What Enneagram type is Joe Exotic, the Tiger King?
Examining the personality type of the infamous and flamboyant zoo owner
Netflix’s Tiger King took the world by storm when it came out in March 2020. Viewers couldn’t believe how crazy the world of “big cat people” was, and at the top of a heap of big personalities was the biggest of them all: Joe Exotic himself. And with Tiger King 2’s release in November 2021, we got even more Joe to enjoy.
Whether you’re team #FreeJoeExotic, think he’s an animal-abuser who deserves to be in jail, or somewhere in between, the force of his personality is undeniable. It’s like watching a car crash: you can’t look away.
We'll examine his personality type using the Enneagram here, highlighting and analyzing the cues we think are most important in identifying his type. The Enneagram type we’ve assigned to Joe Exotic is our best guess, given our observation of his motivations, decisions, behaviors, speech, body language, and more. We’ll explain which type we think he is and why, using examples when relevant.
Note that type descriptions below come from Blueprint, our Enneagram app. Spoilers ahead for Tiger King. And if you liked this post, check out our follow-up on Carole Baskin, Jeff Lowe, and Doc Antle.
Joe Exotic’s base type: Seven (The Enthusiast)
Our best guess for Joe Exotic is a type Seven. Sevens are ecstatic, curious, spontaneous, versatile, quick, hyperactive, unfiltered, impulsive, excessive, scattered, and emotionally avoidant. Sevens want to avoid being deprived or trapped in pain. They focus on having a variety of positive experiences, analyzing possibilities, learning new skills, escaping anxiety, winning competitions, enjoying themselves, and keeping their options open. They seek out stimulating experiences and ideas to feel satiated, which limits their ability to focus and be present. At their best, they are vivacious, resilient, and truly free, quick-minded explorers whose high spirits infuse others with energy.
Joe Exotic’s subtype: Seven with an Eight wing (The Aficionado)
Our best guess for Joe Exotic's subtype is a Seven with an Eight wing. The Aficionado is exuberant, active, versatile, tenacious, thrill-seeking, multitasking, excessive, rude, and reckless. They are Renaissance people who regale others with their knowledge, but can be dissipated and callous.
Energy and vibe
Of all the nine Enneagram types, Sevens are the ones with the most visible energy. There’s always something to do and much to be excited about.
Joe Exotic epitomizes this Seven energy. In almost every piece of footage, he’s exuding liveliness. He surrounds himself with people nearly all the time, whether his team at the zoo, his multiple husbands, or the followers of his social media broadcasts. The sheer number of activities, business ventures, media appearances, and ideas generated tend to come naturally to Sevens. It’s hard to look at Joe and deny that he’s the life of the party (even if it’s not your type of party).
Entrepreneurship and ideas
Sevens are great brainstormers: they can spit out dozens of ideas on the fly because their minds run a mile a minute. Starting projects is fun for them. It’s finishing projects that can pose a problem.
It’s undeniable that Joe Exotic is an entrepreneur. From putting out country music albums to running for President in 2016 to selling his own brand of tiger-themed underwear, he’ll try anything that could lead to more exposure or more dollars. Founders have to walk a thin line between delusional confidence in their own odds of succeeding and despair at how difficult it is to create a sustainable business, and Sevens like Joe often make it work because they aren’t afraid to try.
Sevens aren’t known to choose their words carefully; they have little filter between their minds and what comes out of their mouths. Known for being great storytellers who love to talk more than they tend to listen, they know when to exaggerate a detail for a greater effect on their audience.
Tiger King’s style matches the Seven’s, given that he’s often holding court in front of an audience, whether at the zoo, online, or winning over strangers in public with his stories. He shoots others down if he disagrees with their knowledge of exotic animals. He took his hatred of Carole Baskin way too far, posting repeated videos in which he talks about killing her in various outlandish ways. And although he claimed to be exaggerating—which fits the profile of the Seven—these videos served as evidence to help convict him for her attempted murder. This combination of aggression and exaggeration is suggestive of him having an Eight wing.
He’s also famous for saying whatever comes to mind, often to hilarious effect. One of the best examples of this speech style is his 2016 Presidential campaign ad, where he famously introduced himself this way: “Hey, I'm Joe Exotic, otherwise known as the Tiger King. The gay, gun-carrying, redneck with a mullet.”
Sevens’ core desire is to be happy, which tends to express itself in a wide variety of interests, activities, and hobbies. They equate boredom with pain, so they keep moving in a blur of action as they seek fun and entertainment.
Joe Exotic is no exception to the rule that Sevens are “Renaissance people” who dabble in everything. He has a strong opinion on everything from firearms to the proper way to raise a tiger to how the government should run (and even created Joe Exotic TV to share his views). With the threat of boredom never far behind, Sevens cultivate a wealth of hobbies to stay ahead.
The vice of the Seven is gluttony: they tend to over-consume anything that provides them pleasure, even to the point of making them sick.
Joe Exotic is certainly gluttonous in his appetites. Substance abuse is the Achilles heel of many Sevens, as with Joe and his history of cocaine and meth abuse. Despite already being very “up” all the time, many Sevens enjoy the feeling of uppers to quell their underlying anxiety and better focus on their pursuits. Unfortunately this can push them into a manic state, which they’re already prone to experience, and which are usually obvious to onlookers. For example, this video in which Joe gets kicked out of a Trump rally has many commenters guessing that he’s on something because of how twitchy his eyes are.
Nothing is ever enough for the gluttonous Seven. More tigers, more husbands, more drugs, more outrageous explosions, more media attention: it wasn’t sufficient to satisfy Joe. It often takes an external force, like rehab or even imprisonment, for a Seven stuck in this cycle to realize that they’re in it and break out.
Tantrums and avoidance
According to the Enneagram, every person’s type stays the same across their lives. However, one may act out the best or worst versions of that type, depending on how much physical and emotional stress they’re under. Someone who’s under extreme stress is considered “low health” in the Enneagram. Although every type in high health is an exceptional person, every type in low health is the opposite, representing the worst potential of that type.
Sevens in low health tend to avoid dealing with negative emotions at all costs. Whether by escalating the number of activities they’re doing or shutting down others’ attempts to bring up upsetting topics, Sevens are quick to change the subject or deflect blame onto others.
Multiple people interviewed who knew Joe Exotic before his “Tiger King” days say he used to be much more patient, caring, and humane, but that he became the worst version of himself when his first husband Brian died in his arms after complications from HIV. It’s likely that rather than dealing with his grief, he pushed it aside and sought out thrills and intensity to overcompensate. His conflict style seems to be to throw tantrums and make life difficult for anyone who opposes him until he gets his way. After having a few years in jail to reflect, even Joe admits that the ways in which he treated his staff and wildlife at times were wrong.
Desire to be free
Sevens don’t want to be locked down or restricted in their choices. They avoid entanglements that feel stifling. Sevens with an Eight wing in particular are deeply averse to feeling controlled; they are strong-willed and may actively disobey anyone or anything that tries to control them.
Joe Exotic’s longtime battles with animal rights organizations, Carole Baskin, the feds, and many other people in his life are likely driven by his desire to remain free and unencumbered by anyone else’s rules. He grew paranoid, aggressive, and delusional in his own grandiosity as he waged these wars beyond any reasonable level. And the irony of it all is that his frantic fight to protect himself and his business ultimately led to his downfall and prison sentence. Now the man who claimed he’d never lose has been caged for several years.