When Will Russell and his partners staged the first party in honor of their favorite movie, The Coen Bros.’ “The Big Lebowski,” they didn’t realize how many people shared their enthusiasm for what was then an overlooked slacker comedy. Ten years later, Lebowski Fest tours internationally with cast member guest appearances and buzz bands, and their two-day flagship event brings fans (code name: Achievers) from all over the country to Louisville every summer for bowling, White Russians, costume contests and what-have-you.
Russell’s banking on tapping into a similar community of cult film fans with his new venture, Pee Wee Over Louisville. The day-long celebration of Russell’s second-favorite movie, “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” is planned for September and will feature a family-friendly themed activities like a bicycle rodeo and a screening of the film.
Created by comedian Paul Reubens, Pee-wee Herman was a fixture on the kid pop culture landscape in the Eighties, starring in two feature films and an Emmy Award-winning television show, “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” Reubens and his character became the punchline of jokes in 1991 when Reubens was arrested for indecent exposure in an adult movie theater, but Russell says it’s time Pee-wee’s contribution to pop culture was celebrated.
“When they reduce him to that stupid incident in Florida where he was arrested, it makes me furious,” he says.
And Russell says his fellow Pee-wee fans are out there – five days after its creation, more than a thousand people liked the Pee Wee Over Louisville Facebook page.
“People have been waiting for someone to say it’s okay to like Pee-wee Herman,” says Russell. “‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,’ ‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse’ changed television, it changed movies, it changed my life.”
Russell has fond memories of his father taking him to see “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” at Village 8 as a kid, which hooked him on Herman’s psychedelic aesthetic and man-child persona. Russell even competed in and won third place in a Pee-wee Herman lookalike contest at Kentucky Kingdom. The prize was a season pass to the amusement park.
“I got my season pass photo made while I was still in my Pee-wee makeup,” says Russell. “And instead of criticizing his son for being a weirdo and putting on makeup and dancing around yelling ‘connect the dots,’ my dad dressed up as Pee-wee himself to encourage me. It’s been that kind of support and encouragement that’s given me the courage to be myself and do my own thing.”
Russell became a father himself this year, and Pee Wee Over Louisville will also be his daughter Stella’s first birthday party. Achievers accustomed to the raucous Lebowski Fests, with late night after-parties and White Russians galore, will find a very different scene at Pee-wee’s party—a bicycle parade and rodeo, a kid-friendly “DIY carnival” with puppet shows, cotton candy, popcorn and no alcohol.
“‘The Big Lebowski’ has the f-bomb more than 200 times in two hours,” says Russell. “There are no f-bombs in ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’.”
Costumes are encouraged, and a marching band will be on hand to play the film’s soundtrack.
“While they play ‘Tequila’ I want to try to set the record for most number of Pee-wee Hermans dancing at once. Which I think should be pretty easy to get,” says Russell. “I think the current record is one. One Pee-wee.”
The day will finish with a bicycle drive-in outdoor screening of “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” Russell says he’s working on securing special guests for the event. The date and locations for the festival have not been announced.
Pee Wee Over Louisville will not affect 2013 Lebowski Fest events scheduled in Louisville, Los Angeles and New York.