''You can say that I'm different, that I'm freaky, that I'm weird -- you can say lots of stuff about me. But you can't say I'm a pedophile. That's just not a part of who I am. I am not a child pornographer.'' It's taken Paul Reubens -- the 51-year-old impishly odd entertainer who enthralled millions of children (and adults) as Pee-wee Herman, the most subversively quirky character ever to host a Saturday-morning kids' show -- more than two years to finally get that quote off his famously concave chest. Since the day in November 2001 when the LAPD raided his Hollywood Hills home and hauled away hundreds of boxes filled with what Reubens calls his ''vintage art collection'' (and what the L.A. city attorney's office called possession of obscene materials -- minors engaged in sexual activity), he's remained publicly silent. Until now.
Sitting in a suite in a Beverly Hills hotel last week, sipping Diet Coke, looking tired but with the occasional Pee-wee twinkle in his eyes, Reubens talks with ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY for more than two hours about the exact contents of his curious art collection and why he doesn't believe it was obscene. He discusses the plea bargain he agreed to last month -- which includes a $100 fine and a promise to register his address with the police for the next three years -- that ended his latest legal ordeal and how his prior arrest, 13 years ago in a Florida adult-movie theater for indecent exposure, helped him cope with this one. (''That wasn't as serious -- that was like a punchline to a joke -- but I knew this time that I wasn't going to kill myself.'') He takes on his prosecutors and does his best to defend his battered-beyond-recognition reputation. (Lawyers for the L.A. city attorney's office declined to be interviewed, referring instead to a press release: ''[The plea bargain] points out that sexual exploitation of children will not be tolerated.'') ''I can live with who I am,'' Reubens says defiantly. ''If somebody doesn't like me or thinks I'm creepy -- or that I'm a pedophile -- all I can do is say it's not true. Ultimately, I can't change anybody's mind.''
Below, he gives it a try anyway.
EW Okay, so what exactly was in this collection that caused all the problems?
PR Really camp, kitschy, funny stuff from the '40s, '50s, or '60s. Ninety percent of anybody off the street who looked at the stuff would burst out laughing and say, ''You're kidding me.''
EW That wasn't the reaction of the police. They confiscated something like 30,000 items. And they took some computers, too.
PR More than three computers -- which I still don't have back -- but not one thing was found on any of them. They took the backup discs for my computers. They took my Palm Pilot and they took my address book. People should ask themselves, ''What do I have in my house? What would I do if the police came with no warning?''
EW Some people would say they're not worried because they don't have pictures of children engaging in sexual acts.