Joe Rogan has been a working Stand-Up Comedian since the early 90s. He found fame as an actor in the sitcom News Radio, and then as the host of the popular NBC reality show, Fear Factor. In 2002 he took a job as a colour commentator for The UFC and never looked back. Still calling their major pay per view events, he is for many, the voice of Mixed Martial Arts.
in 2009 he started a show called The Joe Rogan Experience that has grown into one of the most popular podcasts on the planet. He doesn’t just have fans, he has a movement of people who seemingly hang on his every word.
His new special ‘Triggered’ is very funny and on Netflix right now.
Why San Francisco, something to do with the liberal vibe?
It’s kinda that. It’s also I enjoy it, I perform there a lot, it’s close and it’s also where The Filmore Theater is. It’s a pretty small venue, like 450 people. It was like a dispute between me and Netflix – they wanted to do it in a really large venue, I wanted to do it in a really small comedy club so that was the compromise
How have Netflix been to deal with? Bill Burr was extremely complimentary when we spoke to him..
Oh they’ve been the best. Extremely easy to deal with. They didn’t interfere at all they just said “we think you’re really funny, go and do what ya need to do”.
You’re quite a cerebral comedian. Do you ever feel like you need to broaden your outlook the bigger your audience gets?
No, I just do what I do. I’m not trying to broaden my audience, I just try to put out good stuff, I feel like if my audience never got any bigger than it did right now it’d be great. I just want my material to represent what I think is funny.
Your podcast The Joe Rogan Experience can go for 3 hours sometimes. Do you find much material from doing it and riffing with your guests?
Well there’s always going to be something from that; you have long conversations with funny people and ya think ‘I better write that down’
Were you expecting JRE to get as big as it did? It’s almost a movement at this stage and your fans are intense.
*Laughs* Yea, it’s even a little intense for me sometimes. The numbers are crazy now; we’re at around 40 million downloads a month – this month will be well over 50 million. It grows so fast it’s crazy, it grew so fast that the hosting company at one time assumed there was some sort of error. They were tryna figure out how the show could go up 2 million followers in just a couple of weeks.
Why do you think it blew up?
I dunno, I think the genuine not giving a fuck part is a big factor. Because a lot of people say they don’t give a fuck, but when it comes down to it they’re trying to project a very clear image that they think is going to be marketable; tryna say things that someone is gonna hear and wanna put them on a show and do this or that with them. One of the benefits of having 3 jobs (stand-up comedy, The UFC and podcasting) if anything happened to either one of them it’d be fine. Because I have other options I can say what I feel and I’m financially stable which means I wouldn’t need to work for the rest of my life. I really don’t give a fuck, so when i’m doing it i think that comes through. It’s hard to get to the ‘I don’t give a fuck place’ but when you do you can honestly explore ideas and i’m a naturally curious person. What the podcast represents is an honest vision and no one telling you what to do; no one books my guests. I mean I have a booking agent who i call and can be like ‘hey man, lets get this guy’ but there’s no one deciding who goes on the podcast other than me.
One of the most satisfying things for you must be the platform you’ve given to the likes of Ari Shaffir, Bryan Callen, and Brendan Schaub?
That’s probably one of the best things about it; Ari in particular. I mean I’ve known Ari since he was a doorman at The Comedy Store, now he’s traveling around the world headlining shows and absolutely killing it and also doing it the right way. Ari is another guy who doesn’t give a fuck, he just takes an idea and runs with it; as soon as he started making real money, he just abandoned all fucks. He’s a really interesting guy, I’m really proud of Ari.
Are you still acutely aware of what kind of reverberation the stuff you say has – specifically with say the UFC and fighters? There’s always going to be blogs etc when anything remotely controversial is said.
I mean if anything needs to be clarified I try to do that and I try to be as fair as possible – so i do give a fuck in that regard. I don’t want anyone to be misrepresented or to feel bad about an appearance or episode. I think podcasts represent the first honest, unhindered forms of broadcasting – I think that needs to be nurtured and supported. These new self-publishing platforms like podcasts; this is the first time in human history that you could do something like this. All you have to do is get some form of a webhost – not that expensive – then boom any person in the world could find your podcast and listen to it. Then a few people tell a few people and it goes from there. When we started we had a few hundred downloads, then a few thousand then a few hundred thousand… then a million, then several million… then it starting getting weird. Each episode gets around 3.5 million downloads – it’s insane. And there’s room for everybody. It’s not like morning radio or something where two timeslots are competing with each other.
Can you tell when a fan approaches you what aspect of your career they follow – be it JRE, the standup, or the UFC?
*Laughs* it kinda hard to tell until they start talking. But if a guy is tatted up and muscular he probably knows me from the UFC, I mean, that’s most likely.
I would assume the Fight Companions are some of the most popular downloads. How was the UFC with it when you started doing them?
Yea, they’re absolutely huge. No, the UFC have never had a problem with it at all. The only issue would be if we erroneously stated something or we make mistakes about somebody. There’s been a few of those moments where I’ve gotten some phonecalls. But that’s kinda the fun part; everybody gets drunk and Eddie (Bravo) will bring up some fucking conspiracy theory *laughs*.
Eddie gave your black belt, right? It took him a while…
Yea, I started in ’96, got my black belt in 2012 I think. You do the math, man… *laughs* maybe 16 years? He just wanted to make sure that if I was a black belt I was a legit black belt. That I’d be able to prove that rolling – there would be no question. It needed to be obvious that I put in the time. I think we’re all aware that, especially in traditional martial arts, there are a lot of honorary black belts. There’s no place for “honorary experts”… just like Bill Cosby was never a fucking doctor.
