Story: The Netflix limited series Tiger King was a sensation, to say the least. Millions of people watched in disbelief as Joe’s wild tale of big cats, murder, and outlandish behavior unfolded, but even with all the ground covered in the series, there remains a lot of Joe’s tale that is yet to be told. In Before He Was King, we are taken back in time to Joe’s much earlier days, even before he had the exotic moniker. This piece goes in depth as well, exploring Joe’s childhood, his family relationships, how he became involved in big cats, and in general, the journey that brought him into the scenarios we saw in Tiger King. I was surprised by how much new information was dispensed in this documentary, as Tiger King was a deep dive, but a much clearer picture of Joe’s development is offered here. Before He Was King is a brisk, insightful documentary that pulls back the curtain even further on Joe Exotic and provides some terrific information and entertainment.
Entertainment Value: As someone who was wildly entertained by Tiger King, I’m always down for new Joe Exotic content, but it seems like most of the programs and podcasts out there are rehashes. If the shows don’t add anything and just recap or what not, that’s a disappointment, so I hoped Before He Was King would break that trend. As it turns out, it does just that and proves to be a documentary packed with insights about Joe and what drives him. I had no idea he was a chief of police and that is just wild, let alone the rest of the information shared here. I know some will long for more crazy stories from the private zoo, but there is so much interesting content in this one, I doubt many will mind. And to be fair, the program is clearly marketed as a prequel of sorts, so it delivers as promised. Of course, some time is spent on the zoo’s role in Joe’s life, just don’t expect there to be a focus on that part of his life here. Rest assured, whichever aspect of Joe Exotic’s life that is being examined, this story never fails to be interesting and full of surprises.
The presentation here is typical for a documentary of this kind, centered on a series of interviews interspersed with footage, photos, and such from Joe’s past. This is an area where Before He Was King has an advantage over most of the shows that tried to follow Tiger King, as Joe himself is present with an all new interview. While some of Joe’s interviews are archival in nature in this documentary, there are also brand new interviews as well. I think having Joe involved and giving his personal take on the various events covered is invaluable, especially since he is as candid as ever. He isn’t afraid to show his emotions either, so the interviews prove to be fun to watch, but also give us a look inside how Joe has processed these events. Tiger King fans will recognize others that are interviewed as well, while new folks are also spoken with, so we have first hand accounts in most cases, or at the very least, people who know Joe well. The pace here is excellent and there’s little wasted time on screen, so the documentary is information packed, but also brisk and easy to watch. If you’re a fan of Tiger King or just have to know more about Joe Exotic, give Before He Was King a look.