Today is Saturday and I woke up early so that I could put the finishing touches on a podcast episode (it’s up now, called “My Therapist and I Bought the Same Vibrator”) and once that was over I changed into exercise clothes and grabbed my notebook and set out for a long walk through Little Havana and Coral Gables that ended up being ten miles long. It took three hours. And for most of those three hours I listened to the latest Joe Rogan podcast, in which he interviews the comedian Bill Burr, and I laughed a lot, and I was interested by some of the insights. This is a normal reaction to Rogan’s show. So why am I so reluctant to say nice things about it?
The Joe Rogan Experience is, objectively, a good podcast (it’s edgy, the conversation is sprawling, the production quality is consistent, his guests are from all over the place, he posts several episodes a week), and Rogan himself is a ninja at his craft. To keep conversations flowing for three straight hours, several times a week, is no small feat.
But it’s also clear that people aren’t tuning in just for the content of the conversations.
There’s something more.
I guess it’s a branding thing. The fact that Rogan isn’t just a personality at this point but a symbol for like…a lifestyle. Or a sensibility.
Rogan’s got a big American flag behind him in the studio—which wouldn’t be something we talk about if his podcast didn’t also stream on YouTube. So there’s a visual component that also plays a role in the show’s allure. When I’m listening to it over the course of my long walks, without any kind of visual cues, I nonetheless have a clear image in my head of Rogan’s posture, his mic, his headphones, the brick wall and the flag behind him. I can even call to mind the camera angle from which his guest is being shot.
Rogan appears to’ve now renounced wearing facemasks in public during the COVID pandemic, which I can understand. I was not wearing a mask as I was walking through Coral Gables and when I stepped into a gas station to get a Gatorade I forgot to take the mask from my pocket. I was the only one with a bare face until I got a quick dirty look from literally everybody inside, and then remembered.
They got to the topic of facemasks and Rogan was saying they’re unnecessary and Burr, a guy to whom I can more easily relate, thinks people are assholes for not wearing them even when they’re walking around in the street.
Rogan prods him about it, half-jokingly.
“Joe, I don’t wanna do this,” Burr says. (I’m paraphrasing.) Rogan laughs. Then pursues the topic, smirking, while Burr explains his position.
I know a lot of guys who do this kinda thing that Rogan’s doing. The “joking” challenge of their position. Here’s how it works: they give bombastic voice to a controversial opinion whenever they’re in the company of somebody who won’t challenge them. But when they’re discussing it with somebody they respect, somebody who might be looking at things more sensibly, they put on a smirk that will allow them to double back and say that they were joking the whole time.
Burr, egged on, explains this exact phenomenon. The way that people denounce masks one week, obsessively buy them up the next, and then start the cycle over.
Rogan probably wasn’t gonna back down, even if his mind was changed.
Or maybe he would have.
He reminds me a lot of my brother. And so I think I understand what he’s about and where he’s coming from, but every now and then he surprises me.
Then again, so does my brother.