One of the things i’ve learned training the last few years is the humility in MMA. Bravado doesn’t work in an MMA gym. Is that humility something you see with the best fighters?
Well with a lot of them. I mean someone with a striking background won’t wanna go to ground. That’s a real issue for some fighters; they just wanna learn how to keep away from Jiu Jitsu, they just wanna learn how to defend it. It’s held a lot of fighters back because they’d be excellent strikers but they’d get taken down and just worked over on the ground. But that’s the thing about MMA it’s so difficult to get good at everything – the time it takes! Now there’s this new movement with fighters where they become specialists and work on one aspect. I had a conversation with Junior Dos Santos (former UFC Heavyweight Champion) about it, where for the longest time he tried to be this well-rounded martial artist but his specialty is boxing- he has excellent hands. Recently he’s been concentrating on his boxing and we saw a huge difference in the Ben Rothwell fight – he just worked Ben Rothwell with his hands. He said he’d overcome his crisis of identity. Sorta like Demian Mia (UFC Welterweight), you know what he’s gonna do; he’s gonna try to take you to the ground and choke you. But he’s a master. Junior adopted the same kind of philosophy but with his boxing. So there’s a concept that you could concentrate on one aspect and just thrive at it. It’s a really interesting argument.
John Kavanagh said he would’ve been an Engineer or a Maths Teacher if he wasn’t a successful MMA coach. Do you think having that kind of technical brain helps with Jiu Jitsu?
It certainly could. But there’s also that kind of creative brain. You can get someone with like an engineer’s mind, who is very technical and then you have someone who’s very creative like Eddie Bravo, who’s this incredibly creative guy. He just sees things and he’s got this incredibly creative mind. He has a million different attacks and variations and variables. That’s his strength, his vocabulary for Jiu Jitsu is just incredible. I think Jiu Jitsu reflects who you are as a person; some people are expressive and open-minded and others are just very determined and disciplined, very conservative in their approach.
Is it crazy to see someone like The Rock light up when talking about Conor McGregor, or seeing Kanye West cage side? The sport is so mainstream now it must be surreal to see how popular it’s gotten…
When I started it was UFC 12 in Alabama. The world was different place back then. MMA was looked at in a very poor light. I was doing interviews for The UFC and I was on this legitimate network sitcom at the same time – back when sitcoms meant something – News Radio, and what I was doing was so disturbing to people. They would act like I was doing something gross. So I would show these people Royce Gracie and say look what he’s doing, he’s using technique. He’s taking these bigger guys and using positioning and gaining an advantage and putting them in submission holds, and some people would get it and others would be incredulous and think it would never catch on. But I would tell people that this was going to be a gigantic sport and they’d be like “you’re outta your fucking mind.” I knew what it was and it was incredibly exciting. Now, it’s got these super rich guys backing it up! But several big pieces had to fall in place, the big one being The Ultimate Fighter (the reality TV series that found fighters).
Conor McGregor is bigger than the sport in Ireland. He really transcends it. What do you think he’s brought to The UFC?
Well, Conor’s a special human; there’s not a lot of humans that come along in anyone’s generation that has that kind of impact in any sport. And it’s not just because of his ability to fight; it’s because of his mind, his charisma, his ability to articulate things. And also his ability to rise to the occasion when it matters most, like the Jose Aldo fight and the second fight with Nate Diaz. I mean he’s a special person and special people can move the needle in a way that no one else can. It takes a guy like Conor McGregor to sort of light the fires of people’s interests. You’re getting people who watch MMA specifically because of Conor McGregor; they might not know any of the other fighters, but they know who this fucking crazy Irishman is. I had a Dad come up to me at my daughter’s school the other day and he was cautious at first, but he says “I just wanna tell ya, I got into The UFC about a year ago, because of that crazy Irishman.” *Laughs* It was interesting because this guy was an accountant or something. I mean there’s a combination of factors that are so rare that make a Conor McGregor. He’s a once ever type of guy. Every now and then someone comes along like Ali and he can talk and he can fight and that’s such a big factor. He’s this rare combination of charismatic and funny and he’s quick, he says the right shit at the right time. Like the Jeremy Stephens thing at the press conference, *laughs* “Who the fuck is that guy” I mean you can’t teach that.
You either have that or you don’t and Conor has it like no one I’ve ever seen. But all of that would mean nothing if he didn’t have the courage to take that Nate Diaz rematch and at the same weight! And, I mean, not just calling out Jose Aldo, but fucking mocking him mercilessly! For months! To the point where it fucked Aldo’s head up so bad that he committed the cardinal sin and he got emotional, he got reckless and Conor slept him with one punch. That win over Jose Aldo for the Featherweight title is the most spectacular win for a title in the history of the sport. Not just the fact that it was 13 seconds. He had fucked his mind up so hard, from the trash talking and mindfucking and stealing his belt at the press conference… he’s such a presence. By the time Aldo got in that cage he was fucked he looked so nervous and overwhelmed by the pressure of it and Conor fought perfectly. He was so loose and so relaxed and slid backward out of the range of Aldo’s attack and just planted that left hand on him. It was a flawless victory, literally a flawless victory. You have to realise that at the time Jose Aldo was widely considered to be in the top 3 pound for pound fighters in the sport – he hadn’t lost in forever. He had beaten everyone in front of him. Conor McGregor is a special human being; he has the power to inspire people all over the world; to motivate someone to change their life for the better.
‘Triggered’ is on Netflix right now and The Joe Rogan Experience is free wherever you get your podcasts.