Classic SNL Review: November 23, 1985: Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) / Queen Ida (S11E03)

***** - Classic
**** - Great
*** - Good/Average
** - Meh
* - Awful


  • The cast watches as Pee-wee Herman walks a tightrope between the World Trade Centre’s twin towers and gets attacked by a bird.

  • A short but fun way to open the show. I got a good laugh out of the toy “performing” the stunt between the models of the towers and the bird attack.

  • Rerun alterations: The rerun version is shortened by about 20-25 seconds; most of this was achieved by cutting the cast reactions or putting some of the audio under the Pee-wee shots. There’s also a little more laughter mixed in during the shot of Pee-wee “falling”.

*** 1/2


  • Don Novello and Dan Vitale are both credited as featured players alongside Damon Wayans tonight.

  • Rerun alterations: the audience cheers and applause sound sweetened.


  • Pee-wee Herman gives the audience secret names and dances in big shoes to “Tequila” and “Fever”.

  • This was the kind of playful monologue one would expect from Pee-wee Herman, with him getting the audience to give him a standing ovation, jumping off the stage yelling “Catch me! Catch me!”, interacting with the audience, and at one point, going up to the camera to say “I’m in your living room!” and showing his nostrils. This and the dancing to the SNL Band really helped set the tone for tonight.

  • I got a laugh from Pee-wee’s jealous poo-poohing of Back To The Future while he changed shoes.

  • The third audience member that Pee-wee gives a secret name to (third screencap from left) is future Mr. Show regular Jill Talley.

  • Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening. Pee-wee’s “Stand up! Stand up!” and some of his last lines as the band plays are mixed forward in the rerun.



  • Teenager (Anthony Michael Hall) gives into his friends’ peer pressure until they lead him into a recruiters’ office.

  • A great parody of mid-80s anti-drug commercials; the reveal that the location Hall’s friends lead him to wasn’t a drug den but a recruiting office was especially well done.

  • I also liked the tagline: “The Army: It’s like playing with a loaded gun.”

  • This was directed by Jonathan Demme, who had recently directed the videos for Artists Against Apartheid’s “Sun City” (with Kevin Godley and Lol Creme) and New Order’s “The Perfect Kiss”; Demme’s video for Suburban Lawns’ “Gidget Goes to Hell” appeared on SNL a little more than five years earlier.

  • Writer Bruce McCulloch (better known as a member of The Kids in the Hall and a director in his own right) plays one of Hall’s friends; I’ve heard from a source that the recruiter is Barry Corbin, who later played Maurice Minnifield on Northern Exposure, but I need more confirmation as to whether it is him or not.

  • Rerun alterations: none.



  • Pee-wee Herman doesn’t pick up his tennis partner’s (Randy Quaid) hints that he’s interested in getting a hooker.

  • A little one-note with an obvious punchline, but Pee-wee’s perfectly in-character answers to the hints were the main reason it worked as well as it did.

  • My favorite guesses: “Skeletons! Ahhh!” (to “They do things in the dark”), “An evil mailman” (to “They perform certain acts and you have to give them money”), “A security guard arguing with his friend” (to “They make you feel like a man”).

  • Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening.



  • Pee-Wee Herman has Brooke Shields (Joan Cusack), Diana Ross (Terry Sweeney), Cicely Tyson (Danitra Vance) and more on his holiday variety special.

  • A little long, but Pee-wee carries this, and like much of the night, is still a lot of fun.

  • Joan Cusack does alright as Brooke Shields (Pee-wee gets some funny digs at her), and I liked her childish “I sound like a model!” retort to being told she sounds like a hippy.

  • Terry Sweeney’s Diana Ross voice is a little high compared to the real thing (and there’s the problematic blackface aspect again, though Sweeney was neither the first nor the last white person to portray Ross), but he does well at creating a character for the impression, I laughed at him slapping away the audience members’ hands, and he does have a good voice.

  • Former SNL regular Robin Duke is visible in the audience when Sweeney is in the balcony singing “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)”; next to her (looking less than comfortable) is Debra Winger and then-Nebraska governor Bob Kerrey.

  • Danitra Vance doesn’t really sound like Cicely Tyson either, though I did find it funny that Pee-wee only invited her on the show to set up the sketch with him, Brooke and Diana as hippies in San Francisco. I also got a laugh out of Pee-wee exclaiming “kumbaya!" after one of his lines.

  • The bit with Hall and Downey (on his knees) as Hall and Oates worked, but the best part was Pee-wee thanking them “for not singing their song”.

  • The pilgrim costumed dancer that chases the turkey (and gets chased back) at the end is not Phil Hartman but SNL writer (and Terry Sweeney’s husband) Lanier Laney.

  • Rerun alterations: Moderate audience sweetening, Don Pardo’s introduction of Pee-wee mixed forward.

*** 1/2


  • Pat (Nora Dunn) welcomes depression expert Dr. Vernon Dryer (Randy Quaid).

