From Joe to Bot: My Interview with Donovan Patton

Before I get into the interview, I want to say that Donovan Patton is beyond awesome. He took time out of his family vacation to talk to me, and even better, said hi to my son (who stormed into my "quiet room" at the very beginning of my telephone call exclaiming "I wanna talk to Bot!"... my fault for telling him, HA!) in his Bot voice. Heart = melted. He told me his daughter is almost two, so he understood, because she grabs his phone all the time.

All of the parent talk transitioned nicely into one of my questions...

Tori Michel: Do [your kids] know that you're Joe and that you're Bot on Team Umizoomi, do they recognize you?

Donovan Patton: Yeah, my daughter's almost two now, so every now and again she says "I watch Dada's show?"

TM: So how did you land the job as Bot on Team Umizoomi? I know you did Joe for a number of years and with various incarnations of Blue's Clues, but how did that transition you into being Bot on Team Umizoomi?

DP: Well I knew some of the people that ended up creating Team Umizoomi from my time at Blue's Clues, and they had me audition. At first I was doing a ton of really goofy robot stuff with my voice, that I really probably couldn't repeat right now. (Laughs) It was off the charts ridiculous. They were saying "no, we want him to be friendly!" They liked what I was doing, but it ended up sounding more like my natural voice, with a teeny bit of super hero in there.

TM:Do you get to come up with Bot's exclamations? The "Yoinks-a-doinks!" and "Great Gizmos!", and there was one that I was almost positive was a Star Wars reference briefly.

DP: (Laughs) I think we do toss stuff in there every now and again. It seems like I think of them when I'm at home washing dishes or something like that, and then whenever I'm in the booth, I can never remember them.

I can never remember the right ones. Inevitably you go back to all these technological references that aren't relevant anymore, like "Bodacious Beta-Max!" and stuff like that.

TM: Yeah, I think it was something along the lines of that, that just caught me off guard one day. And I'm a huge geek too, so that made it even better for me watching with my kid... So do you prefer doing voice-over work, or do you actually miss being in front of the camera in a kind of Blue's Clues setting?

DP: Well, there's advantages to both. I can show up to work in my pajamas if I really wanted to. Which I also got to do at Blue's Clues. It was the most comfortable day ever. I don't know if you remember, there was like a bedtime business episode, I basically wore pajamas for the whole episode. It couldn't have been more comfortable. It's really a lot of fun!

TM: One of my readers wanted to know how you kept a straight face through the toilet song.

DP: We did, like, thirty takes for that.

TM: I was wondering if it took a lot of takes for that, like if you didn't just burst out laughing at one point.

DP: We did, we did. A bunch. That crew was a lot of fun. There were like a lot of the same people that had been working on that show on set since Steve was there.

They were the same people from the very very beginning. It was kind of a real fun little family. And we would laugh even when things that weren't as funny as the toilet song... You get involved with a family of people, and I think that's the best way to go about it, really. When you can work with the same people, and you get to kind of know each other's idiosyncrasies, and then be impressed by all the other work that they do. Because there's always more people involved with a show than it ever seems like. I think that kind of happened with Team Umizoomi too. That was a lot of ways... just the look of it. It just didn't have the look of any other show, and it's a fun world to kind of imagine yourself in when you're in the booth. I like the booth too because I just stand around and when I'm talking, you can't get in my way really.

It's like leaving a message on somebody's answering machine. They're not there. You get to say as much as you want. Granted, they get to edit you later. It's a good thing that they do, too, because I get quite verbal.

TM: So, I guess that transitions me nicely... What was it actually like to take over Blue's Clues? I know Steve had such a huge following. I heard his interview with the Moth a couple of years ago, and him talking about having all these millions of kids that are his friends. So what was it like to take over that?

DP: I don't think I still fully grasp the enormity of all of that. Just because you know now I'm seeing it as a parent really. When you make somebody's kids happy it's just, I don't know. I used to call it the sucker punch. You know it's, there's nothing in the world like seeing your kids happy and that there's something that they enjoy. I also see the educational aspects of it too, because my daughter watches it. And I actually prefer when she watches the Steve episodes. (Laughs) That's my personal preference. But she likes them both. She somehow separates it. I was impressed by that, that somehow she'll say "that's Dada's show" but she doesn't call me Joe or anything. (Laughs)

TM: So who recognizes you more when you're out and about? Do the kids recognize you as Joe? Although I guess now some of the kids would be older, although they show replays and stuff. Or do the parents recognize you more, and say "Hey, it's Joe from Blue's Clues!"

