In the entertainment industry, as it is in real life, it's inevitable: a squad of up-and-comers (or already-theres) are going to clique up and give themselves a moniker. In the '90s, it was the Pussy Posse, which was comprised of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Lukas Haas, and Kevin Connolly (among a host of others). Back in the '60s, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop ran the Las Vegas scene, and were known by the world as The Rat Pack. Another group of black entertainers—led by Eddie Murphy and featuring Keenan Ivory Wayans, Arsenio Hall, Robert Townsend, and Paul Mooney—ran the African American stand-up circle and were making headway into Hollywood domination during the 1980s, and were known collectively as The Black Pack. But were you up on the fact that the very non-black Pee Wee Herman was also a member of The Black Pack at one point?
This discovery was made via a lazy holiday perusal of the must-follow Movie Premieres Unlimited Instagram page, who (re)shared this genius carousel featuring Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens, Valeria Golino, and Arsenio Hall at the 1988 premiere of Big Top Pee Wee. In the first image is a photo of Pee Wee holding up a pretty dope plaque in the most gangster pose that Pee Wee Fucking Herman could pull off.
"Dear Pee Wee," the plaque begins. "Life at the top is one big circus and we have selected you to become an honorary member of the Black Pack to join the best of us brothers on this 21st day of July 1988." It then has the other members of the Black Pack listed below, wishing him "continued success."
What exactly did the Black Pack do, though? Well, back in February of 1988, the Los Angeles Times published an article on the moves Murphy and his squad were making at the time. According to legend, Murphy announced the existence of this squad during a Beverly Hills Cop II press conference in 1987, and when you look at the names involved, it makes sense. Eddie Murphy's 1987 stand-up comedy special, Raw, was directed by Townsend, with Wayans credited as a producer, as well as a writer (of the hilarious opening sketch).
Wayans—who would go on to create Fox's groundbreaking sketch comedy series In Living Color—also worked with Townsend on the latter's critically-acclaimed 1987 release Hollywood Shuffle, which hilariously looked at the problems black actors faced trying to break out in Hollywood. (They also worked together on Townsend's 1991 melodrama The Five Heartbeats.) Mooney was more than likely the elder statesmen of the crew, not only performing as the opening act for the Raw tapings but appearing on Townsend's HBO special Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime and In Living Color (which he also wrote on during its first season). Of course, Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy were homies; Hall (who's late-night talk show The Arsenio Hall Show began in 1989 and lasted five seasons before being picked back up for a one-season run in 2013) even co-starred in Murphy's 1988's Coming to America, which brought in $288.8 million at the box office on a $39 million budget. Needless to say, when it came to black entertainers consistently winning the very white world of Hollywood, The Black Pack were it.
At the time of the Los Angeles Times article, there was speculation in the air regarding how impactful the Black Pack could be, primarily for the black entertainers following them. "Many blacks in the industry fear that Murphy will lose his autonomy, as others have before him," Gail Buchalter wrote, "if he doesn’t consolidate his power base." One unnamed "black producer" is quoted as saying that while "it’s great that he’s opened doors for his friends," Murphy "hasn’t really put them in the power positions." That's more or less how it happened; while individually, each of The Black Pack members had their success, their collective impact doesn't appear to have thruways into Hollywood in terms of more of Eddie's black homies sitting in power positions, and it might even be fair to say that by the mid-'90s, The Black Pack's late-'80s reign was all but over.
We know what you're thinking, though: "what the FUCK does any of this have to do with Pee Wee being part of The Black Pack?!" Well, that's where the well of information kind of dries up. It's hard to pinpoint why Herman of all people was made an honorary member (or how many other honorary members there may be out there). A Vanity Fair article about The Black Pack from July 1988 mentioned Herman during a trek around his trailer on Soundstage 5 during the filming of Coming to America. "He’s having big fun just sitting here," it was said about Hall. "There’s Barbra Streisand driving through the lot, right past Pee-wee Herman’s circus wagon." One has to imagine that Hall specifically got cool with Pee Wee during that time, and more than likely introduced him to Eddie, as they were all popping in that era. Herman was a guest on this 1990 episode of The Arsenio Hall Show; the two spoke on having offices on the same lot (although Pee Wee's former office ended up going to Jack Nicholson at that point). Herman's only other mention of the Big Top Pee Wee photo was back in the summer of 2019, during a "Wayback Wednesday" post.
Until one of the members of The Black Pack speaks out about this particular instance, that might be all we have on this situation. With Coming 2 America set to drop this December, who knows; maybe Pee Wee will be featured in the film. Maybe Keenan and Townsend and Mooney will make appearances as well. Or maybe, just maybe, Black Hollywood needs its own Black Pack 2020.