  • This has already become a recurring sketch a week after its debut, but luckily this is open-ended enough to be brought back so soon. As usual, Dunn carries this, and has some funny business calling an Italian fashion magazine a “book” and giving advice on how to deal with drool on the runway, but Randy Quaid does some nice character work as the depressed doctor, and Dunn plays off him very well.

  • Rerun alterations: Moderate audience sweetening. A small edit cuts out Dunn’s “Dr. Dryer” before she brings up the research into women and depression.

*** 1/2


  • Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris machine-gun down anyone who isn’t American in their new movie.

  • A little too on-the-nose a parody of Vietnam revenge fantasies that were in vogue at the time (Stallone’s Rambo: First Blood Part II and Norris’s Missing In Action 2: The Beginning both came out that year), though the crawl has some funny items.

  • Directed by Paul Guliner.

  • Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening.



  • Pee-Wee Herman shares a holding cell and trades falsehoods with pathological liar Tommy Flanagan (Jon Lovitz) about their supposed criminal careers.

  • Another 1985-86 staple recurring character brought back only a week after its debut, this one is a little slower to get moving, though it picks up once Pee-wee and Lovitz get into their rhythm and the lies get more ridiculous (“They cut off my head every night so I wouldn’t escape!”)

  • Rerun alterations: Replaced with dress rehearsal up to Lovitz telling Pee-wee “I work here”; the main difference is the live show’s delivery is a little more subdued than dress. Heavy audience sweetening.



  • Best jokes: Proctor & Gamble decomposed bodies, small potato

  • Dennis Miller has an OK night, with some funny ad-libs to underperforming jokes. He’s still doing the video footage segments tonight, including one about the “wardrobe limitation talks” between Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev, and a deconstruction of the David Bowie & Mick Jagger “Dancing In The Street” video where he gets some choice jabs at the “middle aged millionaires using their bums to start a fire”.

  • Another early Donald Trump mention, with Miller’s joke about the real estate mogul’s latest project being nicknamed “Trump’s big thing”.

  • Is that writer John Swartzwelder in the photo as the farmer showing off the “small potato shaped like a big potato”?

  • Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello) makes his first SNL appearance in over a year to announce that, after being passed over for Monsignor yet again, he started a schism and named himself Pope Maurice of the People’s Catholic Church (where everyone is Pope), and shows off the different papal outfits available. Typical with earlier Sarducci bits, there are low-key funny elements but the segment runs a little long.

  • Rerun alterations: Mild sweetening on Miller’s jokes, moderate sweetening on Sarducci commentary. Miller’s line at the end of the wardrobe limitation talks segment (“Well, we at Weekend Update can only hope that these differences will be ironed out and one day we’ll live in a world where the First Ladies from both superpowers will buy their clothes off the rack” ) is cut.



  • Pee-Wee Herman tries to help his friends save their business by looking for a bottle of Coke with a mouse in it.

  • Probably the most memorable and “Pee-wee Herman” premise of the night, where the fate of giant plastic dinosaurs is serious enough business even without the trouble of manually emptying Coke bottles one-by-one to look for a mouse in one, or the involvement of Pee-wee’s contacts in Chicago (Damon Wayans and Anthony Michael Hall).

  • Rerun alterations: Moderate audience sweetening. One of Quaid’s lines is also cut from the rerun (“Bring ‘em right in here, Sam. You can take those over there, we already checked them”) and the scene begins on Vitale’s line.



  • An unusual musical guest booking for tonight, but this feels like a throwback to the eclecticism of the guest selection back in the early days of the show, and to be honest, wouldn’t have felt out of place in the first two seasons of SNL. They certainly fit the fun vibe of tonight’s show either way, complete with accordion, fiddle and washboard percussion.

  • Queen Ida (Guillory) and the Bon Temps Zydeco Band had just released “Caught In The Act!” that year, but the two songs they play are from their live set and don’t appear on that record. Queen Ida also switches accordions between numbers.

  • In dress rehearsal, Queen Ida wore a peacock feather headdress.

  • Rerun alterations: unknown; segment paused out of live copy. I assume just remixed audio.


  • Pee-Wee Herman’s teacher Miss Patterson (Joan Cusack) confronts him about the love poems he wrote about her in his notebook.

  • Another sketch that wouldn’t have worked as well as it did without Pee-wee Herman in it. Cusack gives her best performance of the night (and of the season to date) here, even if she does stumble a little in her big speech.

  • Looks like writer Robert Smigel and production assistant Evie Murray are among Pee-wee’s classmates that file out in the beginning.

  • In dress rehearsal, Joan Cusack wore glasses, a different top and a more pinned-back hairstyle.

  • Rerun alterations: Mild to moderate audience sweetening.



  • Cabrini Green Jackson (Danitra Vance) has advice for expectant mothers on cigarettes, alcohol and aspirin.

  • Another recurring character tonight; like the first Cabrini Green Jackson bit, this was a short (two minute) bit with Vance solo on the stage. Again, it feels like they had to cut a longer sketch and had Vance do more of her stage act to fill time, though Vance again is good here, and I liked the “she a whiskey head!” line.

  • Rerun alterations: applause added a few seconds before it starts in the live show.



