The Joe Rogan Experience works because the host exudes curiosity, the guests fascinate, the format (untethered to word counts or ad breaks) allows for an authentic conversation to develop, the tone remains uninhibited and the palate broad, and the views offered confound patterns and predictions. This naturally offends the Atlantic, a publication the opposite of one of the most popular podcasts in America: a priori, in-crowd, oversocialized, pretentious, forced, formulaic, consumed by politics, boilerplate, bromidic.
In Devin Gordon’s “Why Is Joe Rogan So Popular?” Atlantic piece, we learn that “Joe Rogan may be all about love, but beneath the surface he’s seething”; “He uses the word lady a lot”; and his show “can seem like a safe space for retrograde assholes.” In other words, we learn little about Joe Rogan and much about what Devin Gordon thinks about, or wants us to think about, Joe Rogan. What evidence exists that the 52-year-old father of three, often animated but almost never angry, seethes beneath the surface, and who cares if he uses the word “lady” a lot?
“And a key thing Joe and his fans tend to have in common is a deficit of empathy,” Gordon writes at the Atlantic. “He seems unable to process how his tolerance for monsters like Alex Jones plays a role in the wounding of people who don’t deserve it.”
People who watch Joe Rogan’s podcast do not read the Atlantic. A perusal of its site reveals such headlines as “Milton Friedman Was Wrong,” “The Democrats’ Filibuster Problem Is Only Getting Worse,” and “Would You Rather a Recession, or Trump?” Even the movie reviews exist to make political points. Along these lines, the Atlantic obsesses over that sliver of Joe Rogan that delves into politics.
“Rogan’s most recent Netflix special is often funny because Joe Rogan is a professional stand-up comedian, but if you look past the jokes themselves and focus on the targets he’s choosing, the same patterns emerge,” Gordon writes. “Hillary, the #MeToo movement, why it sucks that he can’t call things ‘gay,’ vegan bullies, sexism. Of all the things in the world for a comedian to joke about right now, why these?” Precisely because cultural guardians forbid jokes about such subjects, and because from Monty Python to George Carlin authority serves as a punching bag for comedy. Joe Rogan, in his comedy and on his show, thumbs his nose at cultural guardians and gatekeepers.
People know Joe Rogan from his encouraging people to eat bugs on primetime television or enthusiastically describing men with neck tattoos punching one another in a cage or making people laugh on stage or his enthusiasm for marijuana. People watch The Joe Rogan Experience to hear from Scientology founder David Miscavige’s estranged father Ron, former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, physicist Brian Cox, and others without much to say regarding Donald Trump’s attempted acquisition of Greenland or the political enthusiasms of the U.S. national women’s soccer team but with much to say that, well, interests. Joe Rogan’s show, unsurprisingly, is as all over the place as its host. The audience’s appetite, like the host’s, includes politics; but podcast enthusiasts, like successful podcasters, do not live on Donald Trump alone. An alternative medium fittingly airs alternative subjects and views.
Monomaniacs do not know what to make of omnivores. Beyond this, they strangely wonder why someone could gain such popularity by ignoring taboos and providing a platform for exiles, not quite grasping that the freewheeling nature of the program allowing it to stand out rather than fit in precisely explains its following. Just because powerful people erect barriers to certain personalities and ideas does not mean the public demand abates; in fact, suppression, through decreasing supply, often increases demand.
Sure, Rogan interviews Milo Yiannopoulos, Gavin McInnes, Peter Schiff, and others considered pariahs by the Atlantic. But Democratic presidential candidates Tulsi Gabbard, Bernie Sanders, and Andrew Yang speak their piece there, too. In a ghettoized media, this refreshes rather than repulses.
In a sign of the times, when a left-wing congresswoman suggests boycotting left-wing comedian Bill Maher, the Atlantic targets an agnostic in favor of legalized abortion, universal health care, and gay marriage as a troglodyte for here and there voicing heterodox thoughts. Difference, political or otherwise, intrigues rather than alienates Rogan. If Rogan’s sleeve tattoos and shaved head conform to some bro stereotype, his interests indicate a more rebellious streak.
Why is Joe Rogan so popular? For the very reasons that the Atlantic criticizes him.