Blippi, a wildly popular YouTube star for the preschool set, announced on Tuesday a live tour throughout the US. But Stevin John, the man who created Blippi and plays him in videos that routinely get over 20 million views, won't be there. Instead, an actor will be playing the “character” of Blippi, an adult man in tight jeans and orange bowtie who delights in learning about fire trucks and tractors. And the only way you'd know that is if you bothered to read the fine print on the Blippi Live website.
Parents are pissed.
“I’m livid,” said Dana Oliver, who spent about $400 on three 6th row tickets plus two meet and greet tickets to take her kid to see the Toronto show. “I’m trying to get a refund.”
Blippi has achieved tremendous success on YouTube with live-action videos in which he explores playgrounds, children’s museums, farms, zoos, and various pieces of heavy machinery. For parents who know that YouTube is a sea of garbage and horrors for young kids, Blippi is a welcome island of wholesome entertainment. You can put on a Blippi video for your kid and not worry that they might be gored or abused. Blippi may not be as educational as Sesame Street, but he’s safe.
John, the man behind the orange hat and glasses of Blippi, has parlayed this success into an empire. Ad revenue from YouTube varies widely, but an estimate from analytics firm Social Blade suggests he could easily be raking in between $100,000 and $1.6 million per month in YouTube ads alone. John has his own production facility in Las Vegas with employees who shoot, edit, and animate his videos. There’s also a line of Blippi merchandise sold on his site and Amazon — Blippi costumes, shirts, dolls, even a line of sneakers in his signature blue and orange.
The live tour was announced Tuesday on the official Blippi Facebook page. The post did not mention that Blippi would be played by someone else.
"I won't be on the road, but I am obviously extremely involved with the whole process," John told Billboard about the tour. "Blippi is as a character and I'm the creative force behind it, but since YouTube is a monster and all of these platforms are really crazy I can't go on the road for many weeks or months at a time."
Stephen Shaw, the producer and promoter of the Blippi Live show, told BuzzFeed News over email, "We felt we made the announcement abundantly clear in the Billboard Exclusive Announcement that Stevin would not be going on tour and playing the role of Blippi in the live stage show." Shaw said they will be sending out a letter to ticket holders reminding them Stevin John will not be appearing and offering a refund.
Ticket prices for the 30 shows on the Blippi Tour range from $26 to $70 on Ticketmaster (plus fees), depending on the venue. A “meet and greet” after the show (with the actor, who has yet to be named, playing Blippi) costs an additional $40 to $51 depending on the city.
“I didn’t find out until 5 seconds after I submitted my payment and Ticketmaster refused to refund me,” said Angelina Sakowski, who spent $126 on tickets to the New Jersey show. “Ticketmaster didn’t seem to have any info about it being an actor on their website. The info is buried on the bottom of the FAQ page on Blippi’s website.”
Ticketmaster has inconsistent messaging on the details of the event. On the page for the Daytona, Florida, meet and greet, there is a small disclaimer at the top right of the screen that says Blippi will be played by an actor. On the Ticketmaster pages for other cities, this warning doesn’t exist at all. Ticketmaster told BuzzFeed News that it would be issuing refunds upon request.
On the BlippiLive.com website, this isn’t made very clear either: It’s tucked away in one of 12 questions in a separate FAQ section of the site, along with questions like “Should I bring a camera?” and “How long is the show?”
As news of Blippi's absence from the event began to make the rounds, angry parents who had shelled out big bucks for their kids to see some rando dressed up like Blippi raged.
“I called Ticketmaster and argued with them as they were equating it to Disney on Ice and him being a ‘character,’” said a mother who spent $460 on tickets and meet-and-greet packages for her family of four, and who ultimately got a refund. “But I argued that he IS the character and it would be like the Wiggles touring with replacements!”
This isn’t the first time Blippi has stirred up controversy. Earlier this year, BuzzFeed News reported that in 2013, before John created the Blippi character, he made gross-out comedy videos under the name “Steezy Grossman.” One of these videos had some viral success, and John (as Steezy) appeared on podcasts to promote it.
The video was a riff on the “Harlem Shake” meme that had a brief moment of popularity in early 2013. In Steezy Grossman’s version (which has been largely scrubbed from the internet, thanks to John’s lawyer issuing DMCA takedowns) Steezy perches on a toilet, hovering — pantsless — above his completely nude friend, who is lying on the floor.
When the beat drops, Steezy takes a real, explosive shit that lands all over his friend, splatting the walls. It is gross and hilarious, but not what you’d expect from a future children’s entertainer.
“At the time, I thought this sort of thing was funny, but really it was stupid and tasteless, and I regret having ever done it,” John said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
While doing Jackass-inspired toilet humor doesn’t preclude someone from also making wholesome kids videos, John's quest to go viral at any cost — including pooping on his friend — suggests a cynical view of content creation. He may be emulating something like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood by creating live-action kids entertainment, but unlike Fred Rogers, he’s not doing this with a team of child development experts and airing on PBS. This is a for-profit venture, subject to the same market forces of YouTube that guide someone like Logan Paul.
“We’d already told our child we were taking him and are now in a bad position where we just have to hope he doesn’t notice," said one parent who isn’t going to try and get a refund to the show. “After spending almost $200 on this and driving 2.5 hours and paying for a hotel on top of that, we are disappointed to say the least.”