Long before “Tiger King” became a streaming obsession, Joe Exotic caught the attention of John Oliver.
The year was 2016 and the “Last Week Tonight” host and his team were searching for third-party candidates to feature in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election when they discovered Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka Joe Exotic.
“We were looking for kind of the craziest third-party candidate, found his ad, and it was like the lowest-hanging, juiciest fruit,” Oliver tells Seth Meyers during an at-home appearance on “Late Night”. “Almost you think, ‘Could this — could this be real? Mmm, so sweet. So juicy.’”
Oliver showed Exotic’s now-viral campaign video in which he 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***.”
Exotic’s campaign for president didn’t pan out, nor did his 2018 attempt to become governor of Oklahoma in 2018. Oliver recalled a few red flags when it came to background research and early talks with Exotic in 2016.
“We got in touch with him around that time just to check that the story checked out,” Oliver remembers. “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.'”
Carole, of course, if Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Tampa, Fla. and the woman who Exotic was convicted and sent to prison as part of a murder for hire scheme.
“Tiger King” landed on Netflix on March 20 and within 10 days was streamed by more than 34 million viewers.