JOE ROGAN IS AT WARNER THEATRE THIS FRIDAY. AS SUCH WE’RE RERUNNING THIS AWESOME INTERVIEW WE DID WITH HIM A LITTLE WHILE BACK. SOLID GOLD READING, IOO.-ed
Being a standup comic is about exploring the possibilities of language, confounding expectations, but for Joe Rogan it’s also about confronting you with ideas that the comfortable swaddling clothes of popular culture usually keep away. He might be most often associated with extreme physical ridiculousness because of the shows he’s hosted, making contestants eat spiders while bungee jumping out of a helicopter on Fear Factor, describing how a fighter broke someone’s spine in a UFC bout, or interviewing the world’s largest breasts on the Man Show, but in his stand-up comedy and his extensive online presence he’s clearly more interested in a different kind of extremity–from the use of semi-legal drugs that might give us new conceptualizations of consciousness to why religions exist and the mutability of human nature. He’s got a lot more in common with Bill Hicks than he does with Jeff Probst.
And like Hicks, he’s at his best when he’s ranting off the top of his head–denouncing radical Islam along with the boneheaded US response to it, calling out famous comedians like Carlos Mencia and Denis Leary for stealing jokes, mocking the fans of UFC for their pathetic machismo, and telling disparaging stories about seemingly every TV network he’s worked with. This tendency to be a contrary sonofabitch gets him in plenty of disputes but it’s always managed to gain him fans rather than lose them. The key to his success is: his honesty isn’t shocking for the sake of being edgy or shocking, nor is it even honest for the sake of honesty–it’s all in the service of being funny. He’s just one of these naturally hilarious people who are lucky enough, and confident enough, to say whatever the fuck they think at any given time and not come off as insane or boorish. He can be wrong about stuff–he’s mentioned the possibility of the moon landing being faked in his act before, and then admitted it might make him sound nuts–but you would never doubt his sincerity or his deep, intense understanding of the power of language. His routines are naked rear chokes, winding long dramatic sentences full of hyperbole and tongue-in-cheek rage around your neck until you pass out with laughing so hard.
I spoke to Rogan on the phone Thursday evening, and after talking about DMT, his use of the real f-word and the sound a crowd makes when they see a shriveled, poisoned cock, I felt both outraged and blown-away. His voice and attitude are so commanding he could probably convince me on the spot to smoke powdered bonsai trees or join the Navy, but he’s got too much integrity to use his abilities for evil, thank god. He just wants you to question your own assumptions and laugh your ass off doing it.
BYT: So you’re playing at the 930 Club? Have you been there before?
Joe Rogan: No, is it cool?
BYT: Yeah it’s like Thee Big Rock Club in town. Was that a deliberate choice, to play in a music venue…
JR: For me it was just the available venue. I was going to be in town monday night so…the way it works is that we do the weigh-ins for the fights on Sunday and then on Monday is the fight itself. [ed. you knew there was an MMA fight in Virginia on Monday right? Us neither.] Anytime we go to a new town I try to book a show. I literally know nothing about the club.
BYT: They’ve had more and more comedy there over the years…
JR: Like who?
BYT: Hmmm, we had a big comedy festival in the fall called the Bentzen Ball and Sarah Silverman played there, but they’ll have a big act in there maybe every month or every couple of months. In general do you prefer rock clubs or more traditional comedy venues?
JR: As long as they have seats. I went to see a show a few months ago in a rock club, a buddy of mine Doug Stanhope, and it was just standing room–everyone’s just standing around. I’d played a lot of standing shows before, at House of Blues and stuff like that, and I’d always noticed that it got really rowdy and people talked a lot. But i never knew why until I went to Doug’s show and realized Wow this is fucking uncomfortable. When youre’ standing around for an hour doing standup it’s no big deal but when you’re standing around watching a show for an hour—it’s a big difference. It’s annoying–your feet hurt, your back hurts–it’s just not the most confortable way to see stand-up comedy.
BYT: Sometimes I wonder if it’s affecting the type of comedy people have to do for a restless crowd.
