How Much of Joe vs Carole is a True Story? Is it Based on Tiger King Documentary?

Image Credit: Mark Taylor/Peacock

‘Joe vs. Carole’ is a black comedy crime drama series that predominantly revolves around the feud between Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage (née Schreibvogel) or Joe Exotic (John Cameron Mitchell) and Carole Baskin (Kate McKinnon). It explores their respective personalities, lives, and experiences that made them who they are.

These two individuals were moderately well-known people in their respective spheres, but after the release of the Netflix documentary ‘Tiger King,’ their fame has skyrocketed. ‘Joe vs. Carole’ offers a more candid and less sensational version of the story. If you are wondering how much of it is true, this is what you need to know.

How Much of Joe vs. Carole is True?

The disclaimer for ‘Joe vs. Carole’ states, “While this program is based on real events, certain parts of it have been fictionalized solely for dramatic purposes and are not intended to reflect on any actual person or entity.” This sums up ‘Joe vs. Carole’s approach to the story of these remarkable and larger-than-life people. Etan Frankel, the creator of the series, said in an interview that he wanted to explore these characters in a unique way and lauded Mitchell and McKinnon for completely morphing into their characters.

Image Credit: Mark Taylor/Peacock

“It’s a fun and rich journey into the story of people who live very extreme lives,” he said. “When I took on this project a year and a half ago, I found Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin to be utterly fascinating, and this crazy tale about two big cat lovers quickly became an important story for me to tell.” ‘Joe vs. Carole’ offers a much more sympathetic depiction of Carole. Its format allows the creators to delve into the character, underscoring the hard life she has led. This includes her first two marriages, her seemingly endless fights with private zoo owners such as Joe, and the aftermath of the release of the Netflix documentary.

Simultaneously, the show doesn’t shy away from depicting her various eccentricities and the fact that she runs the Big Cat Rescue as if she is a ruthless CEO, even though a considerable number of workers there are volunteers. ‘Joe vs. Carole’ addresses the mysterious disappearance of Carole’s second husband, Don Lewis. However, unlike ‘Tiger King,’ the Peacock series doesn’t speculate too much on Lewis’ fate, choosing to focus on her relationship with her third and current husband, Howard Baskin.

Joe gets more or less the similar treatment. As with Carole, his past before the feud is explored through flashback scenes. His relationship with Brian Rhyne, his first husband, is depicted with much restraint and sobriety. Like in the show, Rhyne died due to AIDS-related complications in real life. The show depicts Joe’s relationship with John Finlay, Travis Maldonado, and Dillon Passage with an equal amount of care. As shown in the series, Joe got married to Finley and Maldonado in a three-way wedding in 2014, but Finley has since stated in various interviews that the ceremony was “fake” and a “publicity stunt.”

The depiction of the conflict between the two lead characters is also quite faithful to what happened in real life. Carole won her lawsuit against Joe and ultimately took possession of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. Meanwhile, in January 2020, Joe was sentenced to 22 years in prison for hiring two people to kill Carole, violating the Lacey Act, and violating the Endangered Species Act. In January 2022, Joe was resentenced for 21 years, which makes the end note stating that he is set to be released in 2036 accurate. Moreover, Joe has been diagnosed with stage-one prostate cancer.

Is Joe vs. Carole Really Based on Tiger King Documentary?

No, ‘Joe vs. Carole’ isn’t based on the ‘Tiger King’ documentary. Instead, it is based on the second season of the ‘Over My Dead Body’ podcast from Wondery. According to McKinnon, she signed on to the project before the Netflix series came out. During her appearance on ‘The Tonight Show,’ McKinnon told Jimmy Fallon that although she never met Carole in person, she had rigorously watched the videos that the other woman had put up on her YouTube channel, documenting her entire life.

Image Credit: Mark Taylor/Peacock

McKinnon believed that these videos have helped her understand Carole better. She hoped ‘Joe vs. Carole’ would also give the audience a better understanding of Carole Baskin. “People didn’t really walk away with the most rounded picture of who she (Carole) is, what she’s about, and what she’s been through,” McKinnon said.

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