While Joe Exotic shot to superstardom with the release of Netflix's Tiger King, it was not the first time he had appeared in a TV show. The big cat zoo owner was part of Louis Theroux's documentary Beware of the Tiger, which looked at exotic pet ownership in the United States.
Joe Exotic and his GW Zoo featured heavily, and it seemed that the documentary filmmaker got on quite well with the eccentric businessman.
Theroux's show was filmed in 2011, meaning it came before Exotic became embroiled in a plot to have animal rights activist Carole Baskin murdered.
Writing in The Times, Theroux said that he thoroughly enjoyed watching Tiger King, admitting that he had grown quite fond of Exotic during their time together:
What stood out, apart from the blonde mullet and the nervous energy, was the blue eyeliner tattooed on the rims under his eyes. 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.
Altogether, though, Joe struck me as likeable and friendly. I warmed to him, and his ridiculousness was endearing rather than annoying...
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.
As popular as the documentary was, there have been some complaints. Many details were left out about the extent of Exotic's animal abuse, which was part of the reason he would ultimately be sent to prison. It is likely he would have come across as a far less likeable character had this been included.
The issue in general is glossed over in many ways. There is an attempt to include it at the very end of the series, but a few minutes does not encapsulate a problem that had been at the very core of all issues within Tiger King.
That is something that Theroux seems to agree with. He said the one gripe he had with the show was that the people who took part were brought to the forefront at the expense of the animals who were suffering:
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.