LeVar Burton (@levarburton) is an award-winning actor famous for iconic roles from Kunta Kinte in Roots to Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the host of long-running PBS series Reading Rainbow and the LeVar Burton Reads podcast.
What We Discuss with LeVar Burton:
- How LeVar went from pursuing a vocation in the priesthood to acting in a miniseries that changed the national dialogue about slavery forever.
- What LeVar’s Roots experience taught him about the power of television for education and engagement and how it paved the way for his involvement with Reading Rainbow.
- The questions LeVar asks parents who want their kids to read more.
- What it was like to act in Star Trek with the most expressive parts of his face covered and a head full of technobabble vocabulary.
- How LeVar avoided melting down in spite of international attention from an early age and what he’s done to stay relevant over 40 years in show business.
- And much more…
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LeVar Burton has a diverse resume that — presented in full — would stretch the length of the USS Enterprise. But here’s a brief summary: He landed his first audition for a major role at age 19 to portray Kunta Kinte in the 1977 television miniseries Roots, he hosted over 21 seasons of PBS children’s television series Reading Rainbow, and he played Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He now hosts the LeVar Burton Reads podcast, on which he handpicks his favorite short stories and shares them with us.
I wanted to find out why, despite early success, LeVar never had a Hollywood meltdown. Fortunately, he grew up with strong values and surrounded himself with the right kind of people — and we’ll learn how to do the same. We’ll also talk about the enemies of education and what we can do to make America smart again. This is a tale of self-sabotage, hustle, and resilience, and it’s about someone who has probably influenced almost every single person listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show. And if not? That’s about to change. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
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THANKS, LEVAR BURTON!
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Resources from This Episode:
- LeVar Burton Reads
- LeVar Burton’s Website
- LeVar Burton at Instagram
- LeVar Burton at Facebook
- LeVar Burton at Twitter
- Reading Rainbow
- LeVar Burton Kids
- Star Trek: The Next Generation
- Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
- A Kierkegaard Anthology by Soren Kierkegaard
- Sun Up by Margaret Early
- Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling
- Super Mario Bros.
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- Fahrenheit 451: A Novel by Ray Bradbury
- Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
- Books by Octavia Butler
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
- Noblesse Oblige, Learning to Give
- Shaq at Twitter
- LeVar Burton and Jimmy Kimmel Team Up to Launch ”Tweeting Rainbow” in Response to Reading’s Kickstarter Campaign — Watch! by Alyssa Toomey, E! News
- Reading Is Fundamental (RIF)
- Dolores Robinson at Instagram
- The Suicide Death of Freddie Prinze by Frank Wilkins, Reel Reviews
- Better Help
- WNED and LeVar Burton Terminate Licensing Deal for ‘Reading Rainbow’ by Dru Sefton, Current
- Rick Hanson | The Science of Hardwiring Happiness and Resilience, TJHS 192
- Captain Planet Foundation
- Troy Meets LeVar Burton, Community
- Fun with Flags 2.0 with LeVar Burton, The Big Bang Theory
- Sacramento Has Renamed a Local Park after Reading Rainbow Host LeVar Burton by Jake Rossen
- Technobabble Generator, SciFi Ideas
- Ring Lardner: Stories & Other Writings by Ring Lardner
- The Best Short Stories of O. Henry by O. Henry
Transcript for LeVar Burton | Storytelling the Enemies of Education Off (Episodes 213)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:03] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with my producer, Jason DeFillippo. Today's guest has 26 Emmys and a Peabody for Reading Rainbow. He was Kunta Kinte in Roots. He was Geordi La Forge on Star Trek and is a legit cultural icon. Today we're talking to my man, a.k.a. the Black Mr. Rogers LeVar Burton. I wanted to find out why despite early success, LeVar never had a Hollywood meltdown. He had the right kind of people around him and we'll learn how we can do the same. This is a tale of almost self, almost sabotage, is that a term? Self-sabotage, hustle, resilience, grit, and it's a story of someone who has probably influenced almost every single person listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show. This was such a fun conversation today. I know you're going to love it.
[00:48:00] And I met LeVar through my network where two degrees of separation. I’m teaching you how to do all that networking stuff, you know, reach out to people, stay in touch with them, offer value, get them to know, like, and trust you so that you can help each other out throughout the rest of your life. You know that that's sort of small game-changing set of habits that has totally transformed my life in my business. That's a free course, Six-Minute Networking. It’s at jordanharbinger.com/course and I would love to hear what you think about it and how it changes your life as well. In the meantime, here's LeVar Burton.
[00:01:21] When people come up and see you, do you ever go, “Okay, this person probably recognizing me from Star Trek, but that person recognizes me from Reading Rainbow.”
LeVar Burton: [00:01:28] I've developed a sort of radar and I can pretty much peg it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:01:35] Someone will go like, “Oh, roots.” And you’re like—“I knew it.”
LeVar Burton: [00:01:38] Yeah, yup, yup, yup Star Trek, Reading Rainbow. Sometimes, there's overlap in the Venn diagram, but basically, it's easier these days. I mean, because Reading Rainbow fans are so legion, I think it's maybe two generations.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:01:59] It has to be.
LeVar Burton: [00:02:01] So there are of a certain age. They're kind of easy to spot coming. Sometimes they have books in their hands, which is a bonus.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:12] So that means when you see that, are you like, “Oh yes!”
LeVar Burton: [00:02:16] Yes!
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:17] Impact.
LeVar Burton: [00:02:17] Absolutely. Absolutely. My mother was an English teacher, and teaching is the family business--my older sister, both nieces, my son. If you're a Burton, you're probably in the education business. And I consider that I am too. It's kind of cool.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:45] Yeah, it is cool. I guess teaching is our family business too, but I never thought of it as the family business—Grandpa, mom, me sort of doing this.
LeVar Burton: [00:02:53] Doing this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:54] Yeah.
LeVar Burton: [00:02:54] Educating.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:55] Educating, trying to, and having that sort of like a larger--I thought about becoming a teacher and then I heard my parents and other teachers in my family be like, “Here's all the problems we're having,” and they were all so ridiculous like, “We can't get money for crayons so I need to take your old crayons and bring them into the—” and this was like, “Okay, I can't have a job where your own employer’s working against you.” That's not going to work.
LeVar Burton: [00:03:21] It is a sad reality to this state of education in today's American.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:26] Yeah.
LeVar Burton: [00:03:26] We used to do a pretty good job of educating our kids, giving them what we call a classical education, not so much anymore.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:33] Not so much anymore.
LeVar Burton: [00:03:34] We're much more interested in spending money on weapons of war or engaging in conflict all around the globe so you know, I guess you can't have everything.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:44] No, it seems like we get sacrificed something else for education.
LeVar Burton: [00:03:49] It seems but we haven’t made that choice. Not as far as I can tell. We definitely haven't made that choice. We are full speed ahead on the bombs.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:59] Well, on that cheery note, yeah. Yeah. You have been in the public eye for as long as I can remember because half the time when I was doing the research and reading about you and everything like that, I was like, you know, you have the image of LeVar Burton circa 1987, ‘88 in your head. You don't look that much different, but you had a different haircut.
LeVar Burton: [00:04:20] I have a different haircut for certain and the mustache was bushier, I believe.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:24] That's right. Yeah, it was like the ‘70s stash. That now makes you either look like a traffic cop or a not a traffic cop, a state trooper or somebody who--
LeVar Burton: [00:04:33] A porn star.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:34] Yeah, exactly.
LeVar Burton: [00:04:36] The bushy mustache still makes you look like a porn star.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:38] That's true. That's true.
LeVar Burton: [00:04:40] Handsome more primer version.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:42] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Now, you got to start--your mustache game stepped up. Now you just have to elevate your term game.
LeVar Burton: [00:04:48] My term game and then I'm good. I think I'm a fully realized human being.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:53] You've been active for a really long period of time. I want to get into that in a second, but I heard first you almost became a Catholic priest.
LeVar Burton: [00:04:58] True, true story.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:00] So why did you make the shift to acting? Because it doesn't seem like an adjacent field.
LeVar Burton: [00:05:04] It is actually.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:05] Really?
