A Chat with Billy the Exterminator

When it comes to the A&E reality series known as “Billy the Exterminator,” there seems to be no middle ground: either you’ve never heard of it, you’ve heard of it but can’t watch it because you’re too squeamish, or you’re absolutely addicted to it. I was in the first camp, but after receiving review copies of the first two seasons of the series on DVD (both of which hit stores on Dec. 21), my wife immediately fell in love with Billy Bretherton and his family-filled pest-control operation and demanded that I watch the show with her.

So I did…and now I’m addicted, too.

Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that I jumped at the chance to chat with Billy in conjunction with these DVD releases, but when I first called him at Vexcon headquarters, I was told that he wasn’t in the office. It was never formally confirmed whether or not the reason for his absence was confusion over time zones – I’m in eastern, he’s in central – or the fact that he was battling a bit of a sore throat, but whatever the case, I was told to call him on his cell phone. After listening to his hold music (John Lennon’s “Imagine,” if you were wondering) for a few seconds, Billy picked up and the interview began.

Join us now for…

Bullz-Eye: I understand you’ve got a little bit of laryngitis working on you.

Billy the Exterminator: (Laughs) Yessir, a little bit.

BE: Well, I’m battling a sore throat myself, so you may consider me sympathetic.

BtE: Well, thank you!

BE: I’ve got to tell you that I’ve only just discovered the show, thanks to these DVD sets of Seasons 1 and 2, but my wife and I are now both officially addicted to it.

BtE: Oh, well, cool! I appreciate that, man! I appreciate all the support I get.

BE: Hey, no problem. What’s funny is that I’m a TV critic, but somehow I missed out of the show, so when we got the DVD sets, my wife put on Disc 1 of Season 1 just on a whim, really. But it’s hard to stop watching!

BtE: Cool! I appreciate the compliment, thank you!

BE: So your show was a long time coming, wasn’t it? I mean, they first filmed you for “Dirty Jobs” in 2004, correct?

BtE: Yessir, that’s when we went international…or the United States, at least. (Laughs) But we’d been filmed for the local news since about ’96.

BE: How did that come about? Did the news approach you?

BtE: No, sir, basically…we live in a small town: Benton, Louisiana. There’s about 2,000 people here. In northwest Louisiana, there’s 72 companies, and we just called them all and told them to send us their undesirable work that they won’t do. Of course, that draws media attention, newspapers and magazines. They would upload the information on the internet, and some producers found the footage, fell in love with the family, and the rest is history.

BE: So how did you get involved in pest control in the first place? Did the company exist before you got involved with it?

BtE: No, sir, I went into the Air Force to be a cop, but the ASVAB test determined that my natural aptitude was in biology. So they put me in the field of entomology, and since I was trained in that, that’s the work I’ve been doing for the last 23 years. When my dad retired, we were living in New Jersey. He invested his retirement money into me and Ricky, and we opened up a pest control company in Louisiana. And, once again, the rest is history. (Laughs)

BE: When you left the military, did you ever consider the possibility that you might return to it someday, or were you pretty sure that that was the end of it for you?

BtE: No, I did well in the military and learned a lot of stuff, but I’m just not a…I’m too free of a spirit. I don’t do well in classrooms or anything that’s organized like that. It’s just not my cup of tea. I did very bad in school. It was the worst learning environment for me, because I’m a very social thinker. A lot of people are kind of inward micro-thinkers. They think about themselves and their viewpoint of the world always stems from themselves as the primary. I never really thought like that, so I was always tripped out in large crowds. Like, I don’t like going to ballgames and stuff, because I always feel like, “If a riot broke out, I’m trapped!” I’ve always had those kinds of thoughts. And, of course, now with me being famous, it’s tough sometimes. I’ll pull in for gas, and I’ll get mobbed and I can’t get out. It can be taxing. But I’m always patient. I never yell. But I get yelled at constantly for my time, because I’m late all the time during the day. Everyone gets down on me about it.

