Ernie Brown Jr., aka Turtleman, is one of the unlikeliest television celebrities in some time, and perhaps that’s what makes his brand of humor and backwoods bravery so infectious to watch. Brown has been wrangling pesky animals with his bare hands for years, and audiences had the chance to see him in action on Animal Planet’s Call of the Wildman. The successful series is now back with a slate of new episodes, premiering Sunday, June 3 at 10 p.m.
In the second season, Brown takes on many critters in his native Kentucky. The premiere episode features a beaver in a mine and a turtle in an oil slick, two challenges that keep Brown on his toes, hoping not to lose a finger. As he captures each animal, sometimes taking bites, bumps and bruises, Turtleman always has a smile on his face and he’s never too faraway from his catch phrase: “Ya Ya Ya, Live Action!”
The “Ya Ya Ya” part sounds like a cross between a pig squealing and a cowboy trying to get his horse to trot faster. When you couple it with “Live Action,” Brown now has a catch phrase that is quickly becoming known and repeated around the world.
Recently, Hollywood Soapbox talked with Turtleman after his appearance on NBC’s The Today Show. We discussed the second season, his upbringing in Kentucky and his invitation to those people who think Call of the Wildman is fake. Questions and answers have been slightly edited.
How did this Animal Planet show begin?
They noticed me at the Mothman Festival up there in West Virginia — Point Pleasant. And I was doing a show up there with my turtles, just showing people off and just trying to raise a dollar there. I was on stage with the 40 LB Snapper Band, and they were doing a segment on Ghostbusters. Sharp Entertainment’s group was there and Animal Planet’s group was there. They were trying to catch ghosts on film and I yelled out my cry down there like, ‘Ya Ya Ya! Live Action!’ And I was doing a dance on stage, and they come running down there and been trying to get a hold of me for like a year or so and said them guys I was with wouldn’t give me the message. And next thing you know, they wanted to do a show. Well, I said, ‘If you’re serious, I got to finish the Mothman Festival up.’ … And on Nov. 11, I had my show. I did my contract signing with Matt Sharp and Animal Planet.
What can viewers expect in season two?
Woo-hoo. I’ve been getting hurt on these animals. They ain’t so hard to catch, but they’ve never been caught by hand. Some of them haven’t. … I got them and put them in their place. Woo-hoo! It’s live action. You’re going to see a lot more bruises and bangs and getting hurt and stuff. I hope they add that in there, too, to show that I’m actually doing this.
Lot of people saying it’s staged. It ain’t fake or staged. It’s actually catching wild animals in the places where they’re not supposed to be in. Bam! We’re doing our show and people don’t like it, then … come on down and watch it then. I’ll take them turtle hunting or something. I just got on The Today Show today and just got off being with them. They filmed it, and they come down there to Kentucky, and I took them turtle hunting. Caught them a big giant 40-pound snapper and the guy pulled it to the bank. They said, ‘I got hung in the mud. How do you walk through the mud?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ We don’t just walk out and catch them. We have to figure it out. Next thing I know, I have a different respect for The Today Show. Woo-hoo! They’re live action. They’re saying it’s live action. Got everybody happy, proud. It’s not staged. It’s for real.
What’s one of the most difficult animals you’ve had over the years?
The wild bull hog I just did. It knocked my shoulder out of socket there, and I had to get Neal (James) to pop it back in place. It just now stopped hurting this week. I guess the scariest time I had catching animals was … when that log fell on top of my shoulder. While I was underneath it, the log gave way and got on top of me while I was under the mud with the turtle. It pinned me and the turtle under the log. If you look real close, you could see me pushing that log off me. … It’s on the show. That was one of my scariest moments right there.
Where did this love for animals begin?
My young memories was how I got started in hunting and stuff. I seen Rolling Stone magazine on my grandma’s … table. We were eating breakfast that morning, and I asked them, ‘What’s this?’ They go, ‘That’s the Rolling Stone magazine.’ I say, ‘Wow, I want to be on there.’ They thought it was a cool thing. I think it’s so cool. They said, ‘Well, Khrushchev’ – they always called me Khrushchev, because I was bald-headed when I was a baby – and anyway, they said, ‘if you find a talent and the people love it, you’ll be on there with the Rolling Stones and you’ll be on that magazine.’ I said. ‘Well, I’m going out there looking for it.’
So ever since I was 5 years old, finally found a talent. I didn’t like chasing rabbits like Elmer Fudd, or shooting guns. Almost got pretty good with the slingshot and throwing knives. But it just wasn’t my thing. I almost got good at arrowhead hunting, and when Uncle Phillip came over, we ran out of food, he put me on a turtle’s back and I’ve been hooked ever since. I just taught myself how to do the little things better and stayed in the woods, in the backwoods, and learnt the animals. That’s what I did. I just taught myself how to catch them.