JR: It’s more lion taming. “Heeey, listen to meeee! Let’s yell… for no apparent reason!” There’s no room for subtlety, it’s just a different kind of show.
BYT: Still, you’re known for doing lion taming really well. I saw one video online of you taking suggestions from the crowd, like “What else ya got?” And just riffing on whatever they yelled out…
JR: I always do that at the end of shows, like a Q&A session. First of all it lets people know that this isn’t some preprogrammed, press-play show where I have to say the exact same words in the exact same order. That’s part of the thing with live comedy is that people like the fun aspect of it and I enjoy the taking questions part. Then also I can come up with new bits–people yell stuff out and it’s a new subject or a subject that I’ve been thinking about that I haven’t done onstage yet and I’ll just run with it.
BYT: So a show like this isn’t vetting material for a new album?
JR: I’m doing that too. My last comedy special comes out in March on Comedy Central and as a DVD and CD at the same time (it originally aired on Spike TV) and a couple months after that I want to film the next one. So by that time I want to have enough material to put out a new one. Yeah that sounds about right to me, sometime in June.
BYT: Did you start out as a discursive, stream-of-consciousness artistic type of comic or did you start out more of a regular jokes kind of guy?
JR: When I started out I was definitely more traditional. It was 1988 you know? Everyone was doing the Jerry Seinfeld…when I first went onstage I even had a suit jacket on with the sleeves rolled up because that’s what I saw on TV or at the Improv that everybody did. One of the things that happened is I did a lot of shitty gigs. When you do a bunch of shitty bar gigs you have to get used to people yelling at you, you’re used to thinking on the fly, to dealing with weird situations. Not all comedy clubs or situations are ideal, especially when you’re first coming up and I think that’s good for you. Eventually you get to express your real personality.
BYT: But how do you bring the audience along with you? I mean I feel like most comedians would like to just stand up there and talk but some crowds expect 1-2-3-punchline shows…or do you just have to be brave enough to take them there?
JR: It’s not necessarily a brave thing, people talk about what they think about. There’s people out there who love to talk about politics or where they think the countries headed. I don’t talk about that I talk about…things that are a little trippier. I want to talk about the nature of human beings or how we’re evolving as a race. Like bees creating a beehive or ants creating an anthill we’re all moving along creating something and we’re not sure what it is. So there’s what I want to talk about onstage. Comedy in its best form is: “Here’s the world through my eyes.” Whether it’s Stephen Wright with weird little observations or Sam Kinison yelling and screaming about how fucked up marriage is, comedy has to be the world through your personal perspective.
BYT: Your act is often about brutal honesty, and can include stuff that some folks might find offensive. But when I hear someone like you or Louis CK use offensive language or talk about people’s use of “bad words” it’s hilarious and seems like an expression of your personality. As opposed to when my idiot friend XXXXXXX [ed: redacted but you know who you are] yells out “Faggot” in a bar, when it’s just embarrassing and hurtful. Can you explain the difference between these instances so I can print it and he’ll cut that shit out?
JR: [Laughs] Well one of them is done for comedy and planned out. Sometimes faggot is the right word. There’s a trend in this country to avoid words: “We can’t say that one anymore it’s offensive.” Interesting thing happened when I filmed my last comedy special. They told me they were going to censor everything when it aired before 1am, but then after 1am they were going to leave everything in–you could say fuck, cunt, all the seven dirty words– except faggot. They were going to beep out faggot. I was so confused. I was talking to this gay guy about it and asked, “What is that? I’m not talking to a human being when I say faggot, I called a dog a faggot.” You know it’s the talking dog in the anti-pot commercials. The bit is about the guy realizing that the first thing his dog has to say is to tell him not to smoke weed. Like, you motherfucker you could talk this whole time? This is your message? So then he has a bunch of messages to his dog like “How about you stop chasing your tail faggot!” Just talking shit to his dog. So this gay guy I was talking to was like “Well you can’t say it. I can say it because I’m gay. But you can’t. It’s our nigger.” He literally said that. I was like, “This is a new thing that the gay people have decided? That’s the gayest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” You can’t do that. You can’t decide that a word is forbidden now collectively amongst your group of human beings, that the word is a slanderous evil nasty word about homosexuals. It’s not, the word doesn’t mean that. And sometimes it’s a good word to use in comedy. That’s what your friend has to realize when he’s at a bar just yelling out the word.
