“Nope. It’s just Chuck Testa!” Odds are that if you had an internet connection in 2011, those words have been burned into your brain. Chuck, a taxidermist and the owner of Ojai Valley Taxidermy in California, found himself propelled to internet fame in 2011, when his son-in-law posted a commercial for his business on YouTube.
Now, four years after first entering the public eye, Chuck is the focus of the premiere of CarbonTV’s American Elements. I caught up with him recently over the phone and learned about his life beyond the viral video.
Here are five things you probably didn’t know about Chuck Testa.
1. The viral video didn’t help his business much
As it turns out, the viral video that drew millions of views from a global—and mostly younger—audience did not exactly translate into more business.
“At least not at first,” he told me. “It did not have an immediate effect on the business, truckloads of deer aren’t showing up in front of our house. It was a different audience,” he said, adding that the majority of his customers are still local to this day.
You can watch Chuck describe his experience in this trailer for American Elements below:
2. Chuck received death threats for the video
Internet fame is not without its drawbacks, and something as harmless as a commercial for a taxidermy shop can lead to sleepless nights. “I got hit on two fronts. Some were from the animal rights guys, and those were the bad ones,” he shared. “Those were when the police and FBI were involved. They told me it was a domestic terrorist group. You also get the ones that just insult you and say they’re going to kick your ass or whatever. They weren’t as bad as the death threats, which will make your hair stand on end.”
3. He’s a World War II reenactor
Some of the death threats were, strangely enough, all due to a misunderstanding. Chuck is a big history buff, and one of his not-so-secret hobbies is World War II reenacting. It just so happened that on the day he shot his viral video, he was wearing a captured German cap with a Totenkopf, a skull symbol typically associated with the SS during WWII. But Chuck’s no Nazi by any stretch of the term (his dad even fought against the Germans in Europe), and when he’s not working on animals in his shop, Chuck is out on the “battlefield” in his American Army uniform. Take a tour through Chuck’s workshop and WWII collection in the video below:
4. He is a crazy good taxidermist
The commercial may have focused more on Chuck’s talent for comedic timing, but he really is a talented taxidermist.
I asked him what the hardest animal to work on was, and he replied simply that it depended on the person, not the species.
“Some people say cats are hard. Getting an expression on a cat is really tough, especially when you have inaccurate manikins. And squirrels, most people don’t like to do squirrels because they can be a pain and you can do something bigger and get 10 times the money. But for me I enjoy it all and I do it all. I’ve done elephant, giraffes, alligators, snakes, you name it,” he said.
5. An in-depth look into Chuck’s business was filmed for American Elements
CarbonTV recently profiled Chuck in the premiere episode of their new original series, American Elements. Chuck said that it’s rare for a show to take an interest in his work. Most just want to cover the meme.
“These guys understood what I do,” he said about the crew. “Other guys come out and they don’t care about what you do. They have a formula for what makes a show work, they don’t care about taxidermy or hunting or anything. These guys, they just like seeing the big deer—they were outdoor guys.”
Moreover, Chuck said that it was his best experience with a film crew so far.
“From what I’ve seen, I’m sure the finished product won’t disappoint.”
You can watch the first episode of American Elements now below.