Stars of Netflix’s "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness" had a lot to say during an after-show special that premiered on Easter Sunday, but the cast generally agreed that the imprisoned zookeeper at the center of the docuseries deserves his jail time.
Comedian and actor Joel McHale held interviews with the key players in the new installment of the hit docuseries, which revolves around the life of Oklahoma zookeeper Joe Exotic and the events that culminated in an alleged murder-for-hire plot against animal rights activist Carole Baskin.
“Tiger King” turned into an internet sensation as viewers stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic became fascinated by the bizarre-but-true story of Exotic, real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage.
McHale asked some of the people who knew Exotic best whether he should be released from prison.
“Not no, but f--- no,” said Erik Cowie, one of Exotic's zookeepers.
Cowie now works for Jeff Lowe, the man who bought Exotic's Oklahoma zoo. He told McHale that it was ironic the jailed zookeeper now has the fame and notoriety he sought for years, but can’t enjoy any of it as he serves a 22-year prison sentence.
“He’s going to die in there,” Cowie said. “So, good riddance.”
Lowe, who appeared with his wife Lauren, said it was ridiculous for anyone who watched the show to believe that Exotic was set up. The zoo owner referred to the many videos Exotic posted online calling for Baskin’s death and said he admitted to killing tigers.
“Joe was his own worst enemy,” Lowe said. “He should have gone on the stand and testified against himself.”
Even those who had kinder words to say about Exotic were unconvinced he should be freed. Former zoo employee Kelci "Saff" Saffery — who identifies as a man, but was misgendered in the Netflix series — said “Tiger King” didn’t show how kind Joe could be.
“I think that wasn’t highlighted enough,” Saffrey said. “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.”
Still, Saffery said he trusts the tiger who ripped his arm off before he would trust Joe Exotic. He told McHale that while he doesn’t want to see Exotic die in prison, “justice was served.”
McHale was also able to speak to Joshua Dial, the former Walmart employee who ran Exotic's failed campaign for governor of Oklahoma. In one of the most shocking moments of the series, Dial is seen on video witnessing the death of Exotic’s former husband, Travis Maldonado.
Dial told McHale that Maldonado was showing him a gun and accidentally shot himself, contrary to theories he chose to kill himself. Maldonado was trying to prove that the gun wouldn’t fire without a clip when he pointed the gun to his head, Dial said.
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But the gun must have had a bullet in the chamber, the former campaign manager said.
“I was looking at him in the eyes when he did it, and I could see the surprise and fear in his eyes,” Dial said. “ I mean basically, translated, he’s like, ‘Oh crap, what did I just do?’”
The moment was captured on security footage that showed Dial’s reaction. He spoke in the series, and in interviews since, about how he's been traumatized by witnessing the death.
Dial told McHale that he hoped to use his newfound fame to raise money for counseling and medication.
“I had to go in that office every day 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,” Dial said.
Rick Kirkham, the former producer for the zookeeper's webseries, “Joe Exotic TV,” told McHale that the “Tiger King” series re-ignited many of the nightmares he developed after years of living at the Oklahoma zoo.
Kirkham said that he watched Joe kill at least two tigers, as well as a horse that someone asked Exotic to care for. He said he sold out his “journalistic integrity” by not reporting the alleged animal abuse to authorities.
He also claimed that Exotic once asked him to kill Baskin for money, but Kirkham said he dismissed it as a joke.
“I regret ever meeting Joe Exotic,” Kirkham said. “I went in because I saw there was a great opportunity for an incredibly wonderful show about big animals and this crazy zookeeper. But I, too, was sucked into the surreal world of Joe Exotic.”