LeVar Burton: [00:05:06] From my perspective, it is why that's a story I started really reading about different points of view, other than the Catholic point of view. I wanted, I mean I entered the seminary when I was 13, so I was pretty young, but I was committed. And then I had a great teacher. I had a great teacher who was a layman, which is to say he wasn't a priest or a brother. He taught my favorite subject. He taught English, philosophy. He was also the drama coach at the Bartlett and he just introduced me. He gave me books to read—Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, Kierkegaard. I was reading and expanding my mind and the Catholic point of view just felt more and more narrow to me. I just felt I owed it to myself to get out there and come and live in the world before I made a decision like that. And I was looking around for, “So what am I going to do?” I mean, I decided to become a priest when I was around eight or so.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:13] Wow. Yikes.
LeVar Burton: [00:06:14] I know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:15] Because I can understand then like, “Hey, look, you can never be with a woman and you're like eight.” “Fine.” And then you're 16 and you're like, “What do you mean by never? And how flexible are we with this particular regulation?”
LeVar Burton: [00:06:26] So that was a part of it, that was a part of it, certainly. A large part of it was service, the idea of service. My mom, her second career was as a social worker. So I grew up in a family where it was normal to want to be of service. That one's life should be about something greater than one's own pursuits that you should really try and make the world a better place. That's one of the values that my mother instilled, and so in looking around to find out or figure out what I was going to do with my life, the theater arts was something that I discovered that at St. Pius and I really fell in love with it. I figured like, “I could, I could give that a shot.” Plus, now here's where, where the connections began, sort of the overlap between theater and the ministry, the Catholic faith itself is really--the liturgy is very theatrical. The vestments, the costumes, watch me change this is wine into the blood of Christ, this host into the body of Christ. There's some real theatricality in that. I used to have sort of a recurring dream about my first sermon as an ordained priest. The setting would change, sometimes it was in a big church, it was a small church sometimes, but the sense that I was reaching people that I was connecting with them with a message was very powerful. And I feel like I do that in this job.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:03] Yeah. Well, you certainly do.
LeVar Burton: [00:08:04] It's about connecting and providing something of value to people, something that lifts them up and encourages their spirit.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:16] You've got a huge role early on with the acting, with Roots. I think you were 19 right then.
LeVar Burton: [00:08:24] I was 19. Roots was my first professional audition.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:26] Wow. So that's like hitting a massive home run right out of the gate.
LeVar Burton: [00:08:31] 360 feet.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:36] I want to get to why you didn't implode in a second, but I'm curious how Reading Rainbow came out of that because it seems a little bit like an unglamorous role for an actor who just smashed it with Roots. It's like, “Hey, great job starting in this major motion picture as a runaway hit. Now, here are some kids under 10 reading library books and we're going to do a thousand takes of them like crying and yelling at the camera and half of the show is animation.”
LeVar Burton: [00:09:02] I don't think he did nearly that much animation. The connection for me was really clear. Roots really made me aware of the power of the medium of television. I mean on eight consecutive nights of television, this nation was changed. There was an American before Roots and there was an America after Roots and they weren't the same country. Before Roots, it was possible for us to tell ourselves the story that slavery was this unnecessary economic engine. After Roots, we could not even think about slavery. It was impossible to discuss it without holding in mind the cost, the human cost. That's really powerful to have a nation that was built on chattel slavery to sort of rearrange its idea around the impact and as I say, the cost.
[00:10:01] When the idea for Reading Rainbow was pitched to me to use this very powerful medium for engagement, to steer children who are making that decision as to whether or not they're going to be a reader for life. The idea of taking a kid who can read and turning them into a lifelong reader using the medium of television was really attractive to me. Because television at that time, we're talking 1984, I think. And television in the educational community was the evil empire. It was really counterintuitive and I loved that about it and I like I said I had just experienced this massive awareness of just how much good we could do.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:50] Yeah. It's almost sneaky. It's like, “Oh, you're going to sit around and watch TV all day.” “Fine.” “You’re going to spend your summer watching cartoons.”
LeVar Burton: [00:10:56] And Reading Rainbow was originally a summer show and that was part of the idea, to go where kids were during the summer vacation and, and give them something that was fun. Something that was really enjoyable, but it was very self-education. It was stealth and that was attracted to me as well.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:17] It's got to be one of the longest-running shows. It was on 21-plus years.
LeVar Burton: [00:11:21] Well, third behind of Sesame Street, of course, and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:26] That's awesome. Yeah, that's great, and won a ton of awards, which I went over in the introduction, which I will when I record, of course, but that makes sense because three months’ off during the summer is where I essentially forgot every single thing that I've learned in school.
LeVar Burton: [00:11:41] We tend to do that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:43] And I remember thinking the first time --well probably not my first time but one of -- I remember thinking, “I haven't been back to school in awhile. I wonder if my mom just forgot or if I'm just allowed to watch TV every day forever.”
LeVar Burton: [00:11:55] That was your first orientation around summer? This is great. When's the other shoe going to drop? When are they going to --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:03] I thought about asking my mom what was going on and then I thought, better not, because then she might go, “School! Oh, you're right. Pack your stuff. You're going to go back to school.” Yeah, that, that totally makes sense. I'm wondering if the theme song was stuck in your head for the entire 21 year run of the show or if you had some breaks.
LeVar Burton: [00:12:21] It’s still stuck in my head, Jordan. It's still there, and not just in my head, you know?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:29] No, my wife and I or someone's humming it in the house at any given waking moment.
LeVar Burton: [00:12:35] Oh, see. And it's not a bad little ditty. It can be annoying as an earworm, but it also provokes fond memories for a lot of people.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:46] A little nostalgia.
LeVar Burton: [00:12:48] A little bit.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:49] Maybe we can sample it, Jason, for the show. I mean, it might get a sued and run off the air, but we can, we can try a little, couple of seconds. Few seconds.
LeVar Burton: [00:12:57] A few seconds, just a few bars.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:59] Yeah. They can't get that mad about it.
LeVar Burton: [00:13:01] Come on.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:05] I assume you read a lot as a kid. You said your mode of education in the house was primarily reading.
LeVar Burton: [00:13:10] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:11] So did your mom just sort of be like, “Read. You have to do this.”
LeVar Burton: [00:13:15] My mom was a reader and that was as it turns out, really critical modeling and I believe it still is. Parents ask me all the time, “How do I get my kid to read more?” And I asked them generally two questions. Number one, “Do they see you reading?” There's that. And then the other thing is, “What are your child's passions?” If you know your child is passionate about, then you've got a window into what sort of reading material they're going to be interested in, but yeah, the whole idea of seeing my mother read two, three books at a time for her own personal enjoyment was as it turns out, really important information for me to absorb.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:02] It's funny hearing you say that. I didn't really notice until now. My mom is an avid reader. My dad read the newspaper and things like that, but I don't think I've ever seen him really read a book, but at least somebody was reading in the general vicinity of the children, which is good. And in kindergarten, I was like a bad kid kind of getting in trouble, hyperactive. I know a big surprise to everyone here listening or watching this. But then I remember my older friend -- we had split class, it was like kindergarten and then first grade in the same room -- and my friend Corey had their reading book and I was like “Give me that and I tore it away from him before class and I just started reading the whole thing out loud.” And the teacher was like, “What? This idiot can read better than the kids in the class above.” And then she kind of got it in her head that like, “Oh, okay, maybe he's bored reading one sentence, see spot run, see the dog jump when it's like I can just plow through the semester or whatever it was reading a book.”
LeVar Burton: [00:15:00] You were an early reader.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:01] And I didn't even know and neither did my mom. She had no idea. My mom I think knew a little bit, but she wasn't sure, or at least I know the teachers didn't know. And of course, every mom is like, “My kid is smart,” and the teachers are like, “No, your kid's an idiot and you're in denial.” So I was a latchkey kid. My mom was always working, and so there was kind of like a lot of me watching TV or just going and reading stuff in the house and not understanding half of it probably. But I don't even know if that matters at that point. Sounding out words in kindergarten can do pretty, pretty big things, I think.
LeVar Burton: [00:15:38] Absolutely.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:39] Do you remember when you first learned to read? Because I don't know when I learned to read, but I’d know when I realized that I could, which was that moment reading Sun Up in kindergarten, I think that was the title.
