Not My Job: We Quiz LeVar Burton, Geordi On 'Star Trek,' On 'Geordie Shore'
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we invite somebody everybody likes and ask him to do something he won't like. It's called Not My Job. So everybody likes LeVar Burton, but the reason depends on your age. If you're an old guy like me, it's probably his starting role in the '70s miniseries "Roots," if you're a little younger, his starring role in "Star Trek: The Next Generation." If you're too young for all of that, maybe you grew up on his PBS show "Reading Rainbow." Kids born today...
SAGAL: ...Might know him from his brand new podcast, LeVar Burton Reads. There's so much he's done. LeVar Burton, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
LEVAR BURTON: Thank you.
BURTON: Thank you.
SAGAL: So am I right? Do you get, like, an array of recognitions from people depending on their demographic and age?
BURTON: I do. There are these three sort of touchpoints in my career. And I'm lucky enough to have hung out for over 40 years.
BURTON: I just refuse to go away.
SAGAL: Well, it's worked out well. I want to ask you - so I saw you for - because I was watching "Roots" when it was broadcast in the '70s, in which you starred. And I'm told that was your first acting job.
BURTON: It was my first - "Roots" was my first professional audition.
ADAM BURKE: Wow.
AMY DICKINSON: Wow.
RASHAWN SCOTT: How old were you?
BURTON: I was 19.
SCOTT: Yeah, wow.
SAGAL: And what were you doing before you decided to have your first audition at 19?
BURTON: Well, I mean, I was studying theater at the University of Southern California. But before that, I was in the Catholic seminary studying for priesthood.
SAGAL: Really? And why did you decide to leave the glamour and the glitz of the priesthood...
SAGAL: ...For the dark and dirty trenches of Hollywood?
BURTON: The sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.
DICKINSON: I think it just proves...
SAGAL: Which one is which?
DICKINSON: No, just...
SAGAL: So you got - you went in. This is your first professional audition for this major TV event for the '70s.
SAGAL: And they're like, oh, you're going to play the lead. And were you like, oh, this acting thing, it's easy?
BURTON: Well, yeah.
BURTON: But then reality set in and so did the rejection. And so...
SAGAL: Well, I was wondering about that because, like, that - I mean, people who were alive then, this was the biggest television event in history. And so I assumed that after it, your ticket was written. You would start...
BURTON: And so did I.
SAGAL: You've done so many wonderful things that people have loved. But I love this - we looked it up. And after "Roots," you had a number of credits. You did "The Love Boat."
UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Cheering).
SAGAL: You did "Fantasy Island."
BURTON: I did.
BURTON: In my own defense...
BURTON: ...On "Fantasy Island," my father was played by Sammy Davis Jr.
SAGAL: Oh, my God. Now, I've got to do this - there's one more thing I'm going to ask about before we get to the good things you've done. You appeared on "Battle Of The Network Stars."
BURTON: Many times.
SAGAL: You - really?
SAGAL: And this was a thing we used to do in the '70s.
BURTON: It was. It was athletic competition between celebrities as filmed entertainment for America.
DICKINSON: So was it, like, you and Loretta Swit doing a 40-yard dash? Or, like...
BURTON: Exactly, right, Amy. Exactly right.
DICKINSON: (Laughter) Scary.
BURKE: Swit was his nemesis (unintelligible).
SAGAL: I imagine there must have been more cocaine on those sets...
SAGAL: ...Just to get through the day.
BURTON: That was the track lines. It was just...
SAGAL: Oh, my God, Jamie Forrest stopped running. He just snorted (unintelligible).
BURTON: All of those people were on those shows.
SAGAL: Eventually, it must have been '86, '87 that the new "Star Trek" started up. And you were recruited by none other than Gene Roddenberry himself...
BURTON: I was, yes.
SAGAL: That is amazing - the guy who started "Star Trek" way back when.
BURTON: It was tremendously exciting. I'm a huge science fiction fan. And Gene Roddenberry's vision was one that really meant a lot to me. It said when the future comes, there's a place for you. Seeing Nichelle Nichols on the bridge of that ship meant that when the future got here, there was a place for people who looked like me.
SAGAL: And you were like, someday, I will be able to kiss William Shatner.
BURTON: Which I have done.
SAGAL: Have you?
SAGAL: I was not aware of that.
BURKE: That wasn't during "Battle Of The Network Stars," was it?
SAGAL: As a matter of fact, Adam, it was.
SAGAL: One of - you, of course, played Geordi La Forge, the chief technical officer - I'm not quite sure...
SAGAL: The chief engineer.
SAGAL: Excuse me.
SAGAL: Excuse me. And one of your specialties was delivering probably the most amount of what the fans call Treknobabble (ph).
