"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.
Once, my wife, Suzi, and I were sitting in the green room at a television station, and Suzi was grooming one of our long-haired Angora rabbits, trying to get rid of its tangled fur balls. Rabbit hair was just flying everywhere. There were a few other people around, and noting one lady's country-western style of dress, I said to her, "So what do you do?"
"I'm a country music singer," she answered with a familiar twang.
"Oh, really?" I continued. "What's your name?"
"Reba McIntyre." Now, I do listen to country music, and that was one name I did know. I was so embarrassed that I was afraid to ask the other girl's name.
It doesn't hurt my feelings if people are clueless who I am. I don't consider myself a celebrity. Actually, I don't really even like the word because it's taken on such a negative connotation today. Yeah, people know my face from seeing me on television, but who am I kidding? I know who they're watching, and it sure isn't me. It's that cute little baby barn owl, a cuddly cub, or Fluffy, the largest snake in captivity. Next to that, how could a person like me expect to rise to celebrity status?