Excerpt: 'Jungle Jack: My Wild Life'

Well, of course, all this was a big hit. David just shook his head at me and said, "Oh, Jack, Jack . . . ," like can't you ever just come up here and be normal? Dave, of course, had to ride the camel and almost knocked his head on one of the studio spotlights, but otherwise the show went great.

When it was time for us to leave, the maintenance people had already fixed a few panels and three or four lights. I'm sure they didn't consider that we had to get the camels back downstairs again. Our dromedaries knocked out those lights and panels the same way they did coming in. Now the building guy was doubly mad. Since then, they put us in a maintenance room instead of the dressing room. But that's fine with us, as long as we're able to mop up all the mess.

In another wild Letterman experience, I was I bitten by an animal on camera. A friend of mine, Leslie Whitt, director of the Alexandria Zoo in Louisiana, flew in a young twenty-pound beaver that I hadn't handled previously. All went well while I held the beaver on my lap. Then I demonstrated how she could swim by placing her in a glass tank in front of Dave's desk.

The beaver was still okay as I lifted her from the tank—with dripping water drenching me and the stage floor. As I got up to take the beaver off during the commercial break, she started to slide out of my hands. I grasped the base of her tail with my right hand, and she chomped down on the space between my left thumb and index finger; I slid on the wet floor, went down on one knee, scrambled up, and hung on to the beaver until an assistant repossessed her. And all this on camera. Not one of my most graceful exits.

In the two minutes allotted to the commercial break, I wrapped paper towels around my bleeding hand and slipped on a flesh-colored rubber glove just as we went back on the air. Sometimes the show must go on. We finished the segment, which included electric eels, a Chinese crested dog, and a yak. The glove on my left hand was rapidly filling with blood, so I was very anxious for the segment to end—especially before Dave had a chance to make some comment about my beaver bite.

Immediately after the segment, Suzi Rapp, one of the handlers on that trip, turned to me and said, "Jack, how are you going to get an ambulance at five-thirty in New York City, especially at Christmastime?"

Simple. "I'll just run."

After several blocks I reached Roosevelt Hospital. Once there, people thought I was a shooting victim with blood spattered all over my clothes. Of course, the first question was, "What happened?" I didn't want to tell them that a beaver bit me on the David Letterman show, so I improvised.

"My beaver bit me." Strange looks were exchanged. "My beaver bit me in Central Park." I'm not sure they ever believed me, but they patched me up just the same.

The next time I was on the show, Letterman said to me, "Jack, I hope you learned your lesson."

"What's that, Dave?"

"You never mess around with another man's beaver."

After that, I began bearing the brunt of David Letterman's jokes on a regular basis. I don't mind; I really don't. I know Dave loves the animals. He treats them better than he does most of his guests. And I'm always amazed at his knack for coming up with the lines.

"Have these guys been eating onions, Jack?"—when I brought out the twin gorillas.

"Is this your idea of a good time in Columbus?"—when I showed him how a chinchilla takes a dust bath.

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