SAGAL: And can you remember, off the top of your head, any of those things you had to say?
BURKE: I think, if I remember correctly, half the time the problem was neutrinos, and you fixed it with tachyons.
BURTON: That's right, Adam. That's right.
BURKE: Right. And that was like - I would almost play "Star Trek" bingo, like, with my brothers. Like, it's going to be a tachyon pulse.
SAGAL: Was there ever a moment where you just wanted to say, as Geordi - that - Geordi, report what's wrong, you'd be go - I don't know?
SAGAL: Everything's on fire.
BURTON: Well, one of my favorite phrases that Geordi did have occasion to utter on more than one occasion was coolant leak.
BURTON: Coolant leak.
SAGAL: All during that time, you were also doing this kids' show on PBS called "Reading Rainbow" in which you - you (unintelligible).
SCOTT: (Singing) Butterflies in the sky, I can go twice...
AMY DICKINSON AND RASHAWN SCOTT: (Singing) As high.
BURKE: And do you think you could - do you think you're so good at that that you could instill a love of reading in the president? Do you think you could...
BURTON: Oh, good question.
BURTON: The man has gone on record as saying that he does not like to read.
BURTON: And I believe him.
SCOTT: It's shady under this "Reading Rainbow," LeVar, it really is.
SAGAL: Well, LeVar Burton, we are so delighted to talk to you, but we have asked you here to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: Welcome to "Geordie Shore," Geordi.
SAGAL: Now, as you may know...
SAGAL: ...Geordi, which was, of course, the name of your character on "Star Trek" is also the nickname for the people from Newcastle, a town in the north of England. Did you know that?
BURTON: I did, yes.
SAGAL: OK, we did not know that. We found it out. And...
SAGAL: And apparently, Newcastle, the area, is a lot like New Jersey because MTV set their British version of the reality show "Jersey Shore" in a house filled with Geordies. OK, it's called "Geordie Shore." So we're going to ask you three questions about that TV show, "Geordie Shore."
SAGAL: Answer two of them correctly, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners. Bill, who is LeVar Burton playing for?
KURTIS: Adam Page of Brooklyn, N.Y.
SAGAL: All right. The cast members of the show have become much like their American counterparts - legitimate celebrities in Britain with endorsement deals and even products to sell. Which of these was a real "Geordie Shore" endorsed product you could buy? Was it, A, Geordie ore, a 30-pound chunk of raw iron autographed by the cast...
SAGAL: ...B, L'eau De Geordie, the world's first ever kebab-scented perfume...
SAGAL: ...Or, C, a soda called Cola to Newcastle.
BURTON: I'm going to go with C.
SAGAL: You're going to go with C, Cola to Newcastle.
SAGAL: It was actually L'eau De Geordie...
SAGAL: ...A perfume that was scented like kebabs which apparently was their favorite thing to eat. I don't know. You still have two more chances. Some of the cast members have gotten so famous that they've written memoirs, including star Charlotte Church (ph). Her autobiography was called what? A, behind the fake tan, B, the diary of a shallow girl or, C, "ME ME ME."
BURTON: Good choices all, Charlotte. I'm going to go with a woman with A.
SAGAL: You're going to go with A, behind the fake tan.
SAGAL: I mean, you have to remember these people are sort of on TV because they are narcissists.
BURTON: What I meant to say was C, "ME ME ME."
SAGAL: That's exactly right.
SAGAL: Last question. If you get this right, you win. Many of the stars of "Geordie Shore" went on to star on other British reality shows, including which of these - A, the prince and the chav, in which a member of the actual royal family switches places for a week with a commoner; B, "Ex On The Beach," in which men and women try to strike up a romance at a sunny resort while their exes are there to try to sabotage them...
SAGAL: ...Or, C, the great British snake-off (ph), in which contestants compete to clear clogged drains?
SCOTT: That's good television.
BURTON: And they said that entertainment was dead.
BURTON: Let's go with B.
SAGAL: They're saying B. You went with B. It's B.
SAGAL: Bill, how did how did LeVar Burton do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Well, when you get down to the roots of it...
SCOTT: I love it.
KURTIS: ...He won.
SAGAL: Well done. You can add this to your incredibly long list of achievements.
BURTON: Right to the top of the...
BURTON: ...CV, baby.
SAGAL: LeVar Burton has been entertaining and educating generations of people for 40 years. His new podcast is called LeVar Burton Reads. LeVar Burton, thank you so much for being with us.
SAGAL: LeVar Burton, everybody.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "READING RAINBOW THEME")
CHAKA KHAN: (Singing) Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high. Take a look. It's in a book - a reading rainbow.
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