LeVar Burton: [00:15:49] Ooh, memories one related to the activity itself. I remember my aunt was visiting from Kansas City and she was reading with me and I got stuck on a word and I thought I knew what the word was, but I was afraid to be wrong. And so I hesitated and hesitated and hesitated and then she said it the word pretty and I was like, “I knew that was the word.” So that was really important for my own sense of confidence that I actually did know how to read. And then the book that I was reading when I got what reading was all about was in third grade, fourth grade -- Captains Courageous, Rudyard Kipling. And when I finished that book I got really sad and I didn't understand. I was overwhelmed with sadness and, and it was because I had left this world that I had become so connected to in the characters. And to this day when I'm reading a particularly good piece of short fiction, I slowdown in the last chapter or so because I know that depression, an inevitable feeling of sadness is going to be a part of the experience when I'm done.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:08] Yeah. It's like saying goodbye to a friend.
LeVar Burton: [00:17:10] Exactly. And that's the power of literature. You make the movie in your head, you invest yourself in the story literally. And that's powerful.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:28] Yeah. You don't feel that way about like, “Oh, I beat Mario Brothers. I'm so sad now.” It just doesn't feel the same.
LeVar Burton: [00:17:33] No, it doesn't, it doesn't have, it's not the same at all. I mean, there's certainly some, you know, positive feeling and benefit from beating a video game, but it's not the same.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:46] It's not quite the same.
LeVar Burton: [00:17:48] Not at all.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:17:51] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest LeVar Burton. We'll be right back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:55] This episode is sponsored in part by Skillshare. Skillshare is an online learning community with thousands of amazing classes covering dozens of creative and entrepreneurial skills. So what that means in plain English is you can take classes in photography, design, productivity, accounting, whatever you want, bookshelf organizing. Jen has taken a bunch of really interesting business classes. She's also taken, I think it was Adobe Audition classes. She edits video now. It's really amazing. She's a self-learner. But if you're anything like that, you'll love Skillshare. So whether this is like a hobby thing or you want to work on some actual professional at work skills. Skillshare has got you covered. And I love learning and I love doing it online from home, from my phone, from my iPad. So join the millions of students already learning on Skillshare today like me. And we've got a special offer for you, two months of Skillshare for free. So you get two months of unlimited access to all the classes. You don't have to give them all a cart. So go to skillshare.com/harbinger. Again, skillshare.com/harbinger two months free, skillshare.com/harbinger and let me know what you find in there. There's so many, I don't even know all of them. So if you find a gem, shoot me a note.
[00:19:04] This episode is also sponsored by Just Crack An Egg.
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[00:19:52] Don't forget, we have a worksheet for today's episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from LeVar Burton. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. Thanks for listening and supporting the show to learn more about our sponsors and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. If you'd like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to Jordan harbinger.com/subscribe. Subscribing to the show is absolutely free. It just means you get all the latest episodes in your podcast players when they're released so you don't miss a single thing from the show. And now back to our show with LeVar Burton.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:25] I wondered if there are any books that didn't make the show that got cut for some reason, like, “Oh, we recorded a segment on this. It turns out the author is a terrible person.”
LeVar Burton: [00:20:35] It didn’t happen. We were very, very, very diligent about the literature that we chose and there was a whole list of requirements that we had for the books in order to be on the show. Like author is
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:47] Like the author is not a white supremacist or something crazy.
LeVar Burton: [00:20:50] I think that was more unofficial than written down as --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:53] Probably don't need to write down.
LeVar Burton: [00:20:54] -- a violent law.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:57] That one isn't natural. But before the Internet though, it's like, “Oh, we didn't know who this person was like fled, you know, to Argentina because he was out at as a former--" Like you don't know that. So now you Google it. Back then it's like, ”What are you going to do? Background check everyone.” “No.” What do you think about books like Huck Finn though being in schools?
LeVar Burton: [00:21:17] Huck Finn is banned now?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:19] In some schools because --
LeVar Burton: [00:21:22] The word nigger.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:23] Yeah. Is that why? I'm drawing a blank. I think that's the reason.
LeVar Burton: [00:21:26] That would be my guess.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:30] I knew that was part of it, but I didn't know if there were other things in there that were --
LeVar Burton: [00:21:34] No, not that I can recall. I think it was a nigger thing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:39] And do you agree with that ore with your position of Roots, it's like, “We need to sort of polish this? This is a thing that was written at that time for that reason.”
LeVar Burton: [00:21:51] Look, this is America. We don't need reasons for people to develop racist attitudes and we certainly don't need to encourage it. So yeah, let's remove that one from the canon.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:12] Yeah, I can understand that. That makes sense. I think I didn't even know about that word until a friend told me not to say it, which is sort of defeats the purpose of telling somebody a new word and then telling them not to use it. It’s kind of what you're saying then, “Hey, look, those kids are going to find out that this, they don't need to study it in school in the novel.”
LeVar Burton: [00:22:32] They don’t need to feed it in school and it doesn't need to be normalized in any way, shape or form.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:38] And I guess they can watch Roots if they want to add a cold dose of what that was like. I was watching that in high school and I remember -- You're right, you do go away from that going, “Oh yeah, I can't really just make this an academic thing anymore. I can't make this a whole X number of people were kidnapped and imported and then you go, ‘Oh, that was terrible. What's for lunch?’ “ It's like you're watching that and you feel that you feel it and you see the blood and you've seen the people going over. I mean it's traumatizing and it's like an inappropriate dose of that for, for kids, especially in high school.
LeVar Burton: [00:23:13] In high school for high school kids, you know, in an age-appropriate way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:21] If we lived in like a Fahrenheit 451 culture, what do you think? It has some people like memorized books in that movie and one woman had a bunch of them and then other people just had one. What do you think would be the book that you would memorize?
LeVar Burton: [00:23:34] No one's ever asked me that question.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:35] Oh, you're welcome. Thank you.
LeVar Burton: [00:23:38] That’s pretty good. That's a good question. Wow.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:42] I'll buy you some time because I thought, “Oh, he's going to flip around on me and ask.” And the only book I ever had memorized was Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. Do you remember that?
LeVar Burton: [00:23:51] I love Shel Silverstein.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:52] I don't still have it memorized, so I'd be useless even in a Fahrenheit 451 culture.
LeVar Burton: [00:23:57] That book is like many of Shel's books, it's a collection of poems. I mean Shel is a master wordsmith. That's a really good book to memorize in a Fahrenheit 451.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:11] Yeah. But I'm imagining them being like, we need the old knowledge. And I'm like, “Well, I do know a poem about kids being stuck in a bathtub and washing each other. Like anyone else got any books memorized?
LeVar Burton: [00:24:25] Oh, so many.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:27] Even if he didn't have to pick like the top one. Do you just have one that comes to mind where you're like, “Yeah, that'd be a good one to know”?
LeVar Burton: [00:24:33] I definitely want to memorize something by Octavia Butler. She was an amazing writer and science fiction is my favorite genre of literature. When I'm reading for pleasure, it's generally science fiction or fantasy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:46] Okay. Yeah. Okay, fair enough, so then you could retail those stories, I guess in the world of Fahrenheit 451. Do you ever feel pressure to be perfect a lot, all the time? And you're kind of like black Mister Rogers, people tell you that probably.
LeVar Burton: [00:25:02] You're the first.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:03] No, get out of here. Are you serious?
LeVar Burton: [00:25:06] Yeah, you're the first.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:07] I'm shocked here.
LeVar Burton: [00:25:07] I've never been called black Mister Rogers before.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:10] Or African-American Mister Rogers? Just checking that this wasn’t a trick. I'm checking this wasn’t a trick because I was telling my wife earlier, I was like, “What if LeVar drops like an F-bomb?” It would be so amazing because of the character juxtaposition in my head versus your real human, obviously.
LeVar Burton: [00:25:29] Right. No, I love swearing. I do. It's very expressive. Use your words, son. Use your words.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:40] I thought for sure people viewed you that way. So I thought, “Oh man, whenever you're in public--"
LeVar Burton: [00:25:44] It does surprise people when I say, “Fuck.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:49] I mean, I'm getting a childish giggle going right now just because of that. But I wonder if you're like out somewhere and if you're ever thinking, “I'm in a bad mood. I'm sick of this BS. This isn't going my way. “And you're like, “There are people watching and they expect me to be in a certain way. I better not have a public meltdown or be annoyed at the airline person or whatever.”
