Surrounded by businessmen in suits in a midtown Manhattan steakhouse, Jeff Corwin realizes several buttons on his loose-fitting linen patchwork shirt have popped open following a lunch of shrimp cocktail, crabcakes and lobster salad.
When the accidental exposure is called to his attention, Corwin nervously chuckles at first then unabashedly tugs at the remaining buttons, fully displaying his hairy chest and hoisting his right nipple over a hot beverage on the table in front of him.
“I neeed more creeeam in my caaappuccinooo,” he screams in a bad fake French accent, pretending to milk himself like a cow.
Forget “The Crocodile Hunter.”
The source of this boyish, bovinelike absurdity is Animal Planet’s other kooky but bankable leading man.
Corwin moved to Discovery Communications after hosting “Going Wild with Jeff Corwin” on the Disney Channel for three years. Since 2000, the bouncy biologist has been the face of Animal Planet’s popular creature pursuit show “The Jeff Corwin Experience.” He’s also served as a wildlife Donald Trump in Animal Planet’s competitive reality show “King of the Jungle” and helms Discovery Kids’ “Jeff Corwin Unleashed.”
Just how many shows can he milk out of the animal world?
“There’s a lot of stories to tell,” Corwin tells The Associated Press. “I love what I do. I like to wear different hats in the role of naturalist.”
Taking a theme approachAnimal Planet has recently placed a new hat on Corwin’s skull in the form of “Corwin’s Quest.” Airing 9 p.m. ET Wednesdays on Animal Planet, it takes a theme approach to the critter-chasing genre, unlike the location-specific “Experience.”
“The new joy of the job is to keep things fresh as opposed to the old joy of going to Africa for the first time to see an elephant,” says Corwin. “The reality is I’ve seen many, many, many elephants. The first thing I ask when we do something is, ‘Has anyone ever done this before?’ Usually, the team will say, ‘Well, you did it before, Jeff.”’
Just like his playful on-screen persona, Corwin in person vacillates between charismatically serious and utterly silly, often breaking into impersonations so bad they’re laughable. Like clockwork, Corwin doesn’t go two minutes without some sort of a zinger. He’s deadpan when discussing bungee jumping three times in one day alongside a peregrine falcon but playful when re-enacting the falcon trainer’s Australian accent.
“I don’t live in a TV world,” Corwin says, back to being serious. “I live a regular life. I don’t live around a lot of animals except for a 2-year-old. ... I live three miles from where I grew up. It’s not hard for me to be grounded.”
Wife Natasha and daughter Maya Rose often trek with Corwin, 37, from their lavish Marshfield, Mass., home to the exotic locales he visits for the show. In upcoming episodes, he’ll tussle with lions, stalk wolverines and swim with sardines. It’s all in the name of animal loving — not animal exploitation.
“It’s very important we’re not wrangling with something and screwing with it just because we can,” Corwin insists. “Everything has to have a conservation or a research bent.”
That doesn’t mean Corwin doesn’t eat the same sort of animals he plays with on his show. Although he was a vegetarian for several years, the fit Corwin said a no-meat diet left him feeling unhealthy. Corwin explains humans shouldn’t completely remove themselves from the food chain.
“Species aren’t endangered because you’re not a vegetarian,” he says. “Species are endangered because we don’t sustainably use and protect our natural resources.”
After plowing through a list of meat and fish he stays away from consuming for conservation purposes, such as the often illegally poached Chilean sea bass, Corwin pauses and flashes a devilish smile.
He realizes he’s gone a few minutes without any tomfoolery.
“And I don’t eat baby seal,” he hisses. “It’s too fatty.”