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Photo/Video: Joe Rogan/Hollywood Insider YouTube Channel
3 years ago, I was in London, sitting at the reception of my hotel, waiting for the long line to check-in and tediously scrolling through my Facebook feed. A friend of mine had shared Jordan Peterson’s appearance at Joe Rogan’s podcast with just an exclamation mark over the post, possibly inviting his followers to embrace the significance of what he had just posted. Another guy in the line caught a glimpse of what I was watching, nodded approvingly, and said: “Joe Rogan, ay? Real boss podcast, innit?” That’s how I met Rory, the agent of the band I was actually there to book.
The Joe Rogan
Around six months later at the El Cortez Hotel & Casino in Vegas, I was sitting at the bar waiting for a burger with headphones over my ears, listening to random recommended stuff on YouTube. At some point, I came across a Rogan podcast and my phone rang at the same time. When I was done talking, I disconnected the headphones without turning off the media and the podcast resumed playback through my speakers. A guy with a cowboy hat sitting across the bar counter asked “Is that Rogan talking? Did you watch the Tyson episode?” – and we talked and drank at that bar for most of the evening, talking about boxing, horses, and somehow, India.
A year after that, in 2019, I was in LA, sweating on a treadmill at a gym in Los Feliz, listening to Rogan and Travis Walton discussing alien abductions. The guy taking a break on the next treadmill looked at my phone and said “Rogan huh? I love that dude, my friend is like a regular there.” Turns out, his friend was Greg Fitzsimmons – a well-known standup comedian and actor and a very frequent guest at the podcast.
The Joe Rogan Experience (JRE) podcast, started in 2009 by Joe Rogan and Brian Redban at Joe’s house and first sponsored by a sex toy company was, at first, just “two people sitting in front of laptops and bullshitting.” In January 2013, the podcast videos started appearing on YouTube and were regularly reaching hundreds of thousands of views, which became millions by the 1,000th episode in 2017. By then, it had already become the most downloaded podcast on the planet.
Besides the numbers, however, JRE holds a very special place in the American media – not only is it often called “one of the last bastions for civil discussion in the mainstream of contemporary America” but it is also one of the last spaces where masculinity is not automatically associated with toxicity, and where men and women are not hesitant to engage in a sincere conversation about what they think and how they feel about things in their life. And to navigate that conversation while evading the landmines of omnipresent political correctness – without fueling further animus between polarized sides and while engaging them in a discussion – is no small feat.
The right place, the right time, the right people
In 2020, CNN described Rogan as “libertarian-leaning” but at the same time, a recent essay in The Atlantic concluded that he might be “America’s Next Authoritarian” leader to fill Trump’s shoes. To some people, he is a “pure centrist” or an ancap. He openly supports free speech, LGBT rights, and universal healthcare and, at the same time, he is an advocate of the Second Amendment & gun rights that constantly criticizes cancel culture, has occasionally endorsed both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and has been accused by the left of having transphobic, Islamophobic, and racist views. However, to an array of intellectuals, scientists, martial artists, musicians, politicians, and comedians, as well as millions of its fans, he is just a curious guy who’s always up to discuss things that he might not even fully understand, and who’s always ready to put himself in other people’s shoes in order to better understand their point of view.
You can’t paint a picture of a stereotypical Joe Rogan listener because they come in all shapes and from everywhere around the globe. And if there’s one shape that Rogan can effortlessly morph into, it’s exactly that “everyman” form that provides the hypnotic and ego-free conversations where his guests feel secure enough to open up about the most delicate things in their life, like Lance Armstrong talking about the doping scandal, Ari Shaffir discussing his mental health issues, Kevin Smith crying over his dog’s death, and Nick Yarris remembering the horrible things he had to go through in prison in order to survive. The level of sincerity that characterized some of these conversations makes it almost impossible to go there just to self-promote and try to look cool – the contrast will be spotted instantly, and people will know it.
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But the “man” part in the “everyman” is definitely highlighted here – it’s no secret that the podcast primarily caters to men. Men are the primary audience and the majority of conversations are oozing with male perspective. However, besides being a genuine safe space for “bro caving” and quintessential discussions about whether a gorilla is stronger than a bear and how wild 90’s Boston bar fights were, men here also talk about things that they seldom talk about if they know that someone’s listening – not a common trait to any platform in today’s America, and that has proved increasingly irritating to people who believe that when discussions are forcibly suppressed and hushed in the dining room, rather than ceasing altogether, they simply move to the kitchen and the basement.
