'Pee-Wee Herman' Attracts Thousands to Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota

Mean machines and burly bikers didn't draw Amanda White to the world's largest motorcycle rally. She had her sights set on a bow-tied nerd in an ill-fitting gray plaid suit: Pee-wee Herman.

Actor Paul Reubens is reintroducing Pee-wee -- his alter ego and 1980s cult character -- to fans at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, which is expected to draw more than 500,000 people this week.

"I call it my Pee-wee pilgrimage," said White, a 29-year-old Minneapolis school teacher who drove 10 hours to the rally and had Reubens autograph her bicycle seat. "I'm a huge Pee-wee fan."

White is not alone. Plenty of Pee-wee fans have flocked to the Buffalo Chip campground outside Sturgis to see Reubens' character perform at a venue also hosting Ozzy Osbourne, Kid Rock, ZZ Top and Bob Dylan.

"Bob Dylan is here because people like him and Pee-wee is here for the same reason," said Buffalo Chip owner Rod Woodruff. "They are both American icons."

Reubens is in Sturgis ahead of a 48-performance Broadway run of the "The Pee-wee Herman Show" that begins Oct. 26 and is based in part on the TV show "Pee-wee's Playhouse." He said he's "never been to anything like this in my life."

"I'm really bowled over by it," he told The Associated Press on Sunday. "There are people from all walks of life here."

Reubens filmed a remake of the infamous "Tequila dance" biker bar scene from his 1985 comedy "Pee-wee's Big Adventure." On Monday, he was slated to participate in various charity events and host what was billed as the world's largest "Tequila dance" to the tune of the 1958 instrumental by the Champs.

But Woodruff said it would be impossible to officially tally the Tequila dancers.

"There is no way we'd be able to certify it as a world record," Woodruff said. "Who would count it?"

Reubens brought the "The Pee-wee Herman Show" to Los Angeles earlier this year for its first production since 1982.

"It sold out the four weeks it played in L.A.," Reubens said. "It was the first time I was on stage in 20-plus years."

He also is co-writing a new Pee-wee film script with writer-director-producer Judd Apatow, whose film credits include "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

At 57, Reubens' face is a little fuller than in his Pee-wee heyday. But he's still convincing as the quick-witted dork, especially his "heh, heh, heh" laugh, goofy stride and kooky facial expressions. He said he had to slim down before the Los Angeles performances to be able to squeeze into Pee-wee's already too-tight suit.

An impulsive, sometimes naughty child living a fantastical world, the Pee-wee character first made a big splash with the live "The Pee-wee Herman Show," which debuted at Groundlings theater in Los Angeles in 1981. An HBO broadcast of the show spread the Pee-wee gospel across the country later that year, and the 1985 Tim Burton-directed feature film, which was an acclaimed and popular success.

Then came the television series, "Pee-wee's Playhouse" (1986-91), which ran for five seasons, earned 22 Emmys and attracted not only children but adults to Saturday-morning television.

Pee-wee was shelved after Reubens' July 1991 arrest for indecent exposure in an adult-movie house in Sarasota, Florida, resulting in a small fine. Reubens continued to act, playing characters other than Pee-wee, scoring successes as the Penguin's father in "Batman Returns" (1992) and a 1995 Emmy nomination for a recurring guest role on "Murphy Brown."

Pee-wee merchandise -- from beer cozies to bow ties -- was being sold to commemorate Reubens' appearance at the Sturgis rally this week.

"It's pretty surprising how popular Pee-wee is," said Buffalo Chip spokesman Michael Sanborn. "I saw a great big burly biker with a Pee-wee doll."

Reubens said he, too, remains amazed at the power of Pee-wee.

"Maybe I can still pull it off at 80," he said, "if the digital retouching is good enough by then."