LeVar Burton, best known for his roles on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Reading Rainbow and Roots, was welcomed warmly by a Fan Expo Canada audience clearly touched by the 35-year career of the actor, director and writer.
Ajay Fry from the Canadian cable channel Space welcomed the actor who, without pausing, walked past the moderator, waved and left the stage. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Fry exclaimed, “LeVar Burton!”
Burton reappeared and reminisced with Fry about the Next Generation reunion held in April at the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo. “I love Space… and the TV channel. Our particular cast is very close and, as some of us don’t live in the North America — no name please, Sir Patrick ass-hat,” the actor said with a grin.
“He was supposed to be here, Ajay. Did you know that?!” he said, referring to Patrick Stewart’s last-minute cancellation. “If you can’t throw your friends under a bus, then who can you throw?”
Burton quickly switched to answering questions from the audience, with the first fan requesting that he sing the Reading Rainbow theme song. Burton, who hosted the PBS children’s program from 1983 to 2006, agreed but only on the condition that the entire room join him. Before starting he asked, “How many people in the room grew up watching the show?” The response was unanimous, prompting Burton to stumble back from his chair. “I love you people!”
Throughout the session, fans thanked Burton for being a positive role model. Many lined up at the microphone to share their own stories and the part he played in their lives, ranging from accepting their own physicality to assisting with their reading comprehension to guiding them into a career in engineering.
Asked what it was like directing guest stars on The Next Generation, Burton said, “I enjoyed it, a lot. Directing the Next Gen cast was never any fun. Your friends tend to be very mean to you and when they get a chance to hold power over whether to make your day as a director or not. Payback, as they say, is – you know. The other cast [guests] were wonderful — I’d work with them any day. The Next Gen cast, not so much.”
A young woman followed by asking, “What is it like to have a catch phrase?”
“I have a catch phrase?” Burton replied. “Yes, ’You don’t have to take my word for it,’” the woman said, referring to his phrase from the “Book Review” segment in each episode of Reading Rainbow.
“I don’t have to take your word for it?” Burton said. “No, it’s ‘You don’t have to take my word for it,’” the woman replied as the audience laughed at the Abbott & Costello routine. “Pretty good,” Burton responded, “but you don’t have to take my word for it.”
Ajay asked, “Obviously you are interested in educating the youth of world. Beyond Reading Rainbow, Star Trek and Roots, you directed a documentary about the science of world peace. Is there anything you gleaned from that experience that you can share with us?”
“It’s easier for human beings to be angry,” Burton said. “It takes consciousness to be kind — and we’re in short supply.”
Asked about his favorite TNG episode, Burton replied, “Any episode where we weren’t wearing spacesuits. I loved it whenever Geordi and Data were Holmes and Watson. I got to wear costumes with pockets! I like costumes where I could put my hands in my pockets. There are no pockets in the spacesuit, did you know that? They didn’t have any pockets. They were always riding up. I like the episodes were I got to put my hands in my pockets.” Ajay quickly added, “I guess you have to keep your hands at the sides, but on most film sets they give you those printouts.” Burton responded, “You see the problem. Everyone had a unique solution. Use your imagination.”
Burton hinted at a possible return to NBC’s Community but confirmed he’ll make another appearance on CBS’s The Big Bang Theory.
Considering his connection to The Family Guy (he’s lent his voice to two episodes), Burton was asked about rumors that Seth MacFarlane is interest in a TV revival of Star Trek.
“I can’t think of anyone on the planet better suited,” Burton answered, “but you don’t have to take my word for it.”