LeVar Burton: [00:26:09] There's a saying in French noblesse oblige -- I don't speak French -- but loosely translated if you are noble in any way, then there is a responsibility that comes along with that, and I definitely believe that to be true. My job when I go out in public is to be LeVar Burton which means to me that when, when people recognize me and want to interact unless I'm eating, then I feel it's part of my job to give them a quality experience of a moment of my time. It's just how I was raised in the business.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:42] Shaq said the same thing. He said, “Unless I'm eating, I'll be cool about it.” He goes, “But if you catch me in a meal, I'm going to tell you now is not a good time,”
LeVar Burton: [00:26:49] I'm going to tell you that this is not the appropriate time for this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:53] that’s fair though.
LeVar Burton: [00:26:54] I'm eating. Right? I'm eating.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:57] I'm clearly enjoying this. The food is getting cold.
LeVar Burton: [00:27:01] If someone who is that unconscious, the first thing out of their mouth is generally, “I hate to disturb you,” which is a lie. You came over here to disturb me. I was eating that nothing could be further from the truth. You could own hate to disturb me. That's your purpose in being here in this moment.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:24] I'm enjoying the shit out of serving you and I want a photo.
LeVar Burton: [00:27:29] Can you just stop what you're doing and pay attention to me.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:31] I don't want a handshake so that you have to go wash your hands again after this and leave your food on the table.
LeVar Burton: [00:27:36] So yeah, but it goes with the territory. You know what I'm saying? It does.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:44] It seems like it probably a small price to pay. I think a lot of us could do with a dose of, “Gee, who's watching, maybe I shouldn't act like an a-hole.” I certainly could use that.
LeVar Burton: [00:27:55] No.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:55] Sometimes.
LeVar Burton: [00:27:56] You?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:57] My wife is like--
LeVar Burton: [00:27:58] Jordan Harbinger, you are the very model of civility and kindness.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:07] So far this morning.
LeVar Burton: [00:28:08] So far.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:09] That's right. How do you sort of parse being part of something that is so universal and also so universally good? Like Reading Rainbow, for example, every kid watched that, whether they liked it or not, it just came on after cartoons if memory serves or Sesame Street or whatever.
LeVar Burton: [00:28:24] Or they rolled in AV cart on Fridays and watched it in school.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:29] Oh, yeah, that's true. I think we did watch it in school early on, like on a reel-to-reel project. If you want to feel extra old, I was a kid watching you, but I was watching reel-to-reel but you were on the reel. Yeah. Yeah. “Close the windows. Time to watch Reading Rainbow.” Teacher has a hangover, which is 100 percet with that was 20/20 hindsight,
LeVar Burton: [00:28:57] But you know, it was good for half an hour. The teacher could turn it on and, and walk away. Leave the room knowing that they would come back and the room would be cool. Everybody would be focused, on the screen. That's not a bad thing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:13] No, it's good. Yeah. For once you're playing a movie or a show where you know they're learning something and not just zoned out.
LeVar Burton: [00:29:20] Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:21] Yeah. I know that you brought a Kickstarter Forward in -- was it 2014?
LeVar Burton: [00:29:25] 2014.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:27] Yeah. And you’d set a goal -- was it a million or 2 million?
LeVar Burton: [00:29:29] A million dollars.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:30] A million. Was that a stretch goal at the time? Because in just under 48 hours, I think you'd raised 2.7 and I think in total was 6.4 million.
LeVar Burton: [00:29:40] 6.4.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:41] And I'm wondering if you were like, “A million. We'll see if we can get it. We'll knock out a couple of seasons,” and then --
LeVar Burton: [00:29:46] No, no, no, no. What we were doing was I had gotten the rights to the brand from WNED and raised a little money, little seed capital, hired a team, built an app, the Reading Rainbow app. And we released on the iPad only in 2012 at WWDC, we actually premiered, okay. The Reading Rainbow app at the Apple Developers Conference. And then I flew to New York and we introduced it to the rest of the world on The Jimmy Fallon Show, which had never happened before. I don't think it's happened since that an app was got air time on a nighttime.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:26] No way. No. Generally, a new app is not newsworthy in any way.
LeVar Burton: [00:30:34] But there you have it. Jimmy obviously a Reading Rainbow kid, he and his sister Gloria. So that was cool. And the idea for the, for the Kickstarter, was to expand our footprint. We wanted to get it to Android tablets and phones and the Kickstarter enabled us to do that and build a website and a specific product designed specifically for teachers to use in the classroom with lesson plans and rostering of 35, 40 kids. I mean it’s a very robust turnkey solution for teachers to use for supplemental reading for emerging readers. And as a result of the amount of money we raised, we’re able to give away 10,000 versions of that school product to title one's classrooms. That was pretty awesome. We accomplished everything that we set out to do. It wasn't, it was never about bringing the television show back. I had already done that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:40] Yeah, that's right. That makes sense.
LeVar Burton: [00:31:43] I wasn't thinking about anymore. I was trying to reach a new audience.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:49] It's the same model that you had before.
LeVar Burton: [00:31:50] It’s the exact same model and it was a pretty ballsy move thinking that I could reinvent a television show as an app. But as it turns out, I was right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:02] It's perfect for an app.
LeVar Burton: [00:32:03] The engagement factor, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:05] Because you see every kid playing with an iPad at the table, kids probably don't even care about TV anymore. I don't know.
LeVar Burton: [00:32:10] We were maybe eight to 10 months into the effort of raising money when the iPad came out and it was like I get now, now I see where we're going, what we can do. Because it was, it was books and videos. It's the perfect delivery system for both of those things especially given that you could animate the books. You could have a little what they call an affordance, interaction. What we did with all of the books that we animated was -- not have something that the child can interact with just for the sake of pushing a button, but to have it be in concert with a narrative to help tell the story. Yet another layer of engagement. At the end of each book, there was a matching game with one of the pieces of art from the book itself and you've picked the tiles and turn them over and you match it and reveal the whole thing. Yeah, I'm really, really proud of the product and now, we have put the whole thing in the hands of RIF, Reading is Fundamental.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:19] Oh yeah, that's right. I remember those ads. Are they ads, PSAs?
LeVar Burton: [00:33:24] PSAs.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:24] From back in the day.
LeVar Burton: [00:33:25] Reading is Fundamental. So their mission is to put millions of books a year in the hands of kids. Often times giving them their first books, the first books that they've ever known. So they were looking for a digital strategy as part of their mission. And we got together and through the generosity of my primary benefactor and investor, we were able to just put the whole thing in their hands.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:50] It's so slick though, cause it makes sense. There are plenty of people that have smartphones that do not have any books in the house. So you might as well give them a book on a smartphone.
LeVar Burton: [00:33:57] Please, in any way we can. In any way, we can.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:01] Wow. I was going to ask if you found it hard with the new Reading Rainbow to compete with things like the Internet and apps and video games because as we said earlier, you looked at TV as the enemy of education, apps or our iPad games as the enemy of education. But it's like what we said that before and this is how we --
LeVar Burton: [00:34:21] This is our anecdote to that. And the same holds true in the digital realm. I believe in the product's ability to engage children, meet them where they are, and then take them where you want them to go and certainly enhance their relationship with their imagination. I think that's a critical skill for human beings to have a connection with their imagination.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:44] What do you think is the biggest enemy of education these days? You know, if it was TV in the 80s, what does it now? Is it the Internet?
LeVar Burton: [00:34:52] No, it's the will of the nation. Or the lack of will to really make this the priority that I believe it should be. It's the same conversation.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:04] Yeah, making it a priority.
LeVar Burton: [00:35:07] Making it a priority. That's the problem.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:10] It's too bad because if it's like a distraction, you can kind of figure out what's more interesting and like with going to an app-based thing, but if apathy, that’s scarier in many ways.
LeVar Burton: [00:35:24] Yeah. And it's more than just apathy. It's a decision that we continually make to spend more money on war than we do on educating our kids. That's a conscious decision that we're making, that adults are making every day.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:38] Yeah, that's a little terrifying.
