San Diego Animal Ambassador 'ZooKeeper Rick' Plays Not My Job

May 2, 2014
Originally published on May 3, 2014 10:33 am

Rick Schwartz is the official animal ambassador for the world famous San Diego Zoo. And because he is an ambassador, he has diplomatic immunity — if he commits a crime on our show we can only hand him back to the orangutans for punishment.

Schwartz — and his sidekick parrot Rio — may know a lot about zoos, but what do they know about Zumba? We'll ask them three questions about the Latin music-inspired exercise craze that swept the nation.

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And now the game where somebody interesting answers questions about things they themselves are not that much interested in. It's called Not My Job. Rick Schwartz is the official animal ambassador for the world-famous San Diego Zoo. And because he is an ambassador, he has diplomatic immunity.


SAGAL: If he commits a crime on our show, we can only hand him back to the orangutans for punishment there. Rick Schwartz, welcome to WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME.

RICK SCHWARTZ: Well, thank you for having me.


SAGAL: Now I should say for the audience listening at home - safely at home far from here, you are not alone. Can you tell us who you brought with you?

SCHWARTZ: I brought a very beautiful, 7-foot, red-tailed boa constrictor. Her name is May. And she gets that name 'cause she may or may not bite.


SCHWARTZ: I showed up with a few other snakes, but this is the only one they could find backstage.

SAGAL: Oh, great.


SCHWARTZ: So if you see one...

SAGAL: Yes. It's a little hard to talk because I'm - the snake seems to want to get away.


SAGAL: The snake seems to be...

SCHWARTZ: She's just checking things out. You know, I mean, right now, she's just kind of checking out her environment. So it's not that she wants to get away so much as she's like, hey, I'm feeling warm. Her metabolism is up.

SAGAL: Yeah.

SCHWARTZ: I want to check things out.

SAGAL: That really bores me. What I'm interested in is...


SAGAL: No because I'm really focused on one thing.

SCHWARTZ: What's that?

SAGAL: Is she hungry?


SCHWARTZ: She is not hungry.

SAGAL: Yeah.

SCHWARTZ: And if she was, she'd be looking for a rodent 'cause that's what she eats. We feed her mice and rats. And so you do not, hopefully, smell like a mouse or a rat. So therefore, even if she was hungry, she'd have no interest in you whatsoever.

ALONZO BODDEN: What if you're completely wrong?


BODDEN: What if she just decides to wrap her body around your arm and eat Peter, like...


SCHWARTZ: That's not how it works. That's not how it works. Luckily, we know. We've been able to observe snakes long enough, we know how it works. She'd actually - if she's going to wrap her body around me tight, it'd be me she's trying to eat, not Peter.

PAULA POUNDSTONE: So your last word might be Wikipedia was wrong.



SCHWARTZ: Darn you Internet.

SAGAL: What if she wraps herself around you just to lull me into a false sense of security?


SCHWARTZ: You're giving her a bit too much credit for being conniving.

SAGAL: Yeah. I'm sure that's what the last threat she ate thought.



SAGAL: I note that we're sitting here calling this enormous snake she.


SAGAL: I cannot see any obvious indications of its sex. It does not seem, for example, very empathetic.


SCHWARTZ: She likes to give hugs.

SAGAL: As a woman might be.

SCHWARTZ: She likes to give hugs.

SAGAL: I'm sure she does.


SAGAL: How can you tell if this enormous snake is a girl?

SCHWARTZ: Well, it's not uncommon. Actually, at the zoo, we have many species that the males and females look alike.

SAGAL: Yeah.

SCHWARTZ: And so it really - it takes some time. And then you basically have to wait and see which bathroom they go into.


SCHWARTZ: So I mean it's...


SAGAL: Yeah.


SAGAL: They will reveal it.

SCHWARTZ: And they're pretty honest about it.


POUNDSTONE: I, by the way, want to congratulate the San Diego Zoo on being so much more progressive than human parents by not putting a headband with the flower on it so that everyone knows.


SCHWARTZ: Well, I did...


SCHWARTZ: Admittedly, I did try to put a little bow, but it...

SAGAL: There you are. Boa constrictor.

POUNDSTONE: She didn't take to that.

SAGAL: Well, since I want to talk to you about the zoo and your career...


SAGAL: ...And I can't, in the state of abject terror.


SAGAL: Maybe we should let your snake level have a little rest. And then we'll come back and talk to you.

SCHWARTZ: Fair enough. Who wants to hold this 'til I...


SCHWARTZ: All right. Let me put this one back. Hopefully we'll find the other four that we misplaced.