DP: Always... almost always the parents will recognize me. And it's usually after a double take or a triple take. I stay a little bit scruffy these days, which is another advantage of the doing the voice-over thing, you can show up to work as scruffy as you want to be! (Laughs) But there was one time on vacation with my family, and there was this little girl. On the top of a mountain. We were in Wyoming, just North of Yellowstone. Kind of like, it was an old fire watching outpost and now it's a museum, and there was this little girl who just pointed at me, and was like "That's Joe!

That's Joe!" So she kind followed me around a little bit. It turned out I had some postcards in my backpack, that were just ones I was carrying around when I had to sign some stuff. So she gets this autograph on the top of a mountain in the middle of, I don't know, nowhere in Wyoming. It was hilarious. And now, every now and again, sometimes people will give me a double take, and then when I talk it all kind of comes together. They can recognize my voice a little bit.

TM: Do you have anything else in the works? Are you doing any actual acting away from kids television?

DP: Yeah, not a ton for kids television. We're just starting up. The episodes we record for Team Umizoomi, I never quite know when they're going to air. Like this one for the Umi Games, I don't even remember when we recorded it! They were obviously very forward thinking. I've been watching a ton of the Olympics lately, and I think I want to be able to do pole vaulting, but it's probably not going to happen. It takes a leap of faith, you've got to be basically upside down. (Laughs.) We're starting up a new season soon. It's an enjoyable job. The people that I work with are just awesome. They're doing some new games and things like on NickJr.com. They're doing a cycling game, I think there's basketball too. Pretty enjoyable stuff. I don't want to give away too many spoilers!

TM: What are some of the cool things you've gotten to do being Joe and Bot? I know you were involved in the getting kids to read on Nickelodeon project that they did for a while, where you read them a book, and stuff like that. But have you gotten to do any cool charity work or anything?

DP: Yeah, the most recent thing I've been able to do, I helped out with a fundraiser for a group called Literacy Inc. They're really, really cool. They do work primarily in the New York area. It's a really neat charity promoting, obviously, Literacy. And some of the best stuff I've been able to do, I've been able to do a few events with the Make A Wish Foundation. I met a few kids through that who are facing life threatening illnesses, sometimes what end up being fatal illnesses. There's nothing in the world that's just something that's amazing on the human level. There's not even anything as a performer like that, it's just a life changing experience. And I've been able to go by in the Joe outfit to the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital a few times. I have a few connections there. And that's a big amazing children's hospital. I think again, now as a parent, I just understand it on a completely different level. Like before when I was doing a lot more of that work, how again you affect someone's kid and you can make someone's kid happier and you can give a kid a little bit of comfort in a time of adversity like that, there's just nothing quite like it in the world. Irreplaceable and incomparable to anything else. It's really neat.

TM: My last question, and it's something I'm going to be asking in all my interviews... what is or was your favorite cartoon character?

DP: When I was growing up, (laughs) I watched a lot of Looney Tunes. The default, I always liked Snagglepuss... (in an impressive Snagglepuss voice) "Stage left, stage right even". The voices. And then Mel Blanc's work. There was an episode where Bugs Bunny met a lion somewhere... and asks him how he wanted his coffee or whatever, and the lion just says in this big voice "Coffee! Dehhhh!" and he asks him, "One lump or two?" [and the lion says] (another impressive voice) "I want a whole lotta lumps!" So I think, yeah. (Laughs.) Oddly enough, I started doing voices way back then. I tried to do all the millions of Mel Blanc voices that there were... Totally incredible. And then I watched a lot of GI Joe and Transformers. (Laughs.) I watched a ton of cartoons, but I think the Looney Tunes were my favorite.

TM: Very cool.

DP: Oh yeah! And you were talking about if I was working on anything else, I got sidetracked a little bit. I just was working on a small movie called "Lies I Told My Little Sister." I don't even know when it's going to be coming out or anything like that. Directed by a guy named William Stribling, a really young director, and starring a woman named Lucy Walters. She's done lots of little things here and there. I don't know about distribution or anything like that, so who knows. IMDB knows about it, so obviously it's out there in the universe.

TM: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me! I really appreciate it!

DP: Absolutely! Say hi to Ohio for me! I miss Kings Island. (Laughs)

We ended our conversation talking about the various amusement parks in Ohio, where I'm from and where he went to college. Thanks again to Donovan Patton for the fantastic chat and to Heather at Nickelodeon PR for setting it up for me!

Read more about Joe and Blue's Clues at my blog at www.TheTVMom.com!