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Louis Theroux and Tiger King’s Joe Exotic
Via Instagram @officiallouistheroux

Louis Theroux shares his experience of working with Joe Exotic

The Tiger King star was the subject of a BBC documentary by the journalist in 2011

If you were to create a quarantine starter pack, nestled in next to buzzcuts – and going to the park to take pictures of other people at the park – would be Netflix’s Tiger King. The documentary has been the most talked-about thing (after coronavirus, obvs) during this pandemic, and now even Louis Theroux is sharing his opinion.

The journalist met Tiger King’s protagonist – and problematic king of wild style – Joe Exotic nine years ago when the tiger trader became the subject of his 2011 BBC documentary, America’s Most Dangerous Pets.

In a post on Instagram last week (April 1), Theroux shared a photo of the pair, with the caption: “Just finished watching #TigerKing on #Netflix. I have a lot of thoughts which I’ll post in a considered form in the next day or two. In the meantime, here is me and Joe back in the day.”

Yesterday (April 5), the presenter shared another photo of himself and Exotic, and linked to an article he wrote about his experience with the idiosyncratic zoo owner for The Sunday Times in 2011. Theroux also answered a number of fan questions about what it was like to meet Exotic and film the documentary.

“I liked spending time with him,” the journalist said of being in Exotic’s company. “He wasn’t always relaxing to be around though. He was worried about the angle of our documentary. He pulled access for a bit, then we talked him back. Another time I remember him freaking out because we were filming near the chimpanzee enclosure and the chimps were going nuts and flinging shit at one of the keepers. I just remember hearing on the keeper’s radio, ‘I want those BBC guys out of there! I don’t want them filming the chimps going crazy!”

Theroux also described Exotic as “an emotional dude”, revealing that he broke down on the last day of filming. “He was constantly saying that the park was on the verge of collapse due to its bills. The most troubling thing he said was probably that if the park went bankrupt, he would kill all the animals.”

Discussing the morals behind Exotic’s line of work and the treatment of the animals in the park, Theroux added: “Those tigers are raised in captivity – many of them as ‘photo babies’. They spend the next 15 years or so in a cage. There were definitely other zoos and private enclosures that were worse. Joe’s park had shade for the animals and they were well-fed from what I saw. But what kind of existence is that, when you think of how far those animals would range in their natural habitat? Clearly the tigers don’t know what they are missing. But still, it’s not a life for a tiger.”

And what does Theroux think about Exotic’s accusation that his rival Carole Baskin killed her husband and fed him to the tigers? “Joe told me the same thing in 2011. My opinion is, it seems very unlikely.”

Finally, when asked if Exotic tried to marry him, Theroux joked: “I’m sorry to say, there were no overtures of that kind. He did invite us to a barbeque at his house one time. The food was delicious, but looking back I’m wondering if it was donated cast-offs from Walmart.” The journalist is, obviously, referencing the expired meat bin from Walmart, used to feed the tigers and – in some cases – the zoo staff.

Following the hype, the documentary has been picked up for a fictional adaptation, while Jeff Lowe – the shady investor to takes over Exotic’s zoo when it’s on the verge of going bust – has seemingly announced that there will be another episode to the Netflix series, “wrapping things up”. 

You can watch Tiger King on Netflix now, and see Theroux’s 2011 documentary, America’s Most Dangerous Pets on BBC iPlayer.