Stevin John credits his 2-year-old nephew for convincing him to give up his job as a camera operator in the Los Angeles film industry to carve out a career teaching and entertaining young kids via the internet.
“I’d sit and watch him viewing the low-quality children’s videos on YouTube and started to brainstorm,” he says. “There wasn’t much educational content that taught kids about how things work, or where things come from.”
John created a character he named Blippi and published his first Blippi video on YouTube in January 2014, doing all of the filming, editing and graphics himself — besides starring as Blippi, an energetic and curious guy with his signature beanie cap, orange suspenders and glasses and a bow tie.
Geared to an audience ages 2-7, Blippi’s videos teach toddlers the basics — colors, letters, numbers and shapes — while other videos take preschoolers on adventures to fun places such as a farm, a children’s museum and a zoo. Still others teach kids about the workings of trucks, tractors, planes, construction equipment, motorcycles and more.
Fast forward to 2020, and Blippi’s videos have grown to include 7.2 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, while Blippi Español in Spanish has 7.8 million subscribers and Blippi Toys has 5.5 million subscribers, according to John.
‘Blippi Live!’ debuts
And now, there’s “Blippi Live!,” a stage show that debuted on Feb. 2 in San Antonio, Texas, and a national tour that’s coming to Pittsburgh for a Feb. 25 performance at the Byham Theater.
John, 31, an Air Force veteran from Ellensburg, Wash., couldn’t be more proud of his latest achievement.
He was in Texas for opening night of the first leg of his live tour, which features an actor in the role of Blippi and a cast of five on-stage friends that include Mo the Mechanic and Farley the Farmer.
“I flew down to watch the show,” he said. “It was just so cool to see kids and parents interacting with Blippi.”
The live show scheduled in more than 25 additional cities incorporates some of the visual aspects from his videos and animations shown on a 12-foot tall, 52-foot wide screen, while cast members sing, dance and interact with the audience.
A typical performance of “Blippi Live!” runs about 80 minutes in length, including a 20-minute intermission.
“It’s definitely been a crazy ride starting with an idea to entertaining thousands of kids at the stage shows,” he said.
The creative force
John plans on continuing to devote his attention to portraying Blippi online, managing the content and distribution of his DVDs and merchandise, and overseeing the concept, scripts and music in his live shows with his agency and production company.
“The main thing I always want to do is to be the creative force behind it all,” he said, “because no one knows the brand more than me.”
Following the current U.S. tour, the entertainer/educator/entrepreneur said the “Blippi Live!” stage show will move to the west coast, and then hopefully overseas to the United Kingdom in the fall.
In creating his “Blippi” videos that launched his enterprise that continues to grow, John says he was inspired by Pittsburgh’s own children’s champion, the late Fred Rogers, who created and hosted the award-winning “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” television show produced at WQED studios from 1968 to 2001.
“I love how he was very sweet to everyone,” he said. “When I talk to the camera, I try to talk directly to a child and grasp my inner Fred Rogers.”
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
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