BYT: Well that’s the thing his argument is similar to yours but not as nuanced. He has plenty of gay friends but he says “Well I’m not talking to them I’m talking to this straight guy who I think is an asshole…”
JR: Faggot never meant “gay” when I was a kid. You kind of knew that you could call a gay person faggot if you were ignorant, but nobody ever called someone a faggot if they were gay. Like if you all were going to go out and one guy’s like “you know what man I’m going to stay home I’m feeling kind of shitty,” you go, “You faggot.” That’s what it means. It’s about a guy wimping out, being a douchebag…it has nothing to do with your sexual orientation. It’s a great word! The whole thing about language is, it’s supposed to be broadcasting your intentions. These are my intentions and these words broadcast my feelings. If all of a sudden you have forbidden words that doesn’t make the intent any better. It’s just appeasing sensitive people.
BYT: I agree that it can be a funny word but when someone says “don’t say that around me because it hurts my feelings” I don’t really know what to say.
JR: Well then you say OK and you don’t say that around them. And then you don’t hang around them either. Because they are a sensitive cunt. There’s no time in life to hang around people who want to argue over the nuances of words we’ve used for hundreds of years. Just shut the fuck up man. You want to talk about the word faggot because it really offends you? Well you’re a douchebag. It’s really that simple. Anyone who gets annoyed by certain words or gets upset and outraged…though the word ‘nigger’ is different since it’s dehumanizing. There’s a a lot of hate and anger behind that word…I don’t think ‘faggot’ has the same connotation to the people who are saying it.
BYT: Speaking of pissing people off, you got your break doing these mainstream shows like the Man Show and Fear Factor. But recently you’ve been talking about how artists should do their own thing and create on their own without corporate influences because they always interfere with artistic endeavor. Is that biting the hand that feeds a litte? Are you worried if you keep saying how terrible massive media companies are it will hurt your chances to get bigger opportunities down the road?
JR: No, it won’t, it doesn’t. I mean, you do what you’re supposed to do, but you have to be honest about what they’re doing. When you do a comedy show on a network the problem is there are going to be a bunch of people who aren’t comedians that are going to tell you what’s funny. And it’s because they want to touch it, they want to change it, they want their fingerprints on it. They want to be able to say “Well he was going to do it like this but I came up to him and said no we need to do it like this and concentrate on this part.” There’s a classic story I tell about when I did the Man Show about the retarded conversations that you have with the executive producers and the network. We had this thing called “Make Me Hard,” it was a game show. We would strap a guy to a chair and put this electronic box over his junk and it was supposed to be able to detect whether or not he had a boner. Like a light would go off if he had a boner. So of course we had a bunch of things in front of him that weren’t sexy at all. A midget eating a banana…”Oh look he has a boner!” You know. Finally we bring out this really hot chick. A smoking hot chick in a bikini and she starts dancing for him. And the crowd is going nuts, she climbs on top of him and puts whipped cream on her tits and he sucks it off but the boner light isn’t going on. So then right as she’s stripping she pulls her panties down and whips out a dick. She’s got a dick, a real dick. She’s a tranny, so it looks like a bonobo monkey dick that got shot with a tranquilizer dart, just a horrible looking dick since she’s been taking female hormones for who knows how long. The dick looks poisoned, dark, shriveled up, it looks disgusting. And the crowd went bananas screaming in horror. I’ll never forget it, that noise, they were just aghast. Well, the network had no problem with any of that. You know what they had a problem with? The word “hard”. They thought “Make Me Hard” was too rough. They thought it should be “Make Me Stiff.”