LeVar Burton: [00:35:39] It should be because it is.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:42] One of the primary things that we do on this show is we teach complex concepts, critical thinking skills, cognitive bias, logical fallacies, things like that. And through conversations like this, or by interviewing somebody who's an expert on a certain topic, and I'll admit I channel you plenty of times when I'm explaining these concepts because people will write it and go, “Oh, this is like Reading Rainbow for adults except for the author comes in and talks about the book instead of somebody who read it.” And maybe it's not quite as kid-friendly, but that's fine. Instead of the emperor's new clothes, we have the rise of AI and artificial intelligence in China, whatever.
LeVar Burton: [00:36:15] You're providing a public service.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:18] I do wonder though, I do sit there sometimes I go, “If I talked about things that were more accessible or even just for--" I noticed shows that are really popular, there'll be like, “Conspiracy theory or comedy,” and I'm just going, “You know, if I just had a dumber audience, it'd be a bigger audience.” And then I go, “No, this is not what we want. And we do not want to cater to that denominator.”
LeVar Burton: [00:36:41] You are reaching those that need to be reached.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:48] That wants to be reached anyway. Yeah. Back to Roots. Why didn't you implode? You were 19. I mean, how come we're not seeing the headlines like, “LeVar Burton pleads not guilty. He says we have to take his word for it.” How come we don't see--?
LeVar Burton: [00:37:03] How long did you work on that, Jordan?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:04] That came to me in the shower this morning? had to add it to my notes and then re-export my notes because I'm like, “I cannot use that.”
LeVar Burton: [00:37:14] Yeah, that was pretty good. I didn't implode. I had a pretty good foundation, family foundation, good values, luck. People cared about me. I had a manager early on, Dolores Robinson who really looked after me really, really, really protected me and helped me navigate what that times were very, very confusing. Success at any age is a process one has to adjust to. There's a process of adjusting to it. No matter how old you are or how young. I was 19 on the cover of Time Magazine and no one all over the world, it was heady, trippy. There were times that I tripped and fell flat on my face, but I always got up. I would not want to have that experience in the current climate of a 24-hour news cycle. And everybody being a journalist with a camera on the street. I really feel for these kids these days. I survived. I survived and I'm glad.
[00:38:28] When Freddie Prinze killed himself. That was pretty alarming because they would say to me, “LeVar, you're such a nice kid. Don't change. Remember Freddie Prinze,” and I was like, “So what is it about me that you think I'm--”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:43] Oh, it's just like reminding you of Freddie Prinze.
LeVar Burton: [00:38:47] And I was kind of confusing but I understood that it came from a good place, a caring place, but it felt like a strange message to send -- Remember Freddie Prinze.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:58] You're doing so well. Don't die.
LeVar Burton: [00:39:01] Don’t blow your brains out.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:02] Yeah. You're just thinking like, “Whoa man, I'm just trying to have a taco here or whatever.” “I'm fine, I'm on Reading Rainbow. I'm doing Roots. Like what do you mean don't--“ Yeah, that would alarm me too because it's kind of like you don't even see it coming. What does everyone else see coming that I'm not seeing it?
LeVar Burton: [00:39:19] What am I not getting? And you know, years of therapy later, years and years of therapy later, I'm still trying to stay out of the headlines.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:32] Oh you tried to stay out of the headlines.
LeVar Burton: [00:39:34] Absolutely.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:35] It's probably a good move. Because if you optimize for getting in the headlines, then you just start doing crazy stuff.
LeVar Burton: [00:39:40] Yeah. That's a slippery slope. I'd rather be known for the work than for my lifestyle.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:45] And you don't feel like, “Oh man, I'm getting less relevant somehow because I'm not in the news cycle.” Maybe it's better to just sort of have that trade-off where you're like, “I have privacy.”
LeVar Burton: [00:39:55] Well, I feel like I've been relevant for 40 years. Just with no small trick.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:01] Yeah, that's it. Absolutely. And that's not what I meant at all. I just wondered if you felt less relevant not being in the news because a lot of people do, whether they're relevant or not, but I think a lot of people aim for the news cycle and they go, “Oh, that felt good. I need to get more of that. Because when that happens, I get more attention, which translates to cash.”
LeVar Burton: [00:40:18] The feedback loop, that I'd just rather avoid. You know, I'm in my 60s and I try not to think like a teenager anymore and have those sorts of pursuits.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:33] I think it's good you got therapy. I mean, therapy keeps sane people sane in my opinion
LeVar Burton: [00:40:38] It's kept me sane. It has.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:42] When I was 19 I don't know if I would have been smart enough to listen to my manager and the people around me because the natural follow-on question is, “Oh, how did you get those people around you?” But that's not even a relevant question for most 19-year-olds because the answer isn't, “Gee, I'm 19 and I'm famous. How do I get a bunch of responsible people to tell me not to do all this fun stuff?” It's how do you even think that you should listen to those people in the first place? And that's probably a function of parenting,
LeVar Burton: [00:41:08] I think. So I grew up with a woman who was a real disciplinary and, and, and, and had expectations of me and it was always really important to me to try and please my mom, at the very least and not get yelled at by her.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:26] To avoid displeasing my mom.
LeVar Burton: [00:41:29] Yes, exactly. So I guess, you know, some of that carried over of being a people pleaser, a lot of actors are.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:36] Really, huh? I guess that makes sense, but I never heard that before. Why is that?
LeVar Burton: [00:41:41] I guess it's just a profession that it tracks that person most of the time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:44] Yeah. I guess most people don't maybe think of that as a stereotypical character trait of an actor, but it makes sense when you say it. I just never thought of it like that, but yeah, I think you're right. I think a lot of actors also realize or they think that, “Look, I'm not a finished product,” so they start delving into that to try on different hats or trying different personalities and then maybe that never gets like cured or satisfied, which is what makes a lot of actors probably really great.
LeVar Burton: [00:42:14] Really good actors.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:42:20] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest LeVar Burton. We'll be right back after this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:25] This episode is sponsored in part by Luminary.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:42:27] If you loved How I Built This by Guy Raz, then you'll have to listen to his new podcast called the Wisdom From The Top, which is only available on Luminary from Guy Raz, the creator of How I Built This, come to chance to slide your chair into the boardrooms, C-suites, and the quarters of top brass. Wisdom From The Top brings listeners into conversations with the leaders helping today's most powerful corporations and organizations offering direct access to the secrets, mistakes, regrets, and winds that define modern leadership and along with Wisdom From The Top, Luminary gives you access to a bunch of other original shows from innovative dynamic creators you can't find anywhere else. The Luminary app is free to download and you can use it to listen to thousands of podcasts, including the ones you already love. All enhanced by an easy to use interface with personalized content recommendations. Whether you're into news and politics, comedy, business, and tech or more, Luminary has the right show for you. If you love podcasts, then you need to check out Luminary. Get your first two months of access to Luminary’s premium content for free when you sign up at illuminary.link/jordan. After that, it's $7.99 per month. That's luminary.link/jordan for two months of free access, luminary.link/jordan. Cancel anytime, terms apply.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:32].This episode is also sponsored by Arm & Hammer’s Cloud Control, cat litter. I have a feeling when I am a parent I'm going to get excited about stuff for kids that I wouldn't normally be excited about, but this is solid cat litter, which I think is kind of funny. I love my cats as you know, I got Momo, the hairless wonder going on in the house and he's more like a dog than a cat, doesn't bite or scratch, plays a little fetch. But what I don't love is the litter box. I mean I think it's nice that he poops in a box and I don't have to take him outside all the time what he wines but still, it does smell a little and it's a little gnarly. There's no cloud of nasties though with the Arm & Hammer’s Cloud Control litter. There's no cloud of -- well there's a cloud of something-- but there's no cloud of nasties in the way that it used to be really annoying. It's 100 percent dust-free, which I like as well because I do worry that I'm inhaling a bunch of that stuff. I'm worried that Jen who's pregnant is inhaling a bunch in that stuff. It's also free of heavy perfumes is so unlike the old ladies that you see walking around the mall, it free of heavy perfumes and helps reduce airborne dander from scooping. So what happens in the litter box stays in the litter box and that's the Cloud Control cat litter by Arm & Hammer, which you can find wherever you find cat litters that are sold.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:44:45] Thanks for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers is what keeps us on the air. To learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. And don't forget that worksheet for today's episode. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you're listening to us on the Overcast player, please click that little star next to the episode. We really appreciate it. And now for the conclusion of our episode with LeVar Burton.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:09] I heard though that you didn't want to audition for parts after Roots for a brief period of time. It was like, “I don't have to do this. I'm LeVar Burton bitch.”
