19 Aug 2022

What's On column: Have you experienced the world of Joe Rogan?

What’s On: Kevin Dowling from Kildare takes a look at the latest films, series and documentaries

What's On column: Have you experienced the world of Joe Rogan?

Joe Rogan

‘Oh my God, unbelievable! The first punch he threw, slept him!’ For many of us, this dramatic quote from 2015 may have been the first time we heard Joe Rogan’s voice. His off the cuff commentary at UFC 194 brilliantly summed up the sense of shock in the audience when Conor McGregor knocked José Aldo out after just 13 seconds.

The multi-talented Rogan is a man who wears many hats: UFC commentator, stand-up comedian, yoga enthusiast and, most famously, presenter of The Joe Rogan Experience on Spotify. The podcast has been extant, in one incarnation or another, since 2009. It eventually settled into its present home when Rogan signed a juicy exclusivity deal with Spotify in 2020. It was originally reported that the deal would earn Rogan $100 million, but estimates have now been revised upwards, to $200 million.

Things recently got a bit uncomfortable for Rogan after he interviewed Dr Robert Malone. In the show, the pair discussed Malone’s misgivings about the way the Covid Pandemic was being handled, with Malone claiming that vested interests were profiting from the opaque distribution of public finances.

The reaction of mainstream outlets was quick and dramatic. Rogan and his guest were called out on factual inaccuracies. Matters came to a head when rock legend Neil Young declared that it was either him or Rogan, Spotify couldn’t have both. The company looked cold, hard economics in the face and rather unceremoniously sided with Rogan and his millions of listeners. Despite the best attempts of his detractors, this particular attempt to cancel Rogan was unsuccessful.

A further illustration of the cultural impact of the show is the cottage industry of independent fact checkers that it has spawned. You know you are making waves when someone goes to the trouble of creating a separate podcast called Investigating Joe Rogan that is dedicated to checking the veracity of the ‘wild claims’ made on your show.

One group, however, who could certainly be said to have a legitimate gripe with Rogan are the plethora of struggling musicians whose material is streamed on Spotify. For these artists, the inexorable rise of platforms like Spotify has coincided with a worsening economic situation. In days gone by, they could hope to make a decent return on album sales, but the rise of streaming platforms has eroded this revenue stream.

Small wonder, then, if they feel aggrieved at the sheer size of Rogan’s Spotify deal. It’s no exaggeration to view it as a massive wealth transfer from the many (struggling artists) to the few (head-hunted podcasters like Rogan).

Nobody can accuse Rogan of not working hard, though. Episodes of the show can last up to three hours. It’s a tribute to him, that even on such long shows, you really feel that he is actively listening to his guests rather than lapsing into absent-minded head nodding.

Just when it feels like his guests are straying into platitudes, out of nowhere, like a stray left hook, Rogan floors them with a hard question, really putting them on the spot. No room for wooden chat-show hosts here. The sheer breadth of cultural references and personal anecdotes that Rogan can call upon while sparring with interviewees is also very impressive.

The Joe Rogan Experience may not be everyone’s cup of tea. He certainly has interviewed some very controversial guests over the years. People like Jordan Peterson and Alex Jones spring to mind.

Media consumption habits are currently undergoing a sea-change and the disruptive medium that Rogan’s show represents is here to stay.

Traditional platforms that choose to ignore it do so at their peril.

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