It’s time we all finally got a clue.
After about seven years of hosting Nickelodeon’s “Blue’s Clues,” Steve Burns skidooed on out of there, and the preschool world was turned upside down.
Why, Steve? WHY?
Not much explanation was given for Steve’s departure in 2002, and life went on for everyone. Well, it went on for everyone except Steve.
According to the internet, Burns died. One of the first causes was supposedly a drug overdose, but people also said he was killed in a car crash or met some other unsavory fate. That would at least explain why he wasn’t on the show, anyway.
But, Burns himself is now denying those claims.
“I Googled the conditions of life, and I meet every single one of them, I can assure you,” Burns told The Huffington Post in an interview. “I am certainly alive. I know that for sure.” (Burns’ Twitter handle is @SteveBurnsAlive just in case anyone still doesn’t have a clue.)
In our own research on why Steve left “Blue’s Clues,” a predominant theme was that he exited to pursue a music career. The actor’s changing looks supposedly had something to do with it, too. (In a 10-year anniversary “Blue’s Clues” special, Burns said he didn’t want to go bald on a kids show.) But time and time again, music kept coming up as a main reason for his departure.
In fact, Burns is releasing a new kids album, “Foreverywhere,” along with his friend Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips (his fellow collaborator on a previous album, “Songs for Dustmites.”) They’ve even released a video for the first song, “The Unicorn And Princess Rainbow.”
So was a music career the real reason Steve left “Blue’s Clues”?
“That’s actually not true,” Burns told us. “No, no, no, no. People think I left the show to pursue a music career. That didn’t happen at all.”
Burns confirmed that getting older ― and, yes, losing his hair ― had a lot to do with his decision.
“I left the show because it was just simply time to go. I was pretty much playing a boyish, older-brotherish kind of character on the show. I was getting older; I was losing my hair; a lot of the original gangsters on the show, like the people who created it, were all moving on to other careers. It just felt like time. I just had a gut feeling like it was time to go,” said Burns.
He explained that the music came after his departure.
“I certainly wasn’t leaving ‘Blue’s Clues’ to pursue a large music career because that never even happened. That was just a wonderful dream come true, [a] hobby thing that happened after ‘Blue’s Clues.’”
“I was getting older; I was losing my hair; a lot of the original gangsters on the show, like the people who created it, were all moving on to other careers.”
It’s now been 20 years since “Blue’s Clues” debuted, and looking back on the show, Burns described the experience as “surreal.” He expressed his gratitude for being part of it, but admits, “From my perspective, it all feels very small.”
Burns said that acting in front of a green screen was like jumping to the “bottom of a swimming pool” every day. For him, it was very solitary.
“It felt like a dream to wake up and be like, ‘Wait, people watched that all over the world?’ For me, it’s a very different experience than it is for everyone else, but to know that people who watched ‘Blue’s Clues’ now have children that watch ‘Blue’s Clues’ is a real brain-burner, that’s for sure. But it’s all just really cool. Maybe I’m Grover to somebody. That’s awesome. That’s just completely awesome,” he said.
Burns continued chatting on the phone with HuffPost about everything from his new kids album to why “Blue’s Clues” fans don’t believe he’s actually Steve. (He even gets in arguments about it.) Oh, and he did it all from the actual “Blue’s Clues” Thinking Chair, which we would soon find out.
If you weren’t pursuing a music career, what have you been up to?
I’ve been earnestly balding, which takes up a lot more time than people think, and also I’m a voice-over guy. I’ve been a voice-over guy even before and while I was on “Blue’s Clues.” That was kind of my main gig for a lot of it. If you hear a guy on TV that tries to sell you insurance and sounds like the guy from “Blue’s Clues,” that’s me.
Do people still recognize you?
Oh, my God, no. I have to convince people. No, I look much more like Moby if he had a real problem with pad Thai than I do like Steve from “Blue’s Clues.” I really do. I’ve gotten into arguments with people about it.
They just don’t believe that it’s me. I don’t believe that it’s me.
No way. You sound exactly the same.
But, first of all, I am much shorter than anyone expects me to be. I’m bald now. I was rail thin on that show, and I was a child, basically. I’m 43 years old now. I look nothing like that, which I think is kind of fun.
What inspired the new album, “Foreverywhere”?
Nickelodeon, years ago, asked me to write a song about a groundhog, and I happened to be on the phone with Steven [Drozd] when I was reading the email, and I said, “Hey, dude. Is this something you’d want to work on with me? Because when I write songs they’re 40 percent good, and when you help me they’re a million times better.” And he’s like, “Yeah, that sounds really fun.” I went down to Oklahoma, and we wrote that song in no time and had a blast. I think while we were writing the song, we stopped at one point and looked at each other and said, “We have to do a kids record.” As we were writing that song, we were thinking, “Let’s do this in our spare time.” And we started to, and we did. It took forever. It’s kind of the “Chinese Democracy” for kids records.
You said you never pictured yourself hosting a kids show your whole life, so why make a kids album?
I hosted a children’s TV show for seven years and cared about it deeply, and developed a lot of opinions, a real point of view, and really began to develop an enormous admiration for children’s entertainment as something that’s incredibly fun and creative to do. By the time I left that show, I felt like I had a little more in the tank, and it was just kind of a natural thing.
One of the songs on the album is “OK Toilet Bowl.” That might be the best title I’ve ever heard.
Wait till you hear the song, man. It’s a song about courage, I will tell you that much. I was just talking to a child development specialist that I know, and I said, “What’s the one thing, the main issue for children? What makes them tick? What are their fears? What are their hopes when they’re really young?” And they said it’s the toilet bowl. That is their No. 1 fear and concern and aspiration.
More than monsters under the bed?
I think it’s all kind of the same. I think it all goes back to that.
