The Paul Reubens Joke That Hilariously Backfired On The Set Of Gotham

Warning: spoilers ahead for the latest episode of Gotham.

Gotham has a history of choosing wonderfully quirky actors to bring crazy characters to the small screen, and never has the show been so on the nose in casting than when the man behind Pee-wee Herman was hired to play Penguin’s dad. The resemblance between Paul Reubens and Robin Lord Taylor is uncanny, and Reubens brought the perfect balance between sincerely loving and super weird to his performance. Sadly, the relationship was not to last as Penguin’s dad died a gruesomely frothy death after drinking a poisoned sherry meant for his son. According to Paul Reubens, however, the first take of the scene was far from sad.

I’ll tell you, when we were shooting that scene, I decided I wasn’t going to die. The first take of that scene, I just decided, ‘I’m not dying.’ So I drank a sip, and drank a few more sips, then downed the whole glass and poured another one, and said, ‘This is delicious!’ I just went on and on and on, and I looked up, trying not to laugh – I told Robin [Lord Taylor] what I was doing, so he knew, and the script supervisor and the director were looking at each other and the pages – I don’t think they got it! They didn’t get that I was joking around. I didn’t get the laugh I thought I would get. They were just confused and didn’t know what I was doing.

Paul Reubens’ reveal to ComicBook of his off-book interpretation of his death scene as Penguin’s dad – also known as Elijah Van Dahl – is so silly that it’s almost hard to believe that everybody on set wasn’t in stitches, but it does sound like Reubens took the joke well beyond a quick gag or brief blooper. Perhaps the director was too busy wondering if he’d wandered onto the set of an episode of Whose Line is it Anyway? to give Reubens the laugh he was looking for.

Given the silliness of the first take, the actual scene that hit the airwaves was all the more impressive. Elijah’s death featured the dark humor that Gotham always manages when combining the ridiculous with the tragic, but both actors absolutely brought their acting A-game. It was such a great death scene that the only real bummer is that we won’t get any more of the bizarre dynamic between the father and son. Paul Reubens was definitely the highlight of the new cast of characters in Penguin’s life, so it should be interesting to see if the nefarious stepmom and her evil kids prove more interesting now that Elijah is out of the game.

All in all, Paul Reubens was only on Gotham for two episodes, and many of the big beats of his story as Elijah were predictable, but he couldn’t have been a more perfect addition to the ensemble. It’s just a shame that Penguin’s dad didn’t have as much time as Penguin’s mom on the show.

To see how Penguin reacts to the death of his father and whether or not another poisoned sherry will be pushed his way by his new family, be sure to tune in to Gotham on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).