The 2010 VMA Countdown: Pee-Wee Herman Wonders What’s So Funny

The 2010 MTV Video Music Awards are only a few weeks away. The biggest party of the year features nominated clips by Lady Gaga, Eminem, Jay-Z, Ke$ha and Katy Perry and will feature performances by Kanye West, Eminem, Drake, Paramore, Usher, B.o.B and Florence and the Machine (with many more to be announced). In order to properly prepare yourself for what’s to come, every day the MTV Newsroom Blog will deliver a classic moment in the history of the MTV Video Music Awards. Today’s installment: Pee-Wee Herman calls it a comeback.

For obvious reasons, the most memorable moemnts in the history of the MTV Video Music Awards tend to be centered around music. But there are a handful of incidents that had little to do with music and everything to do with the culture at large. The VMAs are often topical and fully entrenched in whatever is happening in pop culture, which is why they provided a perfect venue for Paul Reubens to make his first public appearance since an embarrassing arrest.

Back in July of 1991, Reubens — known to the world as lovable man-child Pee-Wee Herman — was arrested for masturbating in public at an adult movie theater in Sarasota, Florida. CBS immediately pulled syndicated episodes of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” from their schedules (though the show had stopped production of new episodes a year prior) and Toys-R-Us removed Pee-Wee-related toys from their shelves. Reubens was instantly turned into a tabloid figure and became the subject of a perpetual stream of jokes.

So when he walked on stage at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, it was a shock to everybody. Reubens, dressed in full Pee-Wee regalia (something he had not done in over a year), received a standing ovation from the raucous crowd in Los Angeles. He calmly stepped to the microphone and asked, “Heard any good jokes lately?” It wasn’t a comeback or an apology — it was just a guy taking back control. And it happened on the stage of the MTV Video Music Awards.

The 27th annual MTV Video Music Awards will be broadcast live from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on September 12 at 9 p.m. ET.