SAGAL: So here you've come out with another less scary animal. Can you tell me about this one?

SCHWARTZ: Well, this is Rio. And Rio is a Double (Rio squawking) - yes. He agrees. He is a Double Yellow-headed Amazon parrot. He's about 22 years old. And he and I've been working together now for probably 13 years. And it was kind of fun.

When I first walked in my very first day on the job, he flared up, got all excited, put out his tail feathers and started talking and screaming and whistling. And just because I know bird behavior, I knew that in his mind, I was his long-lost mate.

SAGAL: So basically, you met this parrot 13 years ago. He said you're mine. You're my mate.


SAGAL: And you've been leading him on.


POUNDSTONE: Ever since.

SCHWARTZ: He seems to agree. Yes.

SAGAL: You go home to your family. He thinks your, like, on some sort of business trip.

SCHWARTZ: Right. Exactly.


SCHWARTZ: I'll text him, you know, I'm at the Holiday Inn. The service, you know...

SAGAL: Oh, it's terrible here. I wish I was home with you.

SCHWARTZ: The flight was late again.

SAGAL: And he comes in - when you come back to him, does he, like, check your shirt for, like, feathers?



SCHWARTZ: You know, it's great. He's just so excited to see me, nothing else matters.

SAGAL: Right.

SCHWARTZ: So I get out scot-free every time.

SAGAL: I understand. So tell me, Rick, how you got into this career of sort of being animal ambassador.

SCHWARTZ: You know, honestly, my entire life, I could not imagine doing anything other than working with animals - or not even working with. Honestly, in my head, it was more just being around them.


SCHWARTZ: As a child, they just - every time I'm with the animal (Rio squawking) - again, honey, I'm telling the story.


SAGAL: You guys kind of are a married couple.

SCHWARTZ: I know, right. Exactly


SAGAL: It's kind of funny.


SAGAL: You're like, oh, let me tell you. And he's like, no, no. I'll tell you.

SCHWARTZ: I'll tell the story better.


SCHWARTZ: The year was 19...

ADAM FELBER: You always mess it up.


SCHWARTZ: No actually. Now he's going to show off now.

SAGAL: He's standing on one leg.

SCHWARTZ: Right, well, you know. (Rio squawking) I know.

SAGAL: Well, big deal. He's standing on one leg and talking English. I can do that.

SCHWARTZ: I know, right.


SCHWARTZ: Flamingos can almost do it, too.

SAGAL: I know.

SCHWARTZ: They just don't do the English part.

SAGAL: Yeah.

SCHWARTZ: I absolutely love working at the San Diego Zoo. And a few years back, I was worked into the ambassador position. And now I get to share my passion with everybody. So it's great.

SAGAL: So you were...

POUNDSTONE: What did you start out as there?

SCHWARTZ: A part-time keeper.

BODDEN: So when you walk in as the new guy, just a keeper, and Rio just locks on to you, how did the existing ambassador feel?


SCHWARTZ: There...

BODDEN: Who's this new guy moving in on my bird?

SCHWARTZ: There were some people in the department that were a little offended by - that they...

POUNDSTONE: So you ruffled some feathers.

SCHWARTZ: You might say that.


SCHWARTZ: You might say that. Yeah.

POUNDSTONE: Had to be said.

SAGAL: Can I ask Rio a question?

SCHWARTZ: You could, but he probably won't answer unless it is can you say hello.

SAGAL: Well, I'll try that. Rio, can you say hello?

SCHWARTZ: Can you say hello?

RIO: Hello.

SCHWARTZ: There it is.


POUNDSTONE: Yeah. We're like that.

SCHWARTZ: He's loyal.

POUNDSTONE: We're like that with Peter.

SAGAL: Right.


SAGAL: Rio...

POUNDSTONE: He says can we - can I ask a panelist a question. We say you can try.


POUNDSTONE: Can I just ask one more question?

SCHWARTZ: Please do.

POUNDSTONE: Does he say anything other than hello?

SCHWARTZ: Yes he does.

POUNDSTONE: Can you get him to talk?

SCHWARTZ: He - (Rio squawking).


SCHWARTZ: He says - (Rio Squawking).


SAGAL: What was that?

SCHWARTZ: He agree - (Rio Squawking).


SCHWARTZ: He likes to agree with me when I talk. So sometimes I'll be in the middle of a presentation. He'll go yeah. So that's...


SAGAL: Really?

SCHWARTZ: He's got a great sense of humor. He does a lot of stuff on his own. The only things we have on queue though are the hello, the whistle and the cell phone. And outside of that, he...

SAGAL: Cell phone?


SAGAL: He can do a cell phone nice? Let's see it.