One of the first comments on the video was that you’re in front of a green screen again, and people questioned if you are real or just CGI.
[Laughs] Brilliant. Love it. Well, I directed and shot that in a day in Oklahoma City with my friends and their kids using all the outdated technology I learned while on “Blue’s Clues” in the mid-’90s. That really is just shot on a green screen. I’m probably more comfortable than most people are in that environment at this point, but it felt very natural to jump in front of a green screen again. That’s certainly true.
What is it like seeing all those death hoaxes?
I think the last one I saw was that I wrecked a Dodge Charger, which in a way was the cruelest one because I would never drive a Charger. No real serious offense to Charger drivers, but like, come on. Seriously?
It is great to finally confirm you’re alive.
Yeah, sometimes I wonder [Laughs]. I read those things, and I’m like, “Oh, God, is this all some sort of surreal extradimensional existence that I’m in? Am I somehow undead?”
You once told the The Moth a crazy story about going out with a Playboy model. Was that all true? You got a lap dance in the Thinking Chair?
Things did not progress that far, but The Moth only wants true stories. They are a really great organization ... I compressed a little bit of time, but they want dinner party stories. They want it to be real.
In “Blue’s Clues,” Steve supposedly goes to college and joins the hopscotch team. Did you come up with that?
Oh, we all sat around and thought that would be hilarious.
Joe (Donovan Patton) replaced you on the show. Do you still keep in touch with your brother, Joe?
Not as much as I’d like to. He has a habit of moving to LA. He’s an awesome guy, and he’s so much fun. I loved the couple times we got to work together on “Blue’s Clues.” Those were some of my best memories of the show. I know him. I know his wife. We are definitely friends. I wish I saw him more, but he tends to be in LA a lot.
Before this, I was arguing with my roommates. Could you clear something up? Blue is a girl, right? Is Magenta a guy?
Blue is a girl. Magenta is a girl. In a lot of ways, I was the only male figure on that show. There weren’t many male figures. It was me and the salt shaker and, I think, the shovel [Laughs].
Was that part of the research — why the show included so many female role models?
In many ways, I consider “Blue’s Clues” to be an educational endeavor, first and foremost. I was really facilitating the incredible, brilliant curriculum that the researchers and creators came up with. Every bit of that show was researched and carefully considered to brilliant effect. As funny and wacky and weird as “Blue’s Clues” was, it was so educational, and I’m so proud to be a part of that.
Do you still have one of the Handy Dandy Notebooks?
I’m looking at it right now.
No, you’re not.
I actually am. And I’m sitting in the Thinking Chair. I have the original one. They gave it to me on my 25th birthday, and it sits in my study.
And you’re sitting in it now ...
I’m not kidding you. It sits in my study. It’s a great chair. I still use it all the time.
Do you think in it?
I use it to read books. It’s where I read.
OK, you’re not solving mysteries or anything?
Unless they’re mystery novels.
Yeah, it’s where I read [laugh].
You tweeted that you’re less excited about getting the mail now.
I mean, you get mail, right? Is it ever super exciting? It’s usually stuff you didn’t feel like opening, or homework. It’s essentially people sending you homework. There’s almost no mail I receive in the adult 3-D world that wouldn’t be better sent to me digitally. In the real world, mail is kind of a drag. In “Blue’s Clues,” mail was beyond exciting. It was so exciting that I leapt into the air and screamed.
So you’re not singing the song anymore?
No, but the reason for the big scream at the end is because I couldn’t hit the note, so I just kind of channeled Pee-wee Herman and Grover at the same time.
That’s the best part of the whole thing.
Yeah, we just kind of left it. Actually, the guys who did the music were Mr. Salt and Mailbox, Michael Rubin and Nick Balaban. I think the legend is I just did that as a joke and they’re like, “Nope, we’re keeping it.”
You also tweeted that you’re still upset about the pants.
They were very extreme. I’ve never seen pleats like that outside of an MC Hammer video. They were legitimately extreme pleats. I don’t think “Blue’s Clues” gets enough credit for its innovative work in pant-pleating.
Were they custom-made?
I think they were. I think they were store-bought, but don’t know. Maybe someone that I didn’t see spent a lot of time adding extra pleats to them. The shirts were all handmade.
Yeah, and they were made out of the itchiest wool that any person could find. They were super-duper itchy. I still have a couple of those, too. They’re much cooler in person, too, because they’re much brighter than you think.
When’s the last time you wore the outfit?
I did [a Make-A-Wish event] maybe three or four years ago, and it was challenging because I had to lose a bunch of weight, and I’m bald, but I did it. I got down to fighting weight for it and managed to squeeze back into the shirt. It was what it always was, man. That puts everything into perspective. It’s the most humbling thing ever.
I can’t even imagine.
It’s ostensibly about this child’s wish, but underneath it all, it’s always the child’s wish to make the parents happy. It’s just the most incredible thing.
I was one of the wish granters of the year in 1999, which is the thing that I’m most proud of in my life, and I got an award from David Hasselhoff.
[Laugh] That’s awesome. So what is Steve from “Blue’s Clues” doing today?
Right now, just really focused and excited about releasing “Foreverywhere.” It’s a labor of love and we’re really excited to release it to the world.
Would you ever go back to a kids show? Possibly a “Blue’s Clue’s” revival?
I don’t know how that would work. That’s such a fun idea, though. How would that work? Steve has gone to college and he majors in shapes and colors and he’s in the middle of doing his thesis on shapes and colors and he’s come back very professorial [Laughs].
Why not? When we use our minds and take a step at a time, we can do anything ...
You can check out “Foreverywhere” on iTunes. The full album arrives in February 2017.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Hit Backspace for a regular dose of pop culture nostalgia.