LeVar Burton: [00:45:16] That's part of the learning curve, part of the learning curve. And what I didn't realize was how much I was sabotaging myself by walking into a room with that kind of attitude. And when I realized it, it was like, “Oh my God, that's not a good look.” And in turning it around, I had to remember how much I loved acting and I started looking at the audition process as an opportunity to do something that I really, really love. And now, it's just, “Get in the room.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:49] Yeah. Was there anything that you didn't get or didn't do in your acting career that you think, “Oh man, if I, I wish I had done that as well.”
LeVar Burton: [00:45:59] Yeah, there's got to be some gigs that I didn't get and there you go -- Part of the learning curve.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:08] I just wonder if this self-sabotage as you call it before, do you remember that teaching you a lesson or is it just simply you got over?
LeVar Burton: [00:46:1*] Absolutely, it’s a huge life lesson, a huge life lesson. The idea that your shit doesn't stink is such a fallacy, but we've all been there, we've all been there and luckily I was able to course-correct.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:36] Yeah. Like you had your success kind of front-loaded in that particular era of your life where you had Roots. Because had you done that 10 years of getting rejected or something like that before that you might have just given up. But if you have Roots before and then you go through a couple of months or a couple of years where you're either sabotaging it or you're just not getting parts, you're like, “Well, wait a minute, I know that I can do this because I've done it before.” And then you go, “Oh wait, maybe I'm not that easy to work with or people are getting a vibe that I'm going to be a huge pain in the butt, so I should fix that.”
LeVar Burton: [00:47:10] Oh yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:12] Yeah. Was there a time where maybe your manager said something like, “Look, Roots, good job. You can't ride that forever.” I mean when did you realize, “Oh, I ’m doing this to myself”?
LeVar Burton: [00:47:22] Yeah. It was a process of self-discovery. It really was it and it hit me hard. It really did because in recognizing that I was in my own way there was a certain amount of shame in that. I was ashamed of myself when I realized what I was doing because it's inappropriate and it's just simply inappropriate.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:51] I suppose it's still empowering though to know that it's you doing it to yourself rather than like, “Oh, I'm just not able to do this.”
LeVar Burton: [00:47:57] Well, it's always better to make the discovery and then make the change. It's more rewarding.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:03] How do you recommend other people or how do you prepare yourself for rejection and the hustle that you need to make it in show business? Because I would imagine a lot of people go in and you hear these actors that have done 10 years of auditioning and haven't gotten anything.
LeVar Burton: [00:48:18] You have to have thick skin.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:19] It's like I couldn't do that.
LeVar Burton: [00:48:20] You have to have thick skin. You have to have that sort of a supreme belief in yourself in order to not allow rejection to have that negative impact on you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:33] It's almost a delusional level of confidence.
LeVar Burton: [00:48:35] It is. It absolutely is.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:37] All these 10 years’ worth, these people, they don't get me, I got this. I would be like after several months or a year I'd be like, “Maybe I'm not cut out for this.”
LeVar Burton: [00:48:45] Well, it all depends on why you're in it, to begin with.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:49] That's true.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:50] These days, I mean, a lot of the kids coming up these days, they want to be famous. They don't want to be actors. They want to be famous, and that's a big difference.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:58] Yeah. You kind of need that passion.
LeVar Burton: [00:49:00] Bingo.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:01] Yeah. That's the antidote maybe to that self-doubt,
LeVar Burton: [00:49:04] Jordan Harbinger.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:05] It's almost like I'm learning when you're talking. It's amazing. What about people that say, “I don't feel any passion for any specific thing?” Ever hear that? There's a lot of people –
LeVar Burton: [00:49:17] There are a lot of people do that haven't discovered what their passion is or have surrendered their passion and forgotten what it was. I feel for those folks. That's a tough one.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:27] I don't know how to solve that. That's why I threw that monkey in back there.
LeVar Burton: [00:49:32] That's a real toughie if somebody is in that place where they feel no passion for anything.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:38] I just tell them to get as much as varied and diverse experiences as possible because this isn't something where I was like, “I want to start an Internet radio show. That will be fun where I talk to people." It was like this is completely an evolutionary process where I was like, “I'm talking about how pathetic my dating life is. We should record these conversations. There's no way to distribute conversations. Podcasting is new. It's a great way to distribute conversations. Dating podcasts…interviewing people about dating…I'm sick of hell of dating. Let's interview other people and here we are.” But that's a 12-year process. Nobody goes, “I want to start a podcast and have –" I mean though, some people are way ahead of me on that, but I would never have thought about that.
LeVar Burton: [00:50:17] You discovered podcasting as it was on the ascent.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:21] Sure. Early. Yeah. Early in the game.
LeVar Burton: [00:50:23] You're an early adopter.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:24] Yeah. Yeah. Like your iPad app, I suppose.
LeVar Burton: [00:50:27] And my podcast, you know?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:30] Yeah. LeVar Burton Reads, we'll link to that in the show notes. Of course.
LeVar Burton: [00:50:33] Would you?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:33] Yeah, of course, of course. And it's a great title.
LeVar Burton: [00:50:39] We’re trying to keep it simple.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:40] Very descriptive of what happens in that podcast, which is LeVar Burton reads to us and reads a --
LeVar Burton: [00:50:47] I say at the beginning of every episode, “The only thing that these stories have in common is that I love them and I hope you will too.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:54] Yeah, it's a great tagline and if you missed Reading Rainbow or if you missed reading rainbow, you can always just listen to LeVar Burton reads and instead of somebody reading a story about dragons.
LeVar Burton: [00:51:07] I love that, that the audience of children that used to get book recommendations from me are now all grown up and I'm introducing them to new stories and in many cases, authors that they've never heard of before. I think it's cool. It’s great.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:23] Yeah. That's kind of funny. I didn't really think about that, but you're right. It's like--
LeVar Burton: [00:51:26] Do you do any prep at all? I’m kidding.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:31] None. I had never thought about that. That's a good observation. Like, “Hey, you thought you escaped the gravity of Reading Rainbow.
LeVar Burton: [00:51:39] Not so fast.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:40] Guess what? I'm still reading to you.
LeVar Burton: [00:51:42] I’m still reading to you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:43] I just don't call it Reading Rainbow.
LeVar Burton: [00:51:46] Because I can't contractual.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:48] Because I'll get sued if I do.
LeVar Burton: [00:51:48] I’ll get sued exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:52] That's funny.
LeVar Burton: [00:51:52] That’s bad.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:54] Pesky intellectual property rights. That's funny. Did you try to do something like Reading Rainbow for adults and they were like, “Ah, not so fast.”
LeVar Burton: [00:52:02] No but they got very, very upset when it was being referred to that. I never called it Reading Rainbow for adults, but in launching the podcast a couple of years ago and doing press it. It was something that was kind of an obvious thing and people would remark on that. And the folks at WNED got very upset and they even tried to enjoy me from using the phrase, but you don't have to take my word for it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:26] Really? Oh, that's so inseparable.
LeVar Burton: [00:52:28] I got sued.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:30] I did read about that.
LeVar Burton: [00:52:31] I got sued.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:32] And I assume that at some point your argument was, “Look, this is something I came up with that show. But it's so inseparable from me as a human that like come on.”
LeVar Burton: [00:52:42] The lawsuit was withdrawn and actually what happened was WNED just got blown up with negative comments on their website to the point where they had to scrub it all. I mean, they took a pounding.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:56] Well good because it's kind of like, “What are you going to do? We're not going to use it, but we don't want him to use it. Even though he's been using it for 40 years.”
LeVar Burton: [00:53:02] It got ugly. But then, you know, then it was again, part of a really important lesson for me. That lesson being never try and create a business with somebody else's ID.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:14] Yeah. I have personal experience with that.
