When a founder of the famed Lebowski Fest announced a new festival focused on an under-appreciated pop culture icon—Pee-wee Herman—Louisville paid attention.
The Facebook page for Pee Wee Over Louisville, as organizer Will Russell dubbed it, garnered more than 1,000 likes in just five days after its creation. It now has more than 4,000—many of whom are using the social media site to convey their displeasure that the event has been canceled.
This week, Russell got a cease and desist notice from the Herman folks and called off Pee Wee Over Louisville. Russell took a moment to discuss what happened and what comes next.
We’re you surprised that they said no?
I was not surprised.
How was this different than your past dealings with The Big Lebowski trademark owners?
This all happened much more rapidly than Lebowski Fest. In 2002 when Lebowski Fest started, the Internet was a different landscape and we were not as connected as today. Social media as it stands today accelerated this event incredibly quickly and the Facebook Page gathered 4,000 followers in under a month indicating that fans have been waiting for someone to stand up and say, “It’s OK to like Pee-wee Herman.” The Lebowski people seemed to recognize that the organic fan festival was creating good will for their brand and perpetuating its relevance over the years.
Did you anticipated the Pee Wee people saying no? Or think it was possible?
I reached out to his office prior to launching the event and stated that I wanted to do it in a way that he was comfortable with. I received no response and proceeded with the site in late December. This March I received a call from Paul Reubens himself who put me in touch with his office and they stated that they wanted to help me in any way they could. After working with them for a couple months, it became clear they were going to object. I offered any compromise I could think of including changing the event title, the graphics and offering to set up a licensing/royalty deal and/or donate any proceeds to a charity of their choice. In spite of my efforts, I received a cease and desist letter on May 21 and canceled the event.
Are you going to try to do anything else?
We still have Tyler Park reserved and the event was going to be in honor of my daughter’s 1 year birthday. Her nickname is Baby Magoo so we might still have a simple kid-friendly event tentatively titled “Magoo Over Louisville.”
Does this change your opinion on Pee-wee?
I am obviously disappointed this couldn’t be worked out as are the countless fans who all had the shared experience of our hero being ripped away from us after the indecent exposure scandal in 1991. I think fans have the right to celebrate what they love and this could have been really great. I still have hope that maybe down the road we can find a way to make this work.