Louis Theroux Shares His Thoughts On Tiger King’s Joe Exotic

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Louis Theroux Shares His Thoughts On Tiger King's Joe ExoticBBC/Santa Rosa County Jail

Joe Exotic is no stranger to documentary-makers. Tiger King propelled him to ‘stardom’, but Louis Theroux got there first – now, he’s shared his thoughts on the series. 

Back in 2011, the BBC filmmaker descended upon GW Exotic Animal Park as part of his America’s Most Dangerous Pets documentary – where he met the eponymous zoo-owner at the centre of viewers’ latest Netflix obsession.


Joe Exotic – real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage – played host to more than 1,200 animals across his 16-acre ranch, from tigers and lions to chimps and bears. Nine years later, in the wake of new docuseries Tiger King, Louis has reflected on his time with the eccentric big cat-lover – now imprisoned on two murder-for-hire charges and a number of wildlife offences.

Louis Theroux Joe Exotic 2Cameron Frew

Louis’ ‘safari in the suburbs’ came ahead of the beef that makes Tiger King such compelling viewing. While Joe discusses his conflicts with animal rights groups – including a letter from PETA – there’s no bitter vitriol we’ve seen in the later JoeExoticTV, as shown in Tiger King. Or, the answer you’re probably wanting: Carole Baskin isn’t included, nor mentioned.

We see Louis visit Joe’s ill-fated roadside show in action, alongside interviews with the day’s handlers (who seem at odds with the inhumanity of keeping a bear cub in a tiny cage). In the coming years, the trucks were pulled off the road following a crippling copyright suit by Baskin.

Louis Theroux Joe ExoticCameron Frew

While Joe was far more reigned in than the gun-toting, country music persona of the Netflix series, there are a number of disquieting moments – such as him saying he’d rather euthanise all the animals than give them away.

Also, he explains to Louis that a lion wouldn’t kill him straight away if it got him, it’d torment him first. To this, Joe adds he’d rather be shot in that situation, as ‘it’d go on for hours’ and ‘it’d be more humane’. He hastens to add you could also shoot the lion, to which Louis responds: ‘Yeah, that would make more sense, shoot the lion.’

Check it out here:



Elsewhere in the doc, Louis visits another Tiger King alumni, Tim Stark, at his former Wildlife in Need sanctuary. As well as watching him get inside the bear enclosure, Tim also brings out his rambunctious baboon and Glacier, a ginormous tiger – naturally, Louis becomes a bit frightened.

Most controversially of all, he met chimpanzee owners – just two years after the Travis incident, in which a 14-year-old chimp attacked his owner Sandra Herold, ‘ripping off her face and chewing off several of her fingers’ – his trepidation around those animals is, naturally, even greater.

But now, thanks to Netflix’s binge-worthy and soon-to-become-cult series Tiger King, Joe Exotic has been propelled to new heights of fame, while he sits incarcerated at Fort Worth FMC.


Just like the rest of us, Louis found himself binge-watching the bizarre series, ‘marvelling at the weird twists, unexpected deaths and super-abundance of exotic megafauna’.

As promised on Twitter, the filmmaker recounted his thoughts in a detailed piece for The Times, in which he recalled the day he first met Joe, in May 2011.

‘What stood out, apart from the blonde mullet and the nervous energy, was the blue eyeliner tattooed on the rims under his eyes,’ Louis writes. ‘He was a strange mix of butch and femme signifiers. He carried a gun, which never left his side, and handcuffs, but there were also the aforementioned piercings and an air of heightened emotion.’


Louis adds:

Altogether, though, Joe struck me as likeable and friendly. I warmed to him, and his ridiculousness was endearing rather than annoying.

Louis met Joe just after a tornado hit a nearby town and, as Louis writes: ‘In the event, the tornado passed us by, but an atmosphere of incipient catastrophe never quite let up the whole time I was with Joe. He seemed to lurch from crisis to crisis, constantly on the verge of financial ruin, handling low-level bites and maulings, and being hounded by “animal rights people”, as he put it.’

The filmmaker, who has worked with more sub-cultures than we will ever meet in a lifetime, also spoke about feeling oddly protective of Joe. He admitted that despite the cruelties entailed in Joe’s running of the zoo, ‘it was hard to dislike the man himself.’

‘Maybe because he seemed neither to be hiding many of his misdeeds nor to take himself too seriously, not to mention that his emotional volatility — laughter, tears, kindness, paranoia, all in quick succession — inclined me to be a little protective of him,’ Louis said.

Joe Exotic Tiger KingNetflix

Louis also touches on Joe’s relationship – or obsession – with Carole Baskin, writing: ‘Joe’s grudge against Carole preoccupied him when we filmed. He would rant about her, mentioning his belief that she’d had one of her husbands killed.’

Before adding his thoughts on Carole’s appearances in Tiger King:

In the series, the allegation of her misdeeds is thrown together with Carole’s various fashion crimes involving leopardprint. She moons around her refuge in slow motion and one draws the conclusion, perhaps unfairly, that whether or not she killed her husband there is something not quite right about someone who manages to mysteriously lose a husband and makes a living out of providing room and board for a relatively small number of rescued animals while wearing flower-child accoutrements in late middle age.

Carole Baskin in Tiger KingNetflix

But what did Louis think of the docuseries? He ‘greatly enjoyed’ it, adding he has ‘a sense of envy and missed opportunity that I wasn’t involved in what has turned out to be a global smash.’

Louis added:

I do recall that, having made our documentary, which came out as America’s Most Dangerous Pets, I felt there was probably some kind of longer-form series to be made about that world, though I had no idea Joe would end up caught up in a murder-for-hire case and I really can’t claim any kind of prescience other than noticing that it is pretty weird for Americans to be keeping multitudes of large exotic animals in small cages.

Before saying:

If I have a quibble with the series, or maybe just a cautionary note, it’s that the carnival of human folly it depicts should not blind us to the pressing, and less amusing, animal issues at its heart: playthings of a more powerful predator, kept in captivity because of human acquisitiveness, ostentation and control.

Something tells me that the saga isn’t over, just yet.

America’s Most Dangerous Pets is available to watch as part of Louis Theroux’s larger documentary selection on Netflix now.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

Topics: Film and TV, Documentary, Joe Exotic, Louis Theroux, Tiger King, TV


The Times
  1. The Times

    Claws out: my adventure in the court of the Tiger King

Cameron Frew
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