At FanX, ‘Blue’s Clues’ star Steve Burns gets nostalgic

The beloved children’s host talks about embarrassing moments and the impact the show still has on fans and himself.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Koby Workman as Heavy Weapons Guy walking the hall at FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.

Steve Burns, the beloved host of the children’s show “Blue’s Clues,” took to the Grand Ballroom stage at the Salt Palace Convention Center on Saturday, the final day of the FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention — and it felt like a friend had entered the room, rather than a celebrity.

The crowd — a mix of millennials who grew up on the show, along with parents and kids — were charmed by Burns’ wit and humor, like when he talked about a trip to Antarctica and did an impression of a penguin. He connected with every person who lined up to ask him a question, and demonstrated his talent for animated voices. Those traits combined to put the audience at ease.

A few dressed in the green-striped shirt and cargo pants that were Burns’ signature costume. A few carried stuffed animals of Blue, his animated puppy co-star. One fan outside the ballroom handed out blue pawprint stickers — which Blue, on the show, would leave to mark clues to each episode’s mystery.

Burns was one of the more recognizable celebrities appearing on the convention’s final day. Thousands of fans lined up the entire length of the Salt Palace on Saturday to get into the convention, for vendors’ goods, panel discussions, autograph and photo-op sessions, and to gawk at the many cosplayers in attendance.

Burns zipped through audience questions faster than some celebrities at this week’s convention, but he didn’t feel rushed. He seemed to be as excited to be there as the crowd.

The first fan up to the mic asked what Steve had been up to since college. (When Burns left the series, it was explained to the child viewers that Steve was going to college.) Burns said he had been doing a great many voiceovers — you may recognize his voice saying “Snickers satisfies,” he said — and has been working as a writer, director and producer on the recently revised “Blue’s Clues and You” series. Burns also is a musician, having written and performed the theme song to the sitcom “Young Sheldon,” in which he also has appeared.

Burns found himself getting a bit nostalgic, much like the audience. He recalled his favorite song from “Blue’s Clues” — called “The Planet Song,” in which he teaches about the solar system — and how it produced his most embarrassing moment on the set.

“I was suspended in a harness in midair on a blue screen, because I was singing to the sun,” he said. “It got to the point in the song where I had to look into the camera and say, ‘and Uranus spins on its side’ and we were all adults, but I couldn’t do it. The amount of time it took me to get that out was embarrassing.”

His favorite character on the show, besides Blue, was “Mr. Salt,” he said, and his favorite part of the show was the sock puppet, which he tried to sneak into as many shots as possible. He still has the original sock puppet with him. (He also noted that he “stole” a few items, including the thinking chair and some shirts. He also has his original notebook with the first three clues, but that was a gift.)

Burns also talked about his decision to step away from acting onscreen. “The real answer is I was in every take of every shot, every day on the blue screen of ‘Blue’s Clues’ and it took a lot of energy,” he said. “I had to manufacture this joy, every day, and when I was done I was kind of tired.” He was in his early 20s when he started on the show, he said, and no 20-something is that happy all the time.

On the new show, Burns make occasional cameos; his character, Steve, studied forensics and now runs a detective agency — with, he noted, help from his TV friends. When asked if he would return to hosting the show, Burns said, “I’ll do it, but only if I’ve become the world’s crappiest detective.”

The most resonating moment of his appearance came when Burns talked about the impact “Blue’s Clues” had on viewers and himself.

“’Blue’s Clue’s,’ for me, always felt very small and personal, because my job is to talk to you specifically,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why it worked.”

Burns nodded to a video that went viral last year, in which he talked about Steve’s sudden departure from the show. He said it made him realize just how big of an impact the show had, and that he’s trying to keep that momentum going on his TikTok account.

“I wished that I could have embraced that while it was [happening],” he said. “When someone says ‘You’re a huge part of my childhood,’ it’s very humbling and it makes me cry a lot.” Later, he added that he now understands how evergreen the show is, a rarity for childhood television shows.

He also mentioned the show’s other hosts and even talked about the idea of bringing them all together for a panel at FanX 2023, which would be the convention’s 10th anniversary.

In some ways, Burns said, he felt like a younger, more candid version of Fred Rogers from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” another kids’ show where the host crafted the experience for young children watching — someone who was consistent and there for them every day.

“People often said to me, ‘You were such a role model,” Burns said. “Steve had difficulty with shapes and colors. Without your help, he’d still be trying to decide which one of these snacks is a graham cracker.”

He paused, and mentioned his own struggles with mental health. “I was embarrassed, for whatever reason. But Steve was never afraid to ask for help, and that’s a really valuable lesson that I learned from Steve,” Burns said. “It changed my life. If there’s anything I would hope that Steve taught people, it’s that it’s ok to ask for help.”