'Tiger King' stars react to their new fame during pandemic

Joel McHale's Tiger King after-show The Tiger King & I is now on Netflix. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Joel McHale's "Tiger King" after-show "The Tiger King & I" is now on Netflix. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

April 12 (UPI) -- The stars of the Netflix docu-series Tiger King said fans are still approaching them in public, despite warnings to social-distance amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Comedian and television personality Joel McHale interviewed cast members Erik Cowie, Joshua Dial, John Finlay, Rick Kirkham, Jeff and Lauren Lowe, John Reinke and Kelci Saffery via video chat for an after-show called The Tiger King and I, which debuted on Sunday.


The original program has captivated the attention of many viewers during this time of isolation. It follows Joe Exotic, a private zoo owner who kept hundreds of tigers before he was convicted in a thwarted murder-for-hire plot against animal activist Carole Baskin. He is serving a 22-year prison sentence for that offense and various wildlife crimes.

The popularity of the show also has led to a Florida sheriff re-opening a cold case surrounding the disappearance of Jack "Don" Lewis, Baskin's former husband, who vanished in 1997.

"I was walking through Walmart on a late-night run, should've only taken me 10 minutes. I was stopped three times during a pandemic in Walmart," Tiger King co-star Saffery said about his new-found fame because of the show.

"They care about the COVID-19, they want to shake your hand, get a picture with you. It's pretty crazy," Reinke said.

"I can't even take a walk down at the fjord without somebody walking their dog, pointing, going: 'That's him! That's him!' in Norse. You hear Tiger King if I walk through the mall," said Kirkham, who now lives in Norway.

Kirkham also spilled some tea about Exotic, saying he isn't as brave as he wants viewers to think he is, offering as an example a staged scene in the original show in which Exotic wrestles two tigers in a cage.

"The white one was blind, and the other one is on tranquilizers," Kirkham said. "It's idiotic to think how he's become 'The Tiger King' when he's so terrified of big cats."

Other zoo staffers were highly critical of Exotic, too.

"You couldn't talk to him without getting yelled at," Cowie said. "He'd run people off in 20 minutes, just by the absurdly crass things that would come out of his mouth."

Cowie also said Exotic should remain in jail, predicting he is "gonna die in there, so ... good riddance."

Saffery said he doesn't trust Exotic, but thinks there is some good in him.

"I've seen him give the jacket off his back for people," Saffery said. "And I think that wasn't highlighted enough [in the show.]"

Baskin, who did not participate in the after-show, told The Tampa Bay Times she feels the Tiger King filmmakers misrepresented their intentions to her and focused more on the colorful personalities in the captive tiger trade than on animal abuse, which is what she wanted to spotlight.

"I just feel so angry that people have totally missed the point," she said. "And the point is these cubs are being abused and exploited and the public is enabling that.

A reporter during a COVID-19 briefing Wednesday said to President Donald Trump: "One of the biggest rating hits of the coronavirus, aside from these briefings, has been a show on Netflix called Tiger King.

The reporter wanted to know whether he'd grant a pardon being sought by Joe Exotic.

Trump said: "I'll take a look."

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