A major part of those talks revolves around masculinity but it’s mostly far from being toxic. “It’s OK to cry”, says Rogan to one of his guests who apologized for getting too emotional, “I cry all the time”, he said, and it really does happen on some episodes. Tyson Fury and Jon Jones – arguably the world’s cockiest fighters – have discussed their severe self-confidence issues and states of acute depression with hundreds of thousands of people listening live. Dakota Meyer has talked about his severe PTSD and suicide attempt after he killed a man in the war in melee combat.
Both men and women have not held back to “cross the lower line” of their insecurities but the “upper lines” of sensitivity and political correctness are often trampled as well, and way more gladly at that – any 15 minutes from an episode of Joe and Bill Burr puffing cigars and talking is more than enough to give a heart attack to someone on the far left – or the right, for that matter, much like how Elon Musk puffing his first joint there must have given a mini-heart attack to Tesla shareholders. This amplitude and diversity of his guests and what they represent is what makes Rogan unique – there is no other host on the planet that can approach Edward Snowden, Mike Tyson, Steve-O, Bernie Sanders, Dan Bilzerian, Alex Jones, and Sam Harris with the same engagement and curiosity, and as a consumer, that’s kind of hard to resist.
“Live your life like you are the hero of your own movie”
To an outside observer, it might seem that Rogan has simply made the right bets in his life and that that is what caused his upward spiral – beginning as a moderately successful actor in the Fox sitcom ‘Hardball’, then becoming an MMA commentator right before its meteoric rise, accepting an offer to host the American edition of ‘Fear Factor’ during the peak of its popularity, starting to do standup shows when the comedy community was just about to flourish, and making friends with the next generation of superstars. All along that path, however, the amount of hard work and consistent effort he poured into everything he did has become legendary.
From his early teenage years when he first picked up martial arts and went down that path, the resilience and self-motivation that accompanies his life story has been so vivid that it has often proved to be contagious to the people around him – like to Joey Diaz, who often talks about how Rogan motivated him to get out of the “black hole” of addiction and get into comedy, and other men (and women) from all over the planet respond to that.
Most of us respond to films where hard work pays off in the end and in Joe’s case, it’s not a film but a TV series that has been going on forever. “One of the most fascinating lessons I’ve absorbed about life is that the struggle is good,” he has repeated over and over again – “I love a success story, but even more than a success story, I like a dude who f***s his life up and gets his life together again story.” And that stubbornness has paid off big time with the podcast – it took over 1,000 episodes of it getting slightly better with each episode to get where it is now.
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He didn’t listen to radio professionals who said episodes need to be shorter at around 15-20 minutes, or that you must release episodes on the same day at the same time, or that you have to monetize and promote your podcast in every way possible – he did not look for shortcuts, for those magical transitional moments to stardom, but went through the hard way with the passion, patience, and persistence of a real hard worker, and boy has it paid off. The present value of the impact of the JRE podcast became especially clear when he signed a multi-year licensing deal with Spotify, worth an estimated $100 million, making it the largest licensing agreement in the history of the podcast business.
And to this day, Rogan is always pumped, always trying to squeeze the best he can from the moment, and really the time when he seems most relaxed and chill is during the podcasts. There, he mostly listens, but as Glenn Greenwald brilliantly put it, “with every word he says you can feel the sincerity of someone doing their best – and not always succeeding – to understand the world and all its complexities. And in a world of scripted orthodoxies and partisan dogma, it’s easy to see why it resonates for millions.”
Amid the growing deficit of humble dialogue in the United States and all over the world, where comedians are booed off stage by college kids for sharp humor, forced narratives are often shoved down people’s throats, and engaging discussions are getting more and more scarce, Joe’s eyes-wide-open curious-kid personality, combined with numerous stories of personal success under his belt, leaves little space to wonder why his podcast has been so cathartic to vast numbers of people, and I think I can say that I’m one of them.
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David Tsintsadze is a music industry executive, investigative reporter and a film enthusiast. As far back as he remembers, he always wanted to be involved in the entertainment industry. When that started to happen and he began to really understand how it all worked, he found that his love of both the creative arts and the relevant industry allowed him to move between the two worlds and make them relate to each other. David’s belief in meaningful entertainment coincides with Hollywood Insider’s values and in his vision, cultural intermediaries play a crucial role in shaping and exchanging culture, which he firmly believes is one of the main contribution in creation of a free and vibrant society that people want to live in.