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How ‘Tiger King’ wooed Congress before it was ‘Tiger King’

Some tiger cubs, plus a chimp in a diaper, made the rounds on the Hill with ‘Doc’ Antle back in 2013

Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, seen here in 2012, is no stranger to Congress.
Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, seen here in 2012, is no stranger to Congress. (Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images file photo)

With more time to waste and nowhere to go (except the fridge), it’s inevitable that anyone working from home will end up in the same bingey haven. “In the spirit of American solidarity we are starting Tiger King tonight,” Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw posted on Instagram.

Tiger King is, of course, “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” one of Netflix’s latest antidotes to isolation. It’s the not-so-guilty pleasure everyone seems to be talking about, even some in Congress — and its history with our nation’s legislative body goes way back.

“I know I’m missing out on something by not watching ‘Tiger King,’” Virginia Rep. Jennifer Wexton told Heard on the Hill over Skype. “It’s in the queue for later.”

The “murder-for-hire story” follows Oklahoma zookeeper “Joe Exotic,” a “mulleted, gun-toting polygamist and country western singer,” according to the Netflix description.

It’s “the train wreck you can’t stop watching,” tweeted Rep. Jared Huffman. The California Democrat makes a cameo in the first episode, along with the “Big Cat Public Safety Act,” a bill supported by one of the show’s eccentric characters, Carole Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida.

“I had no idea this would be my 15 minutes of fame,” Huffman told Heard on the Hill in an email.

It’s not the first time Congress has been purr-suaded by some big cats. In 2013, another of the show’s characters, Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, visited the Hill to advocate private ownership of exotic pets. He even brought his own tiger cubs and a chimp in a diaper. Staffers flocked to a photo-op hosted by Alaska Rep. Don Young, lining up outside the Natural Resources Committee room for a chance to pose with the squirming cubs, CQ Roll Call reported at the time.

Some Hill staffers recalled a similar event with Doc and tiger cubs. (His long blond locks and signature soul patch are hard to forget.)

“So I started watching Tiger King on Netflix and it reminded me of a time when some group brought tiger cubs to Capitol Hill a few years ago,” tweeted House Republican aide Steven Smith, adding that the event he attended was in 2015.

Other staffers chimed in with related memories and pondered unanswered questions, like what happened to Baskin’s second husband, who went missing in 1997. (Baskin has denied any wrongdoing and slammed the series’ directors, saying they misrepresented her. Antle has also quibbled with his portrayal, telling, “I do not have a harem.”) 

Another question: “What does this series pair well with?”

“A bottle of Tums,” joked Huffman.

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