  • Hal Fisher (Randy Quaid) tells how to get rich quick by exploiting the desperation of motivated sellers.

  • Some great character work from Quaid here, and it nails the shady “get-rich-quick” seminar style, but the piece as a whole doesn’t really land. It felt like they did the same “exploiting motivated sellers” idea a little better in a sketch with Mike Myers a few seasons later.

  • Rerun alterations: Moderate audience sweetening.



  • Pee-Wee Herman ends the show by singing “Sex Machine” with the SNL Band with the cast dancing along with him. A fun end to the show, with the cast, Queen Ida and her band gradually filling the stage behind Pee-wee.

  • OMG at Terry Sweeney’s pants.

  • Damon Wayans can be seen leaving the stage early by going through the theatre doors; Dan Vitale comes on-stage through them a few seconds later.

  • In dress rehearsal, Anthony Michael Hall and Robert Downey Jr. were dressed as Hall and Oates; they appear as themselves here.

  • Paul Reubens’ collaborators from the Groundlings, Phil Hartman and John Paragon, are credited with additional sketches tonight. Eleven months later, Hartman would be a regular SNL cast member and the show’s second golden age would begin.

  • Show photographer Isaiah Wyner’s name is misspelled as “Isiah” Wyner in tonight’s credit roll.

  • Rerun alterations: More applause after Pee-wee asks the band if they know “Sex Machine”. Laughter added after Lovitz falls down trying to put the cape on Pee-wee. Credits run in full.

Final thoughts: A marked improvement over the first two shows of the season, though much of it is because Pee-wee Herman effectively took over the show and gave it a much more fun vibe than usual. Paul Reubens doing the whole show in character worked better than the last time SNL tried it (with Father Guido Sarducci in 1984), mainly because Herman is a goofier and more flexible character, but also due to Reubens’ improv background. There was also a little improvement from Joan Cusack, though there were also some telling signs of the show’s coming reliance on recurring characters (Pat Stevens, Tommy Flanagan, Cabrini Green Jackson) and not knowing what to do with Vance or Wayans.


  • Dinosaur Town

  • Monologue

  • Say No

  • Pee-wee’s Thanksgiving Special

  • The Pat Stevens Show

  • Tightrope


  • Die Foreigner Die!

  • Money Magnetism Seminar


  • Paul Reubens



  • Joan Cusack: 4 appearances [Tightrope, Pee-Wee’s Thanksgiving Special, Dinosaur Town, Love Letter]

  • Robert Downey Jr.: 5 appearances [Tightrope, Say No, Pee-Wee’s Thanksgiving Special, Dinosaur Town, Money Magnetism Seminar]

  • Nora Dunn: 3 appearances [Tightrope, The Pat Stevens Show, Dinosaur Town]

  • Anthony Michael Hall: 4 appearances [Tightrope, Say No, Pee-Wee’s Thanksgiving Special, Dinosaur Town]

  • Jon Lovitz: 2 appearances [Tightrope, Big House]

  • Dennis Miller: 1 appearance [Weekend Update]

  • Randy Quaid; 4 appearances [Locker Room, The Pat Stevens Show, Dinosaur Town, Money Magnetism Seminar]

  • Terry Sweeney: 2 appearances [Pee-Wee’s Thanksgiving Special, Dinosaur Town]

  • Danitra Vance: 3 appearances [Tightrope, Pee-Wee’s Thanksgiving Special, Pregnancy Tips]

featured players

  • Don Novello: 1 appearance [Weekend Update]

  • Dan Vitale: 2 appearances [Big House, Dinosaur Town]

  • Damon Wayans: 1 appearance [Dinosaur Town]

unbilled crew, extras and bit players

  • Al Franken: 1 voice-over [Weekend Update]

  • Lanier Laney: 2 appearances [Pee-Wee’s Thanksgiving Special, Dinosaur Town]

  • Bruce McCulloch: 1 appearance [Say No]

  • Mark McKinney: 1 voice-over [The Pat Stevens Show]

  • Evie Murray: 1 appearance [Love Letter]

  • Robert Smigel: 1 appearance [Love Letter]


  • Paul Reubens: 7 appearance[Tightrope, Monologue, Locker Room, Pee-Wee’s Thanksgiving Special, Big House, Dinosaur Town, Love Letter]

  • Queen Ida & The Bon Temps Zydeco Band: 1 appearance [“La Louisiane, Frisco Zydeco”]


  • April 5, 1986

Known alterations:

  • Audience sweetening:

    • None to mild: Tightrope, Monologue, Say No, Locker Room, Die Foreigner Die!, Dennis Miller’s Weekend Update jokes, Pregnancy Tips, James Brown

    • Moderate: Pee-wee’s Thanksgiving Special, The Pat Stevens Show, Father Guido Sarducci segment on Weekend Update, Dinosaur Town, Love Letter, Money Magnetism Seminar

    • Heavy: Big House

  • Edits: Tightrope, The Pat Stevens Show, Weekend Update, Dinosaur Town

  • Dress substitutions: Big House (partial)

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.