LeVar Burton hosted Reading Rainbow for an incredible 21 seasons, during which he inspired kids all over the country to love reading and learning. Unfortunately, sometimes his love for books overpowered his patience with the children on the show: Here are the four times he lost his shit on a kid on Reading Rainbow for not knowing the Russian classics.
1. The time he completely lost it as soon as the episode started when a kid asked him if The Idiot had any pictures in it
While LeVar Burton typically opened Reading Rainbow by acting out a lighthearted segment about a topic like mammals or cars, this episode started on a shot of Burton sitting in a folding chair in a near-empty room, showing a group of kids a copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1869 novel The Idiot. As soon as Burton opened up the book to start reading, a 7-year-old boy named Sam raised his hand and yelled out, “Show us the pictures!” Seemingly shocked, Burton looked Sam dead in the eye for what felt like a full minute before saying, “Pictures? You want to look at pictures? Here, see if you can find any pictures,” and handing the book to the now-trembling Sam. Burton then watched the boy flip through the pages, mumbling about how Sam had clearly never read Dostoevsky’s seminal exploration of morality, redemption, and Christian ethics if all he cared about were “pictures of fucking trucks and bears and clowns or whatever the fuck.” When Sam tried to hand the book back to him, Burton refused to take it, saying, “Hey, maybe try taking a look at that tonight if you’re going to be on a TV show about reading, huh? They should call this fucking Looking At Pictures Rainbow, Jesus Christ.” At that point, producers cut to a montage of kids playing double dutch and no one brought up the incident for the rest of the show.
2. The time he stormed off set yelling, “What’s the fucking point?” when none of the kids in a segment about scary books mentioned The Brothers Karamazov
One Halloween episode of Reading Rainbow featured a segment during which LeVar Burton asked kids to name their favorite scary book. He sat expectantly as kids mentioned Goosebumps and Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark before the last child finished and he calmly asked, “Anything else you want to mention?” When she shook her head, Burton ripped off his lavalier mic, saying, “So, you’re saying that patricide isn’t scary to you? Or have you not even HEARD of The Brothers Karamazov, one of Dostoevsky’s MOST ACCLAIMED works?” Burton then turned to an off-screen producer, yelling, “Where do you find the kids for this show? Next time try looking somewhere other than UNDER A FUCKING ROCK.” Still untangling himself from his mic, Burton glared at the assembled children and stomped out of the studio. The show went on as a producer continued interviewing the kids about their favorite books, but the sound of Burton’s car peeling out of the parking lot could be heard in the original broadcast.
3. The time he called a 4-year-old girl “uncultured swine—the lowest of the low” when she identified a photo of Leo Tolstoy as “a grandpa”
After this episode began with LeVar Burton and a group of kids having fun at a bowling alley, it cut back to the Reading Rainbow studio where Burton was showing the same kids a photo of Leo Tolstoy and asking, “Now that we’re finished playing around, who can tell me who this is?” Then, when one girl answered, “A grandpa?” LeVar Burton silently beckoned her to stand up in front of the rest of the children. “You,” he asked, “can’t recognize one of the greatest writers in not only the Russian tradition, but of all time?” When she shook her head he continued on, saying, “People like me have a word for people like you. I won’t use it right now, but know that you are worse than dirt to me. The lowest of the low. Because let me tell you something—you can’t know books if you don’t know Tolstoy. And if you don’t know books, what the HELL are you doing on Reading Rainbow?” Burton then kicked over a bunch of decorative bowling pins on set, muttering, “IDIOT kids, dumber than trash,” while the children silently filed off set.
4. The time he threw a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar in the trash in front of a group of crying children and spent the rest of the show angrily reading Anna Karenina out loud until the credits cut him off
The insect episode of Reading Rainbow from season 15 saw LeVar Burton lose his shit completely. When a little boy presented Burton with a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar to read aloud, Burton wasted no time sneering and dramatically throwing it into a trash can that he pulled on set along with the novelty antennae he had been wearing when the show opened. “Sorry kids,” Burton announced, “we’re going to read a REAL book today.” As the frightened children whimpered, he opened up a faded old copy of Anna Karenina and began on the first page, practically spitting out each word and not getting any less angry as he continued to read. After 15 straight minutes the producers finally gave up and rolled the credits well before the show should have ended.