LeVar Burton: [00:53:18] Do you?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:18] Yeah. Yeah. I separated from an old company. I was doing a show for 11 years and then my business partners are like, “We want to focus on picking up chicks.” And I was like, “We're 40. This is just kind of sad at this point.” And we have a bigger audience of not just like lonely dudes that we want to serve as and really speak to them and these are our more popular episodes. And they were like, “Cool, you're fired.” So we started over fresh about a year and a half ago. This show is bigger than that last one ever was, just saying, not that I'm competitive with it or anything.
LeVar Burton: [00:53:48] It’s just going to sit might be a good feeling. Right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:51] Of course, it is. It shows that we're able to do it. First of all, it shows you're able to rise from the ashes.
LeVar Burton: [00:53:57] That's right. And also that you have resilience in your bones.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:00] It's funny that you should mention that because that was one of the topics that I thought about as well, especially with respect to the acting stuff, it's funny you should mention resilience because--
LeVar Burton: [00:54:10] Resilience is a beautiful human trait.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:12] Yeah. It's, it's something that a lot of people think is inborn and turns out is built pretty through -- through eating some serious dirt.
LeVar Burton: [00:54:22] Yeah, right, and we've all eaten dirt. But yeah, but we all don't have resilience.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:32] That's true. There are some other catalysts—
LeVar Burton: [00:54:35] There has to be some other factors involved. I mean, I've never studied it, but I would imagine that there's more to it than just encountering adversity. You really have to have -- it goes back to passion, doesn't it?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:49] Yeah, it does. I think you're right, so there's an ingredient there that we’re not seeing because the negative event is the catalyst. It's what says, it's like the fire that burns you away. And then what's leftover is either something that's made out of steel or “Oops, that guy was made out of wood. Gone now.”
LeVar Burton: [00:55:10] I used that image all the time. The beginning part of my life and career and the whole Roots experience where famous celebrities concerned was like walking through fire. And I came out of the fire, a tempered piece of steel. I didn't implode, I didn't self-destruct. I learned how to cope. I learned that it doesn't work to try and satisfy every impulse that I had.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:36] It was a 19-year-old guy, no.
LeVar Burton: [00:55:39] Actually it's a non-sustainable strategy for living.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:46] Literally.
LeVar Burton: [00:55:46] Literally for living and I'm happy for that. I wouldn't change a thing given the opportunity.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:54] Yeah. I can imagine. I mean, you've said in past interviews or at least online that you couldn't have even imagined how rich and fulfilling your life would be now, which is, that's got to feel pretty awesome.
LeVar Burton: [00:56:06] It does.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:07] Like I had all these wild dreams and then I exceeded them. No big deal.
LeVar Burton: [00:56:11] Ah, if I had been given the right to blueprint my life, I wouldn't have been this generous to myself.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:21] That's got to feel amazing. But also, how do you stop from wanting even more than that?
LeVar Burton: [00:56:28] I do. I still have goals. I mean, I feel like I'm in the last third of my life and I want it to be the most productive period of my life. I certainly feel like everything that I've learned up until this point I can pass on. And I want to and I just have other things that I want to do. This would be my fourth career, I think as a writer, I'm just a storyteller and that's what I've discovered about myself. I'm a storyteller. I was born to story tell and I want to do it in as many ways as I can -- acting, writing, producing, directing, podcasting. I’m fulfilling my purpose. I genuinely believe that, Jordan. I believe that we are all here for a reason. I believe that it's really important for us to discover and discern what that reason is. And then pursue it with everything we've got. And that's what I'm trying to do for the last 40 years.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:26] Discovering that reason kind of goes back to our passion discussion.
LeVar Burton: [00:57:29] Absolutely.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:30] So if I say, how do we discover that? It's like, well, now we've come full circle too.
LeVar Burton: [00:57:34] Yeah, follow your bliss. What are your passions? What are you passionate about? That is an indicator as to how you should be spending your time
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:46] It can be scary if you think you can't make a living doing something that you're passionate about, that can be scary. In which case, I think maybe you can make a living doing something. It doesn't have to be something that you're passionate about. You can do that in addition to that. You can find meaning in something else.
LeVar Burton: [00:58:02] if you are not making a living with something you're passionate by doing something you're passionate about or exercise that passion in areas outside of your job, but you have to have some passion for something. You have to.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:19] It's what gets me up in the morning and even when things are bad, you just get back on the horse
LeVar Burton: [00:58:26] Because it's bigger than you. It's bigger than you are and, and, and, and it just makes sense to surrender yourself to something that is larger than you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:37] I know that you seem to be very selective in the roles that you take. I mean, Kwame on Captain Planet, Geordi La Forge.
LeVar Burton: [00:58:42] “Let our powers combined. Earth!”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:47] For example. And I know you've also made some cameos as yourself on shows like Community, Big Bang Theory. Actually, it must be pretty awesome to be asked to play yourself.
LeVar Burton: [00:58:58] It is.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:59] That's got to be where it's like, ”Oh, we just want you to come in as you.”
LeVar Burton: [00:59:02] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:02] “Okay. First of all, rehearsal.” “Handled.”
LeVar Burton: [00:59:06] It is flattering and I love it. If you're lucky, you go through these phases, these cycles. You get famous and then they say, “Well, get me somebody like him.” And if you’re hanging there long enough, they ask for you again. It's kind of cool.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:31] Yeah, it is cool. Is there a personal charter you have for things like, “Okay, this role? All right, it's Captain Planet, so it's good environmentalist stuff. It's going to teach kids consciousness. I'll take that. And then this other role, eww it's just kind of a hacky comedy. I'm not really into that.” I mean like how do you parse those decisions.
LeVar Burton: [00:59:48] I don’t. No. I'm not one of those guys who can do what they want.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:56] What do you mean?
LeVar Burton: [00:59:57] You know, guys like Kevin Costner. There are a lot of actors that can call their shots. They can, “I want to do that.” And then they just go and do that. Or I'm a journeyman. I audition.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:13] You still audition. I guess that shouldn't surprise me but I guess it does.
LeVar Burton: [01:00:17] Like I said earlier, get me in the room. Just get me in the room. I feel like I've done a really good job of taking that, which has come my way and killing it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:29] Yeah. Well, I agree with that.
LeVar Burton: [01:00:31] I didn't play on this, the trajectory of my career. I didn't. So I definitely believe that there's a force that works here that is much greater than myself.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:41] That's got to be such an awesome feeling to be like, “Oh, well, I'm guided by the cosmos or whatever.”
LeVar Burton: [01:00:48] Look at my life, Jordan. Look at my life. I mean I've really considered that I've been kissed by God.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:57] Yeah, that's pretty cool. I mean that's an amazing feeling and I have no doubt that my career represents a force for good. No doubt.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:08] Well I think we're all on the same page there. Like I don't think anybody can be like, “Oh that Reading Rainbow guy, toxic, toxic.”
LeVar Burton: [01:01:16] My whole career has been about making my mom proud. Like you, I was a latchkey kid and I could've been one of those statistics with a single mom who worked nine to five, the blackmailed child.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:36] The statistics are not in your favor on this one.
LeVar Burton: [01:01:37] They weren't. And the amount of love, dedication, support, and expectation that my mother had from me kept me. It was my guiding compass. It was my North Star.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:50] That's probably what kept you from it in part for not imploding because you're like, “My mom is going to kill me if this happens.”
LeVar Burton: [01:01:55] No shit. Erma Gene did not play, seriously. I was afraid of that woman until the day she died. I am not kidding.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:07] I believe you. I believe you. And so she did her job like, “Yeah, my famous A-lister son, he's going to come home for dinner when I say. He's going to be there on time. He will show up to that. I know he's not doing drugs in Hollywood with all those girls.”
LeVar Burton: [01:02:24] You know, they are about to rename a park in my hometown, in my old neighborhood.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:29] Oh, that's awesome.
LeVar Burton: [01:02:30] They're going to put my name on it and my mom's not here to witness that but she would have been really, really tickled. My mom did everything she could to keep us one step, one foot out of the ghetto. And I just love that woman the way I do. She's pretty incredible.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:48] The park is great. I mean, you can't hate a park. You can put one of those library things in there where you take a book and you exchange --
LeVar Burton: [01:02:55] A little free library, maybe we will. It's my park.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:58] That's right. You can do whatever you want.
