‘Blue’s Clues’ Steve Burns celebrates milestone anniversary at Illini Union


Cameron Krasucki

Actor Steve Burns speaks with buzz about the time that has pass since hosting “Blues Clues” after his Q&A session at the Illini Union on Thursday.

By Carolina Garibay, Staff Writer

The popular children’s show “Blues Clues” turned 25 last September. 

To celebrate the milestone and share some of his memories and lessons from the show, Steve Burns, the first host of “Blues Clues,” from 1996 to 2002, visited campus on April 7.

But college students, who were toddlers when Burns was the host of the show, know him better as just “Steve.”

After Burns’ lecture, which was followed by an audience Q&A session, buzz sat down to talk with the former “Blues Clues” host about the time that’s passed since he graced the television screens of kids and the responsibility he feels in people’s lives.

buzz: So just to start off, I do want to say that no one is more excited about this interview than my mom. I’m curious if you get that from other moms?  

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    Steve Burns: Yeah. Parents, I think in general, we’re grateful for the show, and also very much co-viewing with their children. Parents often say, “I watched your show with my kid the whole time. I have the whole thing memorized.” They’re very often as much fans of the show as their children are sometimes. 

    buzz: I think it’s impossible to not kind of get kind of sucked into that, too. I also want to welcome you to the University. Have you been here before?

    SB: This is my first time.

    buzz: What do you think of the atmosphere and being here?

    SB: I think it looks to me like the quintessential movie campus. From every movie where they’re at a nice campus. That’s what really sticks in my mind. It looks just like this.

    buzz: And so obviously, being on a college campus, most of these students are probably around the age where, when they were younger, they were watching your show, either live or have cassette tapes we would watch back. What is it like being around that population where you know that so many of these people were probably impacted by your show?

    SB: It makes me feel old. It makes me feel very, very old. I’ve never felt older than when I’m talking to these wonderful kids. But it’s also humbling, and it’s a total joy. It’s a total joy for me to be able to continue the conversation all these years later with the same exact people. It feels very special. 

    buzz: I don’t remember much from when I was a kid, but I do remember watching some of those episodes. And there was one special. It was “Blue’s Big Musical Movie” that you guys did. I’m curious if you have any specific memories of that because that was more of a special feature thing. How was that kind of different than maybe doing episodes?  

    SB: Well, in that, that was the only time where I ever found a clue. That was the only time I ever found a clue, so that was a big deal. And I got to sing a song with Ray Charles, and that was probably the highlight of my whole “Blues Clues” career.

    buzz: And I know you were saying that you can’t sing. But there was a lot of singing, so was it nice to kind of be able to sort of live that out, even if you weren’t great at it? 

    SB: I loved that Steve couldn’t sing, you know? The new guy on “Blues Clues” is a Broadway singer, and I direct the show a lot, now, and I always want him to, not dumb it down, but I want him to feel approachable. I want his voice to sound like anyone’s voice. It shouldn’t feel like an unattainable performance that he’s giving, you know? So I like that Steve couldn’t sing. And actually, as much as I can’t sing, Joe was even worse. 

    buzz: You did mention that that was this fundamentally kind of broken aspect to his character. Could you talk a little bit more about that and how that might have been perceived by children?

    SB: Well, my favorite children’s show characters are all like that. Grover is deeply flawed. He’s a terrible superhero. He does everything wrong, and that makes him so adorable and so approachable and so relatable. Same with Bert. Basically, the puppets that Frank Oz did I like, more so than Big Bird, who is just sort of really nice, and that’s kind of one color. 

    buzz: Yeah, you talked about Barney as well.

    SB: Yeah. But I mean, I’m not knocking Barney or Big Bird. But I’m just saying that’s not what appeals to me. I’ve met a zillion kids, and some of them are really nice and really happy, but some of them are sad, and some of them are angry. Some of them are courageous, and some of them are fearful. I feel like in children’s television and children’s entertainment, we can speak to the whole kid. And it’s easier to do that when you’re doing so from a character that is grounded in reality and realistic behavior.

    buzz: I want to talk about the video that was on the Twitter account, Nick Jr.’s Twitter account in September that you talked about a little bit in the discussion. So you talked a bit about the motivation behind that video. But I was curious what seeing the reaction from so many people kind of meant for you. Did you expect that, or was it different?

    SB: Well, I thought it might be meaningful to some of the fans of the show. I did not think it would get two billion impressions worldwide. And I didn’t think it would break the internet for two weeks. No one did. 

    buzz: Or that Stephen Colbert would bring you on his show.

    SB: That’s a core memory, man. That was just such a wonderful day. What a nice man. I didn’t think that that would happen. And it kind of pulled back the curtain for me and showed me, “Hey, man, the show, all that work you were doing, got through.” It got through, you know, and the truth is, that was my department on “Blue’s Clues.” “Blue’s Clues” was very much run by child development specialists and animators. But talking to the camera and, as I said, in my speech tonight, making it weird and making it all these things it probably didn’t need to be, that was my department. And I realized in that moment that that work really worked and that it actually did connect in a way that was special.

    buzz: And obviously Steve, his main job was teaching kids different lessons. What did you learn anything from fans and from other kids who watch the show?

    SB: Most of the best people I’ve ever met have been four, you know. You learn a lot from kids. You learn a lot about courage and wonder and a sense of play, putting a sense of play at the center of your worldview, I think, is a lesson that we can all learn from the four-year-olds of the world. 

    buzz:  You’ve done a lot, from “Blue’s Clues” to music. And you’ve grown, and you said you’ve learned a lot as you’ve done that. What areas are you looking to grow in next, or what are you still looking to learn?

    SB: The older I get, the less ambitious I become. The more I think about how can I spend my time in the service of other people? How can I spend my time not thinking about me at all? I’m less and less interested in projecting myself into the world and more interested in gardening and volunteering. It’s very me. 

    An Evening With Steve Burns was hosted by the Illini Union Board April 7 at the Illini Union.


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