Pee-Wee Herman is back in front of audiences after nearly thirty years as Paul Reubens and his iconic character return with Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday, which just arrived on Netflix. The actor is forever linked to his signature character but his career is peppered with diverse work in all genres over the years. Here are five moments big and small that showcase the versatility and endurance of an actor who has certainly seen his ups and downs.

As Gerhardt in 30 Rock…


Though his full name of Gerhardt Messerschmit Rammstein Von Hap rolls off the tongue so much better, Gerhardt is one of the funnier characters ever to come out of 30 Rock. The product of way too many incestual flings in a bloodline, the Austrian prince gets a birthday party all his own and the results are delightful. Reubens doesn’t hold back here, playing off his considerable physical comedy chops and fearlessness in front of the camera.

As The Penguin’s Pop in Batman Returns


It’s a tiny role in Tim Burton’s sequel to Batman for Paul Reubens but a significant one. After Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure helped launch Burton and Reubens into stardom it almost appeared that the two would have a long collaborative career and then Reubens was arrested and his image was seemingly destroyed. Burton gave the actor his first job after the incident and it went a long way towards restoring faith in Reubens. Plus he plays Oswald Cobblepot’s father. A great little moment.

As Derek Foreal in Blow


This is a great performance in an underappreciated (though derivative) movie. Paired with other Tim Burton muse Johnny Depp, Reubens does more than carry his own weight in Ted Demme’s Martin Scorsese homage. It’s a big part and one that demands a lot of the actor and he delivers.

As Amilyn in Buffy the Vampire Slayer


Though the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer project got massively overshadowed by the television series, the film does have its charms. The film’s funniest moment involves Paul Reubens in full vampire mode mocking his death from a stake. It was the biggest laugh of the trailer, of the film, and yet another look at the actor poking fun at his image a little. His look for the film was inspired by the booking photo from his arrest.

As Spleen in Mystery Men


A movie before its time, Mystery Men has a ton of charms. In this superhero satire, Reubens has the unenviable task of playing a hero whose weapon is gas. And not the cool kind. He owns the role, and alongside a great cast of funny people like Greg Kinnear, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garafalo, and many others, the once and future Pee-Wee reminds us that he’s not going to be too easily pegged.


Nick Nunziata
Nick Nunziata created