Pee-Wee's Playhouse: Who Plays Jambi & What Does He Look Like Out Of Costume?

If there's one thing that "Pee-wee's Playhouse" doesn't lack, it's a colorful cast of characters. In addition to Paul Reubens' central performance as Pee-wee Herman, the series features a wonderfully bizarre mish-mash of characters, from S. Epatha Maerkerson's mail lady Reba to Alison Mork's voicing of an anthropomorphic chair named Chairry. Some of the characters that fall on the more abstract side of that spectrum may be iconic, but it's harder to tell who their respective actors are. Jambi, the genie who grants Pee-wee's wishes, is one major example — and even longtime fans may be wondering what the actor behind the beloved character looks like when he's not just a green head in a box.

For all five seasons of "Pee-wee's Playhouse," Jambi is portrayed by none other than the prolific actor John Paragon. Funnily enough, Jambi isn't even the only character that Paragon plays on the show, as he also voices the talking dinosaur Pterri in every season except Season 2. Due to their shared origin as members of the Groundlings comedy troupe, Paragon was a frequent collaborator of Paul Reubens' over the course of his career. However, the entertainer also amassed a number of credits in other notable works over the years.

John Paragon embraced comedy and surrealism

John Paragon's first major credit was also the first big on-screen appearance of Paul Reubens' Pee-wee Herman himself. In 1980's "Cheech and Chong's Next Movie," the actor plays a director. It wouldn't be much later that Paragon would cement himself as a staple of the Pee-wee Herman brand, appearing in the iconic HBO special and stage show "The Pee-wee Herman Show" just one year later. After his extended role in "Pee-wee's Playhouse," Paragon returned for the revival of the original stage show in 2010. He also appeared in the 2016 movie "Pee-wee's Big Holiday" as a TV cameraman.

Outside of his devotion to the "Pee-wee Herman" franchise, Paragon appeared in a number of other films and TV shows, many of which are known for their fantastical elements The actor had small roles in 1982's "Airplane II: The Sequel," 1987's "Spaceballs," and 1992's "Honey, I Blew Up the Kid" among numerous other comedies of the time. He also guest starred on iconic sitcoms like "Cheers" and "Seinfeld," while simultaneously recurring in projects based around Cassandra Peterson's horror character Elvira. 

Paragon is one of the "Pee-wee's Playhouse" actors that have passed away, as he died in 2021 at the age of 66. At the time of his death, the now-late Paul Reubens shared a post on Instagram reflecting on his loss. "Over decades, we performed together, wrote together and hung out together," part of the post reads. "In our affection for one another (and our competitiveness), we made each other funnier. We felt magical together, and I think sometimes that translated into the work we created."