The jaw-dropping Netflix series about the zookeeper became an instant hit, reaching over 34 million viewers in its first 10 days

By Jodi Guglielmi
April 15, 2020 11:53 AM

John Oliver knew about infamous zookeeper Joe Exotic long before the hit Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.

Oliver recalled featuring Joseph Maldonado-Passage, otherwise known as Joe Exotic, in a 2016 segment on Last Week Tonight during the zookeeper’s short-lived presidential run.

“We were looking for kind of the craziest third-party candidate, found his ad, and it was like the lowest-hanging, juiciest fruit,” Oliver told Seth Meyers during an at-home appearance on Late Night. “Almost you think, ‘Could this — could this be real? Mmm, so sweet. So juicy.’ ”

During the segment, Oliver showed Maldonado-Passage’s now-viral campaign video, in which he proudly states, “I am not cutting my hair. I’m not changing the way I dress, I refuse to wear a suit … I am gay. I’ve had two boyfriends most of my life. I’m broke as s—.”

John Oliver and Joe Exotic
Credit: HBO; JoeExoticTV/Youtube

After the presidential pursuit didn’t pan out, Maldonado-Passage tried for governor of Oklahoma in 2018. Speaking about the issues important to him at the time, he told WFXT that his campaign is about “all the rights for all the people all the time.”

He ultimately lost the Libertarian primary, collecting 18.7 percent of the vote, according to Ballotpedia records.

While talking to Meyers, Oliver also recalled some early red flags during his team’s initial conversations with Maldonado-Passage.

“We got in touch with him around that time just to check that the story checked out,” he said. “Our researcher went back through his notes and did say, ‘It seems like the park he’s running is a little bit dangerous, we may not want to hold hands too closely with this. He also started ranting about a woman named Carole.”

Tiger King
Credit: Netflix

As fans now know, Maldonado-Passage had a long rivalry with Carole Baskin, who runs an exotic big-cat sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue, in Citrus Park, Florida. He is currently serving 22 years in prison after being found guilty in 2019 for paying a man $3,000 to try to kill her.

Tiger King became an instant hit, reaching over 34 million viewers in its first 10 days.

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is streaming now on Netflix.