest of the male leads to the suggestive insertion of a fist in a friendship bracelet. But what makes it so joyful to me is Pee Wee's confidence, self-assuredness, and comfort in his own weird skin.

He is, to be clear, a very strange boy. And at no point does it even seem possible to imagine him being anything else. Even when he's in trouble and things aren't going his way, he is unswervingly himself -- giddy, curious, playful, and sincere.

And so are the heroes he encounters, from hairdressers to bank robbers to an odd heiress. Each one is a strange, happy caricature; each one unabashedly eccentric; each one -- as we all should aspire to be -- a Pee Wee in their own big holiday.

Clips of Stuff We Talked About


Parisian Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0