After his last episode in 2000, Burns left the show, shaved his head, released the well-reviewed indie album Songs for Dustmites, toured the U.K. with The Flaming Lips, rubbed elbows with Darrell Hammond and Judd Nelson in the comedy/horror flick Netherbeast Incorporated, and just wrapped up performing the titular role in Amadeus at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival.
Babble caught him for a time-out on – omigod – the show’s red velvet Thinking Chair, which now resides in a corner of his Brooklyn apartment. –Patricia Chang
When you were filming Blue’s Clues, was there a moment when you thought to yourself, “This is going to be big”?
I never for a second thought it would be big, because it was so different from the conventional form of children’s TV at the time. I thought it was brilliant, but perhaps too strange to be commercially viable. It was interactive, deliberate and challenging, asking kids to literally play along. I looked at it as The Rocky Horror Children’s Show. Who would have thought that kids would talk back to the TV?
On a related note, did you have any idea you’d become a sex symbol of children’s television?
I was one of People magazine’s “Most Eligible Bachelors” one year. That was odd. Well, odd and completely kick-ass. I think it was 2000 maybe? That’s when I realized that soccer moms and stay-at-home moms were a little starved for sex symbols.
Did fans ever write to you?
I got all sorts of things! From kids, it was mostly crayon-scrawled letters of unmitigated kindness. I loved all those letters. They were from kids who would write the funniest, sweetest, most incredible things. Parents would send me cookies, scarves, even some dirty photos. I would receive naked emails – I know Nickelodeon got all this salacious email that they never showed me. It was a very, very strange time.
How did you feel about the character you portrayed on the show – the haircut, clothes, attitude – compared to the way you are now?
Well, the squeaky clean forever-young man-child look proved to be unsustainable as I grew old and bald. I much prefer the way I look now. I’ve simply stolen Moby’s look: shaved head, glasses instead of contacts. I haven’t worn khakis in five years, though I do own the odd striped shirt.
What do you think of the rumors that went around that you, well, um . . . died?
There have been several rumors of my demise. First came the ones that I died of AIDS or suicide; the heroin overdose one – that came later. My mother, when she heard the last one, called me to make sure I was okay. I get it, I understand the reasons for it – it’s fun to corrupt things that are annoyingly pure and innocent. If I were ten years old, I’d think it was funny, too. Right now, more people know that I’m alive than think I’m dead. Once that average tips the other way, and more think I’m dead, then I’ll start to doubt my own existence. Until then, I’ll still think I’m alive. And I’d like to add that I’m not dead, I’m merely decaying – rapidly.
How did being “Steve, the guy from Blue’s Clues” affect your day-to-day life? Any awkward moments?
There were two specific incidents when all of my friends were getting married. Everyone was going to this strip club, and I made it to the door when the coat-check girl recognized me. I said, “Uh, my name is Ed. I live in New Jersey.” And I ran. The second time, I just didn’t go. And I quit smoking – I didn’t want kids to see me smoking.
What kind of reactions did you get when you left the show? Did you get any kind of backlash?
I get several angry letters a month about it – from the center of the country, usually. They’re invariably from Kansas or Oklahoma. Inexplicably, they assume that I am somehow irreligious for leaving Blue’s Clues, accuse me of blasphemy for leaving the show, and ask how I can leave something so good to do something that they don’t understand. A lot of people are resistant to change. Most people think it’s interesting, doing music with psychedelic musicians from Oklahoma.
Speaking of The Flaming Lips, how did you get to tour with them?
In 1999, I heard The Flaming Lips’ Soft Bulletin and it changed my life. I left the party I was listening to it at and bought it and went home to listen to it. I saw them in Chicago and I decided that’s what I wanted to do with my life – so I picked up the guitar and played some songs. I’d met their producer David Fridmann through a friend, and just called him. He was mildly annoyed, but said he’d had a Blue’s Clues party the night before for his kid. I got him to listen to one of my CDs, and he immediately called me back, saying, “Would you like to work on some songs?”
What else are you up to these days? What’s going on with your music career?
I’m working on a children’s album with Steven Drozd from The Flaming Lips. It sounds like a Sabbath record. I have a feeling it will rule your face.