SCHWARTZ: Can you say hello?

RIO: Hello.

SCHWARTZ: Where's your whistle?

RIO: (Whistles).

SCHWARTZ: Cell phone?

RIO: (Makes cell phone noise).

SCHWARTZ: Cell phone?

RIO: (Makes cell phone noise).

SCHWARTZ: Good job.


SAGAL: Well, Rick Schwartz, we have invited you here to play a game that, this time, we're calling...

CARL KASELL, BYLINE: Zoooooooooomba.


SAGAL: You work in a zoo.


SAGAL: But what do you know about Zumba? That Latin-music-inspired exercise craze that has swept the nation and then receded and probably been replaced by something else by now. Answer a few questions about Zumba, and you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - Carl's voice on their voicemail. Carl, who is Rick Schwartz playing for?

KASELL: He is playing for Jack Raymond of Escondido, California.

SAGAL: Now as a...


SAGAL: Not far from here. Now as a special dispensation...


SAGAL: ...We will allow you to ask Rio for help.

SCHWARTZ: Oh, good. That will help.

SAGAL: Rio can help you out. Is he good at quizzes?



SCHWARTZ: But, you know, we're a good team. We'll figure this out. Right, buddy? We got this?


SCHWARTZ: Yeah I know.



SAGAL: Here we go. Here's the first question for you and Rio about Zumba. Zumba consists of a series of moves - exercise moves set to Latin or Caribbean music. Which of these is a real Zumba step? A - The MonteZumba's revenge.


SAGAL: B - The Booty Circle, or C - The Humpy Humpy Hippo?


SCHWARTZ: I've actually seen a humpy, humpy hippo.


SCHWARTZ: Wasn't a dance move.



SCHWARTZ: We have a lot of breeding success with our animals.

SAGAL: I'm glad to hear it.

SCHWARTZ: What was the - what was B?

SAGAL: B was The Booty Circle.

SCHWARTZ: I'm going to go with Booty Circle. That sounds...

SAGAL: You're right.


SAGAL: Booty Circle.


SCHWARTZ: Right on, Rio. Good boy.


SAGAL: Very good. Here is your next question. There are, as in any form of exercise, many variations. Which of these is a real style of Zumba? A - Kosher Zumba, which is a variant for Orthodox Jews with sex-segregated classes and dirty lyrics edited out of all the songs. B - Country Zumba in which you dance to Garth Brooks songs in the bed of a pickup truck, or C - Classical Zumba in which you sit there for a while and then nod off.


SCHWARTZ: That's just mean. Wow. Let's see. I'm going to go with the kosher one. That seems...

SAGAL: The Kosher Zumba.

SCHWARTZ: Yeah. I think that seems almost realistic enough, whereas dancing in a pickup truck, not so much. And it seems counterproductive to nod off in a Zumba class.

SAGAL: That's true. You would be right. It was, in fact, Kosher Zumba.


BODDEN: Really?

SAGAL: That's Kosher Zumba, it's called.

BODDEN: Why would you call it Kosher Zumba when you can call it Jewmba?


SCHWARTZ: It's probably copyrighted so.

FELBER: Man, that's a missed opportunity.

SAGAL: All right. Let's see if you can go for perfect. Maybe we should just have Rio answer this one. OK.


SAGAL: One of the most successful Zumba teachers ever was Alexis Wright of Maine. She made over $150,000 in one year. How did she bring in all that cash? A - she taught self-defense Zumba, which taught people to disable attackers with their hips. B - she happens to be a dead ringer for actress Scarlett Johansson so her classes were known as Sco-Jumba, or C - she was a prostitute.


SCHWARTZ: I think, by process of elimination, I'm going to go with - how much money was it? Wait.

SAGAL: It was $150,000.

SCHWARTZ: $150,000.

SAGAL: Over the course of her career, I should say.

SCHWARTZ: Over the course of her career. Let's go with self-defense with the hips.

SAGAL: That would be fun. No, it was actually prostitution.


SAGAL: You hadn't heard of the cause case of the famous Zumba teacher prostitute?

SCHWARTZ: No. That's brilliant.

SAGAL: It was the scandal of Kennebunk. Carl, how did...

FELBER: Talk about booty circles.

SAGAL: Yes. Carl, how did Rick do on our quiz?

KASELL: Two correct answers, Peter. That's good enough to win for Jack Raymond.

SCHWARTZ: Yeah, Jack.



SAGAL: Rick Schwartz is ambassador for the San Diego Zoo. Rio is a parrot.


SAGAL: Rick Schwartz and Rio, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME. Rick Schwartz and Rio, everybody.


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