LeVar Burton: [01:03:00] Whatever I want.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:02] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. That would be on-brand. This is random, but in Star Trek, which I remember only a little bit from, you have this visor that allows you to see, even though your character is blind, but what is that thing made out of in real life? I mean, are you walking around and you can see through it? Because it doesn't look transparent.
LeVar Burton: [01:03:20] It's not. I couldn't see very much about 80 percent of my vision was taken away.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:24] 80 percent. And how are you not just like walking straight into things?
LeVar Burton: [01:03:27] In the first season, the visor was plastic and then in the second season, we refashioned it out of machined metal. But it didn't allow me, I couldn't see above my head, I couldn't see my feet, which was really difficult because my concept of Geordi is that as the chief engineer was that he moved with alacrity with confidence and surety all the time. And I couldn't be searching for, you know, so I had to learn how to navigate using things in the room as points of reference.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:00] Oh my God, as if acting on a set like that is not hard enough. You've got to like not trip on people.
LeVar Burton: [01:04:09] First rule of acting, know your lines. Second rule of acting, don't bump into the furniture.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:12] Yeah, oh my gosh, because you got to walk confidently. You can't be like, ah, and cut. I mean you’re just tripping over cords.
LeVar Burton: [01:04:20] Not as a chief engineer. So it was a challenge. And then there's the whole idea of covering an actor's eyes, which tend to be their most expressive parts of their bodies. There was that, and that was tough. But I think ultimately it made a better actor out of me.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:34] I'm sure. Yeah. Talk about being thrown into the deep end. It's like having to speak a foreign language on set or something.
LeVar Burton: [01:04:41] Yeah. And literally, that's exactly what technobabble is. It's a foreign language. I’m trying to memorize technobabble is because it's not a conversation, it's information.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:53] Yeah, you can't really adlib much.
LeVar Burton: [01:04:55] We can’t adlib at all.
Jordan Harbinger: [010:04:53] That thing is the semiconductor defibrillator. Like you can't mess that up. They got to fix it because somebody who's going to be like, “Hey, that's not what they called that in season one, Geordi.”
LeVar Burton: [01:05:08] it was very exacting. You know, some actors would come to the show to guests and have a difficult time because the language was very, exactly. Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:18] You must have so much stuff you have to memorize. In fact, when you go to something like, like Comic-Con or a convention, do they give you like 15 pages of, “Hey, your character was born here and this is what you did and this is where because there are people that know all of that stuff about everybody from Star Trek or Game of Thrones and do they expect you to know that. I mean you are Geordi La Forge.
LeVar Burton: [01:05:40] Yeah, I make it really clear. I'm not an engineer. I'm a fan of the show, but I'm not an engineer, and I certainly don't remember the minutiae. Of 179 episodes we did, there may be 60, 70. I've never seen or have yet to see.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:57] Oh wow do you have any desire to watch them or are you just kind of like--
LeVar Burton: [01:05:59] Yeah, that's the thing I have that to look forward to for the rest of my life.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:04] That's true.
LeVar Burton: [01:06:05] Encountering an episode that I've never seen because it's on all the time somewhere. So it's fun for me too.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:14] Do you ever like go to Germany and you're like, “Oh, that's me except it’s speaking German.”
LeVar Burton: [01:06:20] I met the German actor who dubbed my voice in Star Trek.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:25] And did you think, “Oh, this guy doesn't really,“ or like, “This guy nailed it.” I think if I find me in a foreign language, I would judge that person positively or negatively. I would assess.
LeVar Burton: [01:06:37] I thought it was cool.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:39] So you felt like, “Okay, they nailed it with my voice.
LeVar Burton: [01:06:41] He did. And for the German audience, that voice is the voice of Geordi La Forge. It's not mine.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:49] Yeah. They hear you in English and they're like, “Eh, not really.”
LeVar Burton: [01:06:52] Not really, that’s not the guy.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:54] That's funny.
LeVar Burton: [01:06:54] Where'd you get this guy?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:55] That's really funny. What are you reading these days?
LeVar Burton: [01:06:58] A lot of my short stories for the pod, almost exclusively. I'm preparing for the pod, choosing stories for the podcast. It's kind of dominated my literature landscape, the short story. But I love short stories. I always have, even as a kid I've heavily into like Ring Lardner and O. Henry. I just think short stories are -- it's such a difficult discipline to create a beginning, middle, end compelling characters oftentimes with a twist that you didn't see coming in 35 pages. That’s mastery.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:32] Yeah, that's a good point. It’s harder than doing it in 200.
LeVar Burton: [01:07:35] So much harder, so much harder. So I really do love the short story form and so that's what I'm reading, a lot of anthologies.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:45] Perfect. This has been amazing. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
LeVar Burton: [01:07:50] My pleasure brother, my pleasure.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:54] Jason, LeVar Burton, epic win. I mean I was pretty damn excited about that and he did not disappoint. I love this story and reading -- It's funny looking back Reading Rainbow influenced me more than I probably, I realize because I feel like I channel LeVar Burton when I'm trying to explain certain concepts and we do have in a way a similar gig, right? Like a media educator.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:08:18] Absolutely. I mean I was not in the Reading Rainbow crowd, but I was in the Star Trek, The Next Generation Crowd. That's for sure. So I grew up with Geordi. He was kind of like my, my go-to Star Trek guy and I eventually got to work on Star Trek and got to meet him at one of the movie premieres that I worked on very briefly. But this time getting to hang out and when he walked in the door, he just oozes cool and was a super sweet to all of us. And I got a hug from LeVar Burton before we left and I was just like, man, that made my year. He's so smart and just so prescient, especially with his new podcast where he picks the stories. So it's like his thing, I've listened to that podcast just incessantly and his story is that he picks her great. So he's got such a great ear for what's out there and man, he's just, he's still kicking ass.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:13] Yeah, yeah. He's, he's very much on top of the game and so I'm excited to see what he continues to do. I think it's great that he's still so passionate about Reading Rainbow to not lose your passion about something for 40-plus years. That's pretty amazing.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:09:27] Yeah, that means you're in the right gig, that's for sure.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:29] That's for sure. Yeah, absolutely. If you want to know how we managed to book all these great guests, manage relationships with them, it's all about systems and tiny habits. Check out Six-Minute Networking. That's at jordanharbinger.com/course. Don't do it later. You know you're not going to do it later. You're just saying you're telling yourself that, but once you need these relationships, you're too late. You got to dig the well before you get thirsty. The drills take just a few minutes per day. It doesn't matter how busy you are. You have six minutes. You spent more time on Instagram than you would of doing these drills. This is the stuff that changed the game for us 10 years ago, I wish I knew at 20 years ago. That's all free and it's at jordanharbinger.com/course. Speaking to building relationships, tell me your number one takeaway here from LeVar Burton. I'm at @Jordan Harbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. There's a video of this interview on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube if you want to see us horsing around with LeVar Burton, and of course there are YouTube only extras in there that you don't get here on the audio feed of the show.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:10:26] This show is produced in association with PodcastOne and this episode was co-produced by Jason “Beam-Me-Up” DeFillippo and Jen Harbinger. Show notes and worksheets by Robert Fogarty. I'm your host Jordan Harbinger. Remember, we rise by lifting others and the fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful, which should be in every episode. So please share the show with those you love and even those you don't. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[01:10:56] A lot of you out there to like to build your network. There's actually a show called Build Your Network with my friend Travis Chappell. It's dedicated to helping people level up their inner circle, build meaningful connections the right way, and ultimately become a better version of themselves. And Travis, who hosted the show, he walks the walk, man. I mean he's a great guy, kind of a new-ish friend of mine last couple of years and he's always thinking about how to help other people get in touch with people. I mean, he's really putting some brain power towards this stuff and he's gunning for the guests. He's got highly valuable and practical advice from some of the best leaders in the world, including Shark Tank panelists, an FBI hostage negotiator. I'll give you a hint who might be several New York Times bestselling authors, billionaires, investors, and more. Like I said, he's going for it, man. He started less than two years ago and now he's got over 275 episodes featuring some of the world's top leaders. And remember, you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I've said that on the show a bunch. You've heard it elsewhere. So search for Build Your Network on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts and start leveling up your inner circle today. The show and its guests have a lot of value and I think you'll enjoy it. You can also find him at travischappell.com/show and will link to that in the show notes.
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