For anyone who’s binged Netflix’s viral docu-series Tiger King it’s probably not hard to believe that there’s even more to say about Joe Exotic and the G.W. Zoo. Netflix, clearly pleased by the more than 34 million viewers who tuned into the series in its first 10 days, dropped an after-show special hosted by Joel McHale on Sunday.
The new episode contains a few fresh reveals, some fuck-yous to both Joe Exotic and some viewers, and, perhaps most importantly, one major allegation: Apparently Joe Exotic is terrified of tigers. Here are some of the highlights.
Head zookeeper Erik Cowie has not watched Tiger King.
He was also not super jazzed to hear that his appearance has been compared to Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe: “Oh, God. I fucking hate Mötley Crüe,” he told McHale. “They’ve never been my thing... It was too plastic, man. I’m sorry.”
With his parting words, Cowie also blasted viewers who have accused him of using meth online: “No matter what anybody else says, yeah, my teeth are jacked up. I’m sorry. I’m old, man. It’s what happens. It’s gonna happen to you, too. And no, I don’t do meth. I never have. I like sleeping too much. I used to have a drinking problem and now I do not. So fuck all y’all, man.”
John Finlay does not appreciate how the series portrayed him.
Joe Exotic’s ex-husband showed off a new set of pearly whites during his interview, and lamented that some people have been making fun of the tattoo artist seen at the end of the series—whose work, he said, wasn’t finished during that one session. The finished product has healed, he said, and looks a lot better now. “It will be revealed,” Finlay said, “but I don’t know when.”
More importantly, however, Finlay decried how Tiger King’s producers handled his story. “I was portrayed as a drugged-out hillbilly, and that was not me then,” Finlay said. “At that time I was four to five years clean... When my daughter was born, I decided to never touch another drug ever again.”
And on an unrelated but equally important note: Why did he sit shirtless in all his interviews? “I got tattoos,” Finlay said. “Why not show off? It was a little cold, but it was fun.”
Jeff Lowe says he has some dirt on James Garretson.
Toward the end of the docu-series, strip club owner and G.W. Zoo investor James Garretson, who worked with the FBI as an informant as they built their case against Joe Exotic, hinted that there might be more where that came from.
“I think Lowe will get arrested soon,” Garretson said during the series’ seventh episode. “I mean, he’s said a lot of things and all that stuff incriminates him. You know? I don’t think Joe will be in a cell alone. I think other people are going, too. I mean they don’t know what I’m gonna do. I don’t think I’m finished in this.” (You might remember that moment as the one that preceded his widely memed jet ski ride.)
In the after-show, however, Lowe hits back: “What James Garretson fails to remember is I know the truth. I know why he cooperated with the feds. It wasn’t over a lemur. Trust me. We went to my attorneys, and my attorney said, ‘You know what? With this information, I have to go to the feds.’”
Lowe also, shockingly, denies that he set up Joe Exotic. In his words, “That’s just a complete crock of shit.”
“You guys saw all the videos that Joe was posting,” Lowe said. “Joe was his own worst enemy. I mean, he should have gotten up on the stand and testified against himself—because those videos where he’s shooting Carole, hanging Carole, blowing Carole up, putting rattlesnakes in her mailbox, ‘Who’s gonna finish this bitch? Who’s gonna go get this bitch?’ Joe didn’t get set up. Joe killed the tigers; he admitted to killing the tigers from jail... He said they were sick. They were beautiful, healthy tigers that he called to the fence and he shot ’em in the head because he needed the cage space. So Joe goes out there and he makes the room for these cats by killing five beautiful, healthy tigers.”
As for how Joe’s doing in prison, Lowe said, “We’re getting reports that he’s trying to get a computer so that he can ‘respond to his fans.’” (On that phrase, Lowe did what I must admit was a pretty solid Joe Exotic impersonation.) “You know, this is a notoriety and fame that Joe always wanted,” Lowe continued. “And it’s pretty ironic that he’s now stuck in a cage where he can’t even enjoy it. He’s where he belongs, and I would probably just tell him, ‘Gotcha.’”
Joe Exotic once blew up John Reinke’s cabin.
Describing his former boss, the former G.W. Zoo manager told McHale, “The man’s done a lot of stupid shit. I mean, toward the end he got to where he’s blowing everything up. I mean, hell, he blew up my golf cart and my damn cabin... Knocked the windshield out of my golf cart, blew a hole in my cabin... Blew a window out.”
Reinke’s sudden notoriety has been surreal for him; as he noted, he can’t go anywhere anymore without getting recognized: “You’re waiting on somebody to come up to you. They don’t care about COVID. They want to shake your hand, get a picture with you.”