BE: Even with the face time on the local news, you must’ve been pretty excited when you got the national exposure through “Dirty Jobs.”

BtE: Oh, yessir, that was the launching pad. Our debut hit 1.72, so I figured we were in good standing. Also, the show had spiked when…we were on 20 minutes into it, and it was running at about .8 or .9 in the ratings, and then it spiked to a 1.72 as soon as we came on. I think that freaky thing that happened there was that the pest control industry tuned in and just shot that rating up. (Laughs)

BE: So what was Mike Rowe like?

BtE: Mike Rowe’s really cool. Discovery Channel had a bunch of jobs that had one thing in common – they were all kind of dirty jobs – and Mike Rowe was doing voiceover work, but he volunteered to go ahead and interview some of these companies. And during what turned into Season 1 of “Dirty Jobs,” they were going to find a company out of the ones he interviewed, and make a reality show out of one of them. Well, people liked him so much that they kept the show, and Mike’s been doing it ever since. He’s the same guy on and off camera, and the cool thing about him is that he didn’t want to be on TV. He was just trying to help out the network, and he got famous kind of accidentally…and that’s exactly what happened to me! (Laughs)

BE: Before you ended up on camera, were you already wearing some approximation of the uniform that we see on the show?

BtE: Yessir. I was born in 1968, and I’ve been following heavy metal my whole life, from Black Sabbath to HIM. I know it all and I’ve heard it all.

BE: So you were always wearing that general attire, then?

BtE: Yes, I was. Actually, Mom forced me to get a haircut for “Dirty Jobs.” So that real short hair where everybody’s, like, “Oh, Billy, you sold out, you used to have short hair,” uh, no, my mom made me cut it. (Laughs) And Mom didn’t want me wearing our normal uniforms, either. She wanted me to dress real nice: khaki pants, polo shirt. I told her I’d cut my hair, and that was it. (Laughs)

BE: The show’s obviously a family affair, with your mom, your dad, and your brother, but the family dynamic has changed a bit. Was that jut the result of Pam and Mary not wanting to appear on camera, or was it just normal family drama?

BtE: Oh, it was a lot of different things. You know, everything gets amped up when it’s on TV. People see it, they talk about it every day, and…like, it drives my brother crazy. He doesn’t like talking about Pam. And Mary’s extremely uncomfortable on camera. Producers tend to manipulate situations for entertainment value, and that upsets a lot of the family from time to time. Season 3 they didn’t manipulate too much, and it seems to be getting better. I’m a very good candidate for television. I’ve got thick skin, I’ll believe in my philosophies ‘til my dying breath. I know who I am, and comments and negative energy…? I just surf right through it.

BE: So do you think the show’s found a pretty good groove at this point, then?

BtE: I think the show has gotten into kind of a groove, but I’ve got plans for amping it up even more and bringing new stuff, so we’ll see in the future what’ll go down. I’m pretty sure everybody’s going to be pretty impressed.

BE: I’ve seen you go up against some intimidating stuff. What assignments have been the most disconcerting for you?

BtE: Maybe the last few shows in Season 3. They’re probably good examples. We had an 8-foot alligator that we had to pull out of four feet of water in a binding area. Me and three other guys got in there, we’re trying to pull the gator out, and he bit two of the four of us, but we finally got him up on land. And then we had to pull a 10-foot alligator out of a culvert that had a 2-foot diameter. I had crawled in there a little bit, threw a lasso over its head, and drug it out…and it was close to 500 pounds and fighting like a wild animal would.

BE: What’s the worst kind of bug for you to deal with?

BtE: I guess I hate cockroaches the most. And fire ants. Cockroaches and fire ants I just can’t stand.

BE: What about small animals?

BtE: Well, rats are probably the worst there. They chew wire, they defecate and urinate everywhere, they’ve got over 33 diseases. They’re just…terrible little things. I mean, I’m firmly of the belief that those are curses and plagues, not parts of the natural order that we should love. I’ll never love a rat, and I’ll never love a cockroach.