BYT: WTF [laughs]
JR: We had an actual fucking argument about it. I kept the sign, the “Make Me Hard” sign–it’s in my office right now–and when we do these podcasts every week on ustream I’ll put the sign in the background, just because it was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever been involved in. We had a tranny pull her dick out on TV and you have no problem with that but you’d rather we say “Stiff” rather than “Hard” even though there is no difference between those words? And we had that conversation because they like to get their greasy little hands on things, to touch things and change things, and it’s maddening. It’s why Chappelle left the Chappelle show! It’s the same goddamn reason. Which is why I love stand-up, it’s just me. You don’t get a bunch of suits saying “Let’s not open with the baby blowjob bit, let’s start out with the aliens among us bit.” No, fuck you.
BYT: Is that search for autonomy behind why you’re writing a book right now?
JR: Yeah I’m writing it and when I’m done writing it if the publishing company doesn’t like it I’ll go somewhere else. Or I’ll just release it online. Maybe by then online books will be just as popular as real ones. I mean I have a kindle and I know Barnes and Noble is coming out with their own version of it now and you can download .pdf files right to these things, so I might just say fuck it and release it online. I’m not doing it for money, I’m doing it just to get the thoughts out.
BYT: So what is the book about and how will it compare to Denis Leary’s?
JR: Hahaha that’s hilarious. Well compared to Denis Leary’s…first of all it will be my own thoughts. Right now it’s about the early years when I was doing standup comedy, about how crazy the gigs were and how weird it was to not have any idea how it’s going to work out. This is a fucked up thing to bank your life on…how many people make it as standup comedians, you know? Not that fucking many. I thought eventually I’d have a family and I really didn’t want to be a loser like that guy in his 40s still shopping his band’s shitty demo tapes around. And I did a lot of crazy gigs man. I hosted a Jack and Jill strip club in Woonsocket Rhode Island which is this tiny depressing fishing town, all Portuguese immigrants and it’s just a humorless, dark town. They had a Jack and Jill strip club there where a guy goes up and dances and girl goes up and dances and the crowd is supposed to be couples. It’s fucking disgusting. And the people dancing there are exactly who you’d expect to be dancing there. They look like they’ve been doing drugs and drinking most of their lives and their parents were doing drugs when they had them, and…bad tattoos and scars and fat and it was just fucking strange. There’s maybe ten people in the audience. So while a lot of these stories are about bombing onstage, what it’s like, but in this instance you couldn’t call it that, they didn’t even react. They didn’t even respond to me. It was like they were so numb that they didn’t care. They just sat there. It was so strange. That’s just one of the stories.
BYT: Plus it won’t be plagiarized, so that’s a plus. You have a reputation for talking online about your positive drug experiences, do you get sick of people always trying to do drugs with you after shows?
JR: People do always try to smoke pot with me. But I think some of those people are cops.
BYT: Ha really?
JR: I definitely had one guy come up to me and ask if I knew where to get DMT. He had a crewcut and he didn’t look like he’d ever done a drug in his life. He didn’t seem curious he seemed like he wanted to get me to do something. Like “You’re the laziest narc ever dude. This is ridiculous. What, do you think I bring drugs around with me? Are you retarded? Why don’t you go find gangsters?” It’s a weird experience when you’re just trying to talk openly about how you think psychedelic drugs and marijuana are beneficial, or a lot of different drugs, especially plant-based ones, can be beneficial. Especially those ones that have some connection to organic life, I feel like you can learn something from them, from mushrooms, from peyote, from marijuana. They can be used as a tool. But like any tool they can help you or hurt you. I say in my act that you can build a house with a hammer, or you can hit yourself in the dick if you’re fucking crazy. You’re using it wrong–it’s that simple. But all of these have been incredibly beneficial, offering me a perspective that I don’t think would have been available to me otherwise. I brought something back from those experiences which made me softer, open to other ideas. And I’ve learned from listening to other people talk about their experiences, from listening to Bill Hicks or reading Terrence McKenna or Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary. But there’s always some dumb cop out there who says “We don’t need another legal drug and there’s psychological addiction and blah blah blah.” There’s a lot of drones out there.
BYT: Well, just as a warning if a girl comes up to you after this show, a brunette wearing a fannypack, that’s my friend Libby she’s cool, you can do drugs with her.
JR: Haha OK I’ll look out for your friend Libby.
BYT: Well, I would, she’s a terrible influence. Thanks for your time!
JR: Good talking to you.