There’s a saying in the entertainment industry: “It’s all about who you know.” Film, television, and theater are incredibly collaborative mediums, and so while artists are always looking for people who are talented, it also helps if the people behind a production know they can work with you in a team environment before you get hired. In other words, people like to work with people they know are good to work with.
So yes, it’s true that Laurence Fishburne already had an “in” with Paul Reubens by the time “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” was going into production, but they didn’t meet while acting together on a previous project. They didn’t meet at a fancy Hollywood party either.
No, they met through a lighting guy.
“Laurence [Fishburne]” I knew already,” Reubens told The Los Angeles Times in 2014. “We did cast Laurence in New York, but — this is such an odd story — I had a high school kid who was the follow spot operator on the ‘Pee-wee Herman Show’ at the Groundlings, and his best friend was Laurence Fishburne, they were both at Hollywood High School.”
“Laurence had already done ‘Apocalypse Now,’ but I only knew him as the sidekick to my follow spot operator,” Reubens reminisced, before remembering an old anxiety. “And I would always be, ‘Are they up too late?'”
(Maybe if Reubens knew everything that happened on the set of “Apocalypse Now,” and the lie Fishburne told to get cast in it, he wouldn’t have worried quite so much about little things like curfews.)