BE: What’s the most unique challenge you’ve had?

BtE: Well, as I go around, the last 23 years, I’ve been in meat processing plants, rail yards, hospitals, Masonic lodges, millionaire homes. I’ve seen things, I know things. I was stationed out near Area 51. Because I get into every situation, I think I have a very good view of the world and a perspective that most people don’t know or see. And my opinion is that most of the world has no idea what the reality is. I think that we’re all kind of in dreamland. But maybe one day we’ll wake up.

BE: This is kind of a left-field question, but what are your thoughts on monster films that focus on, like, giant bugs or giant rats? Given that you deal with them all day long for real, are there any that you have a soft spot for, just because they’re so ridiculous?

BtE: Well, you know, I have a soft spot for Mother Nature, and I try my best to…I do my job to be as respectful to her as I possibly can, but…no, I don’t really favor any animal over the other. I guess I really like European hornets, though. I think they’re pretty bad.

BE: (Laughs) Well, actually, I was talking about monster movies.

BtE: Oh! (Laughs) Okay, I gotcha now. You’re talking about, like, that tarantula movie and all that stuff. I mean, that stuff doesn’t scare me. That’s just not scary at all, so it’s hard to take it seriously.

BE: Right, but I was wondering if you’d maybe seen anything that just made you laugh out loud because it was so ridiculous.

BtE: (Long pause) No, I’m sorry, man, I can’t come up with anything off the top of my head. Sorry!

BE: No, it’s cool. I’m a geek about that stuff, so I was just curious. Like, I love “Alligator,” with the giant alligator in the sewer, and then you’ve got “Food of the Gods,” with its giant rats.

BtE: Oh, okay. I mean, I’m deeply disturbed by the alien vampire movies. (Laughs)

BE: I will accept that. Do you watch any reality TV?

BtE: No, sir, I don’t watch hardly any TV. I’m mostly an avid reader. I read philosophy, history…anything that’s non-fiction.

BE: Do you find some people are surprised at how intellectual you are? Because…and I’m absolutely not trying to be rude when I say this…I don’t think a lot of people necessarily think in terms of an exterminator as being a high-intellect profession.

BtE: No, no, absolutely, I get it. But, I mean, I own my own business, I’m on TV, and I’ve had…just this past summer, I was helping out a guy and this homeowner looks at me and says, “Aren’t you a little bit old for this? What is this? Like, your summer job or something?” And I said, “No, it’s my entire career, and I’m internationally famous for it.” He just rolled his eyes and walked off. (Laughs)

BE: Who’s the most surprising person that you’ve heard was a fan of your show?

BtE: I’d have to say Lilith.

BE: Uh, okay.

BtE: (Laughs) Do you know who Lilith is?

BE: Not unless you’re talking about Lilith from “Cheers.” (Laughs)

BtE: Lilith was…well, in Jewish text, she was Adam’s first wife, but…uh, this is going to sound pretty crazy… (Laughs) …but there’s this woman who watches the show, she’s got glowing eyes, and she claims that she’s…well, she likes to call herself Lilith.

BE: Fair enough. Lastly, I have a very serious question that many viewers have been dying to know: are your sunglasses prescription?

BtE: (Laughs) No. They’ve got hot lights on me constantly, and I just can’t look into the lights. It drives me insane. I started wearing sunglasses, but they said, “No, you can’t do that, because you can see the reflection of the camera.” I said, “If I can get a pair that doesn’t reflect, can I wear them?” They said, “Sure.” So I slimmed up a pair of safety glasses and, using a grinder, I shaved them down…and they couldn’t see any reflection. So that’s why they allowed me to wear them. (Laughs)

BE: All right, man, I think that’s it…well, except that one of my friends wanted me to thank you for keeping the mullet alive. And I’m pretty sure they were serious.

BtE: (Laughs) In that case, tell them they’re welcome.

BE: Good talking to you, Billy.

BtE: Thanks, man. You, too!