As for who should play him in a film adaptation? “I’m sticking with Matthew McConaughey.” Alright, alright, alright.
Footage of Kelci “Saff” Saffery’s accident was once used as a G.W. Zoo safety video.
At the top of their interview, McHale asked the former zookeeper how it felt to be misgendered in the docu-series, which frequently identified him as female. “I don’t think it bothered me as much as it bothered everyone else,” he said. “I didn’t really pay it any mind.”
As for the accident that ended with his arm being amputated, Saff noted, “There was a time and place where we actually used it as a safety video... We didn’t even have any further conversation than, ‘This should be the one thing people see before they decide if this is a career move they want to make.’”
Despite everything, Saff still insists that Joe Exotic is more than a two-dimensional villain. He cited, for instance, the Thanksgiving dinner that Joe Exotic served the public for free in the doc. “Every single year since I’ve been there—and I’ve been there for almost 10 years—I’ve seen him give the jacket off his back for people,” Saff said. “And I think that wasn’t highlighted enough. Joe did a lot of messed up stuff. That’s a fact, and that’s shown, and now the entire world knows it. But he did a lot of good things, too.”
When asked about Joe Exotic’s conviction and sentence, Saff said, “I think justice was served—but I still don’t want to see that man die in prison.”
Saff would like Johnny Tsunami actor Brandon Baker to play him in any film adaptation.
Josh Dial never received counseling after he witnessed Travis Maldonado’s death.
Joe Exotic’s former campaign manager lived at the zoo for a time, and as seen in the docu-series, he was there when Travis Maldonado accidentally shot himself in the head with a Ruger pistol.
“The thing is, I had to go in that office every day,” Dial told McHale. “And sit in that same chair and look at that bullet hole in the wall every day for a year and a half after Travis killed himself. And I never was able to get counseling because Joe didn’t help me and neither did Jeff Lowe.”
“Hopefully I’m going to be able to raise me some money—enough to get me some counseling and get all my meds,” Dial said. “And once I’m back stable and ready to go, I want to jump back into campaigning for sure.”
After Maldonado’s death, Dial said, Joe Exotic did not seek counseling, either, but consulted a shaman. “I felt like it worsened his condition,” Dial said. “You know, I’m all for holistic approaches, but sometimes you need real, legitimate counseling and medication. And he wasn’t getting it.”
Dial also pushed back a little on the idea that Joe Exotic isn’t enjoying his newfound fame. “He’s communicating with some of his old fans and he’s having them run Facebook pages,” Dial said. “So he’s getting all the messages people are sending, all the money people are raising for him. He’s getting all that. He’s in the loop on this and he’s loving every minute of it. I guarantee that.”
And finally, Joe Exotic is... terrified of big cats?!
By far the most fascinating interview of the reunion was the final sit-down with erstwhile Joe Exotic TV producer Rick Kirkham, who now lives in Norway with his wife. (“It was the farthest distance I could get away from Oklahoma and that zoo.”) As Kirkham showed by holding up a newspaper from the day before his interview, Tiger King has become a sensation overseas as well. “I can’t even take a walk down a fjord without somebody walking their dog, coming by, pointing, and going, ‘That’s him! That’s him!’ in Norse,” Kirkham said. “You hear ‘Tiger King!’ if I walk through the mall.”
The irony of the docu-series, Kirkham said, is that you can’t tell how scared Joe Exotic was of his own tigers. “Joe was terrified of big cats,” Kirkham said. “He was scared to death of lions and tigers. And in the shots that you see in there, where he’s in with the two tigers, the white one and the other one—the white one is blind and the other one is on tranquilizers. It’s idiotic to think how he’s become famous as ‘The Tiger King’ when he’s so terrified of big cats.”
Kirkham also shared one horrifying story about an incident in which a woman brought Joe Exotic her aging horse and asked him to give it a good home in its advanced years. “No sooner did that lady get off the park than Joe said, ‘Rick, follow me,’” Kirkham said. “Walked right up to the trailer, pulled the Western revolver out of his holster, shot the horse dead, and said, ‘I don’t take care of nobody’s animals. Now they’re tiger meat.’ And he had the horse cut up and fed to the tigers. It was unbelievably cruel.”
Kirkham would like Billy Bob Thornton to play him in a film adaptation—but if you ask me, which no one has, that role should belong to Tim Blake Nelson and no one else.
But the pièce de résistance of the entire sit-down came when McHale asked Kirkham how Joe Exotic and his former Inside Edition colleague Bill O’Reilly stack up in terms of who is a more disturbed human being. Kirkham’s response? “I would say that Joe Exotic is more evil and Bill O’Reilly is more of just an asshole.”