Do you have too many requests to help out with the animals, because of your success on Animal Planet?
Oh, I’ve got so many requests now that I can’t get them all. I hope the people understand that I can only do what the show gives me, and I’m doing a little bit on the side to kind of help people out who need me. So many people love Turtleman now, I can’t keep up with the orders. So I’ve been calling people in, my friends, to help me take care of the problems when I can’t get there. Shoo, I just hope there are more episodes to come and keep doing what I’m doing and making people happy. That’s all I want to do.
Do your family and friends like the Animal Planet show?
Oh my goodness. I’ve got so many people loving the show, I can’t even eat dinner at a restaurant. I can’t even go into a store to get groceries, so many people come and just hug me. Little kids think I’m a superhero. That’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever saw. Even disabled kids, they love me, they hug on me, they think I’m a superhero. Whoo! That’s some live action. You can’t get no more live action than that. Every time when people get with me, they feel better, they feel proud, they feel like they’re energetic, they feel like their spirit is clean and they can come out in the open and be themselves. That’s what it’s all about, just being yourself and finding out who you really are. Laughing, living proud and living fun. That’s the way I do it. Ya Ya Ya! Live action!
Call of the Wildman shows a lot of your Kentucky family and friends. They all seem like good people.
Everybody in the United States is good people. Kentucky people are good people. They all give you their shirt off their back if you ask them for it. But if you try and say we’re idiots, we get mad at that. We’ll bite. It’s just what we do. I don’t come up here to New York insulting people. People respect me, and I respect them.
I’ve had a few people disrespected me, but I just put them in their place. I say, ‘What’s your problem?’ He goes, ‘I think your show is fake.’ I say, ‘All I can tell you is: Don’t watch it or let me take you out on a turtle hunt … and I’ll go out there and catch a turtle for you.’ Sure enough, I’ve done two or three people that way. Last week, one guy said I couldn’t catch a snake. He had a $100 bill saying I couldn’t catch it. It was in his garage. … And I jumped in that building, caught the snake and pulled him out. It was live action from there. He said, ‘Oh man, you’re awesome.’ Made a believer out of him boys.
In season two, you head into a mine to catch a beaver. Was that your first time in a mine?
Well, that was my second time. … The beaver was tearing up the mine of this place. It was like chewing down the braces. That place was ready to cave in. So they had to keep replacing the braces. Even while we were in there, we were in danger of the place collapsing. And that’s why they shut it down. We went in there and found the problem and took him out. Ya Ya Ya! That was live action Justin Beaver style. That was what I named the beaver.
We got another segment about a beaver making a dam in the river and flooding some plains and killing crops and flooding this guy’s property. It’s a better segment than that beaver. This beaver I caught in the water. Oh man, I don’t how I can beat my show after show after show. … It’s just getting better and better. Every time I’m thinking I can’t beat this episode, we catch another animal and that beats that episode. That’s what the people like about my show. I reckon that’s the trick to it.
Do you go with your bare hands because you’re trying not to hurt the animals?
Yeah, I go in there bare handed just to show my skills. Native American blood. It shows I can conquer something. I show no fear. And I don’t want to hurt the animal. That way I know if he’s in a cave, he’s going to get hurt, break a leg or break the cage out and that costs me money. And sometimes the cages don’t even work. Well, I know my bag is working at all times, if he can fit in the bag. Sometimes we use cages because they don’t make sacks big enough. Sometimes I use a cage and put the animal in to transport it, and then I immediately turn it loose just as soon as I can get to the wildlife management area. … That’s live action and hard to get them in sacks and cages.
Do you have a lot of pets?
No, don’t have too many pets. I just borrowed the goat (in an upcoming episode). … I gave $30 for the goat, brought it back home and it ate all my weeds down. And I took it back to the guy and I said, ‘Thank you, that’s my lawnmower for today.’ And then I got a Lolly dog. She’s my faithful companion. I know if I can’t see it, she hears it and I know exactly where it’s at. I do have two cats that keep the mice under the house out. I’ve got Sir Lancelot, my pet snake. It’s a wild snake. It just comes and goes as it pleases. I don’t have no mice in the house because Sir Lancelot takes care of the inside. Then I got a pet snapping turtle that’ll still bite you. It ain’t a pet. It got ran over when it was real little. It’s going on 5 years old now. I Super-Glued it back together. He healed back and his name is Chester — a snapping turtle, Super-Glued together. Only turtle I know in the United States who’s Super-Glued together and lived through it. That’s a live action true story.
Thanks so much Turtleman. Best of luck with the show.
All right partner. Turtle out.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Click here for more information. Brown wanted to tell his fans that he’s planning to release some original merchandise, including a Turtleman doll and T-shirts. Stay tuned.