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.
"Jack, you're 100 percent sure this is a female, right?"—when I had him milk a goat.
Of course, sometimes I step into it. Like when he's asking me how far a particular bird can fly, and I'll say, "Oh, they'll fly real far, Dave." He'll just look at me without saying anything for a few seconds, the audience will laugh, and I'll think, uh-oh . . . here it comes. "You're not a zoo director, are you, Jack?" he'll say. "There is no zoo in Columbus, is there?"
On Letterman, the punch lines continue even after I'm long gone. They'll sometimes have a special emergency bulletin that comes up after I leave that says something like, "Attention viewers: Please be on the lookout for large mountain lion. Last seen leaving the Sullivan Theater. If you spot it, please be sure to contact Jack Hanna at the Columbus Zoo." You wouldn't believe the calls we get!
Since the eighties, I've continued to visit Good Morning America about once a month and David Letterman about three times a year. In the meantime, I began making my rounds on Larry King Live, Ellen, Maury, the FOX News network, CNN programs, and many others. I have lots of fun on the shows and really enjoy the interaction with the hosts and the audience, but because I rarely watch TV, I don't always recognize some of the other celebrities I run into.
When doing Letterman a few years ago, I was in the green room with this nice, blonde young lady. To be friendly, I asked, "So, do you sing or something?"
She smiled. "Yeah."
"Hi, I'm Jack Hanna." I held out my hand.
"Britney," she replied, shaking my hand. She came out to see the animals, and one of my handlers later explained that she was pretty popular.
On another trip, Suzi Rapp and I were heading to Letterman, and this oddly tall guy starts running toward me from across the street. "Mr. Hanna! I love you!" he booms when he catches up. Um, okay, I'm thinking. I thanked him, and we went on our way. Afterward, Suzi told me he was on some show about a guy named Raymond.