The filmmaker describes Joe Exotic as a villain, says he was evil to animals and people, killed animals for fun and wasn't even sure if he was gay or not.
Thanks to Netflix's blockbuster "Tiger King" docuseries, Joe Exotic has become a sort of pop culture figure, with many viewers focusing on all of the over-the-top aspects of his character from his hair to his music videos and even his ridiculous feud with big cat conservationist Carole Baskin.
In fact, in most of the memes that have been circulating around, it's Carole who has been most villainized by the documentary. Journalist and filmmaker Rick Kirkham -- who appears in the docuseries and spent a year living with Joe at his zoo where he filmed both Joe's internet show and his own reality show based on Joe -- says they're missing the true story of this guy.
It's much deeper and much darker than people seem to have grasped from the popular series. "You kind of had a little bit of a heart for the guy, but you really didn't realize or get to see how evil he really could be," Rick told David Spade on Wednesday. "Not only to animals, but to people."
He went on to add that life at the zoo was "a hell of a lot worse than what you saw in the documentary. They didn't have enough time or footage to be able to show you how bad it was."
Rick is just the latest cast-member from the series to be interviewed by Spade as part of his "Lights Out" internet chats conducted in lieu of a traditional show due to the coronavirus pandemic. The loose structure of the chats means a more free-flowing conversation, which saw David allowing Rick to talk uninterrupted across a whole variety of Exotic topics.
The conversation touched on everything from his suspicions about the studio fire that cost him all of his reality show footage about Joe, some of the truly dark footage that was allegedly lost in that fire, including instances of shocking animal cruelty, per Rick.
According to Rick, Joe was an incredibly lonely man who had no real friends (for long) and wasn't even sure about his own sexuality, despite marrying multiple men.
Viewers have suspected that Joe probably started the fire, or had it started, that cost Rick all of the footage he'd captured for his contracted reality show about Joe and the zoo. They figure it was done for a few reasons. On the one hand, maybe Joe was concerned that some of the footage didn't paint him in the best light. Or maybe it was something else?
"Two days before the fire, Joe and I got into a very bad argument on the fact that I owned the rights to the reality show. I basically owned Joe Exotic," Rick said. "He was not happy and he made a quick turn and ran out of town for a few days, supposedly for a funeral."
According to Rick, Joe also had the locks changed on the studio, meaning Rick couldn't get in there without the park manager letting him in. And just two days later, the whole thing burned. And it wasn't just any fire, either. "I have backup hard drives of all the footage, but it was in a safe," Rick said. "But it melted the safe, the fire was that hot."
Viewers will now never see what was in some of that footage that Rick and his film crew captured during their time with Joe, but he promises it was much darker and more damning than anything directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin captured for their docuseries.
"There was footage in there of Joe actually killing animals for fun," Rick said. "He walked up to a tiger he didn't like and just shot it in the head."
He then shared a genuinely heartbreaking story about a woman who brought her older horse to the zoo in a horse trailer.
"She cried and said, 'Joe, could you take care of my horse? I can no longer care for him and you have a lot of space,'" Rick said. "He hugged her and said, 'Oh yeah, hon, it'll be fine. You leave the trailer, we'll bring the trailer back tomorrow. We'll put him out in the pasture and give him a good place.'"
"As soon as the lady left the park, Joe said, 'Rick, grab your camera, start rolling,'" Rick continued. "And I rolled on him, he walks up to the trailer, pulls his [gun] out, shoots the horse in the head dead and laughs ... and of course, he fed that horse to the lions."
While Joe put on this larger-than-life persona for the crowds at his zoo, and even for the cameras that seemed to always be rolling in his life, Rick describes him as a very lonely man that no one actually liked.
"The man had no friends," he said. "He really had no friends because every time he got a friend, he either took money from them or he screwed them over somehow ... The guy is really sad."
One of the more outlandish things to come out about Joe was his lifestyle being supposedly married to multiple men at the same time, as well as claims that these men weren't even gay, that perhaps they only stayed with Joe for access to drugs, money and tigers, of all things.
Rick described the power of these big cats over people, saying, "There was a real, kind of a hard to explain magnetic feel when you have a big cat in your hands. When you're able to hold a tiger, there's a big ego thing, a power trip." It gave them a sense of power that was almost like a high in itself.
But apparently, according to Rick, they might not have been the only people who weren't gay. "He didn't know if he was gay or not," Rick said.
"He kept saying, 'I'm gay,' and what a redneck cowboy he was, but in the conversations I had personally where he cried, literally would lay in my shoulder and cry, he didn't know what he was," he continued. "He just knew he had a whole lot of money coming into the zoo in cash that he didn't have to report and he could buy himself his little boy-toys and his drugs and whatever else."
Rick seemed to struggle with his own role in Joe's behaviors at the zoo, or at least his complicity through inaction. He said he'd basically thrown away his journalistic integrity and by just a few months in, he'd realized "what I was doing was not right."
"I knew that I had sold out my own soul," he said. "But I stayed thinking, okay I'm this far in, I've invested everything, I'm gonna get this show done and I'm selling it for a million dollars and get the hell out of Oklahoma."
Even after leaving the zoo when things fell apart around Joe, Rick said it took him six months of therapy. "I went in-patient for a week at one place in Dallas, Texas just to get my head back on straight," Rick admitted. "It really messed with my head."
Later in the interview he even said that he fully expected to get to the gates of Heaven only to be turned away because of his involved with "Tiger King" and Joe Exotic.
The seven-part "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness" is the number one series on Neflix and has quickly become a pop cultural phenomenon amid the coronavirus pandemic with millions of people quarantined or self-isolating in their homes. All episodes are streaming now.