With the podcast’s growing popularity, guests on the show have covered the spectrum, with prominent politicians, business leaders, celebrities and athletes making appearances.
Amid a contentious presidential election year, comedian and podcast host Joe Rogan has become a surprisingly central figure in the political discourse. The former sitcom star and reality TV host has steadily grown the audience for his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, over the last decade. The result: in May, he signed a US$100 million deal to exclusively release new episodes on Spotify.
The Spotify deal caps an impressive rise for an entertainer who was, even at the height of his television career, far from a household name. Through his often two-plus hour interviews with major players in the worlds of politics, business and entertainment, Rogan has established his podcast as the go-to outlet for long-form, at-times rambling discussions with figures outside the mainstream.
Rogan’s political relevance received a boost in January 2020 when his on-air endorsement of Senator Bernie Sanders, then a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was shared by Sanders himself.
Yet Rogan has also frequently courted controversy, both for statements he has made on his show and for his guests. When Rogan moved to Spotify, so did most of the JRE backlog, but quite a few episodes are unavailable, including multiple interviews with far-right advocates.
From stand-up to television
Rogan began his entertainment career as a stand-up comedian. He was born in New Jersey but raised throughout the United States before landing in a town just outside Boston, Massachusetts, where he attended high school. His first stand-up appearance was at a local club on August 27, 1998. While building his career as a stand-up performer and host, he also taught martial arts at Boston University.
In 1995, Rogan landed his first high-profile acting gig as Joe Garrelli, a radio station electrician on the NBC workplace comedy “NewsRadio.” The sitcom, which starred Dave Foley and Phil Hartman (up until his death), lasted five seasons and ended in 1999. Rogan’s character was a working-class guy with a penchant for wise cracks and far fetched conspiracy theories.
In the 2000s, Rogan took on multiple TV hosting gigs. The first was the NBC reality show, “Fear Factor,” which he hosted for six seasons from 2001 to 2006 and a seventh season in 2011-2012. Rogan also co-hosted two seasons of the Comedy Central talk show, “The Man Show,” with stand-up comedian Doug Stanhope. Rogan and Stanhope replaced the original hosts, Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla.
Rogan is a longtime fan of mixed martial arts and appeared at Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) events in the late 90s as an interviewer. In the early 2000s, he started announcing the fights and continues to be a regular host and commentator for UFC matches to this day.
The Joe Rogan Experience
Other than comedian Marc Maron, Rogan is probably the celebrity who has most successfully revitalized a career by turning to podcasting. The first episode of his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, went online on Christmas Eve 2009.
That episode, a question-and-answer session with online fans, features his regular co-host, Brian Redban. At an hour and a half long, it is a decidedly low-fi exercise in establishing the purpose and motivation for the podcast. But Rogan’s acerbic, comedic personality is fully on display. The two hosts also touch on recurring JRE topics: stand-up comedy, conspiracy theories and UFC fighting.
In the first years of the weekly podcast, the guests were almost exclusively fellow comedians. The show became known for discussions on a range of topics, from sports to comedy, as well as frequent discussions of conspiracy theories and drugs.
With the podcast’s growing popularity, guests on the show have covered the spectrum, with prominent politicians, business leaders, celebrities and athletes (and still comedians) making appearances. Notable guests have included NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, progressive Senator Bernie Sanders and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
The Joe Rogan Controversy Experience
Rogan’s commitment to hosting non-mainstream voices has led to frequent accusations that he provides a platform for white supremacists and Neo-Nazis.
Among his more controversial guests are conspiracy monger and radio host Alex Jones (who has been sued for claiming the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting was fake) and far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos (banned from Twitter for fueling hate-based harassment of Black actress Leslie Jones).
Rogan has also faced a backlash for comments he has made about women UFC fighters as well as transgender people. Some of Rogan’s most controversial comments are in past episodes currently being hosted on Spotify, which has angered some employees of the company.
When the Sanders campaign promoted Rogan’s endorsement in January, Sanders was criticized for embracing a figure who has used his platform to denigrate transgender men and women.
On a recent JRE episode with the conservative author Douglas Murray, Rogan repeated a discredited conspiracy theory that left-wing extremists were starting wildfires in the west. Days later, Rogan apologized via his Twitter account, admitting what he had stated was not true. But the incident highlighted Rogan’s willingness to embrace far-right talking points and represents why he’s a risky bet for Spotify.
Joe Rogan on Spotify
In May, Spotify announced it had reached a US$100 million deal with Rogan to exclusively host his podcast beginning on September 1. In the announcement, it said the JRE was the “most-searched-for podcast on Spotify and is the leading show on practically every other podcasting platform.”
Even before the exclusive relationship began, the unprecedented deal stirred up some controversy for Spotify. The streaming giant has frequently been criticized for how little it pays the musical artists on its platform. Giving such a substantial payday to Rogan while paying out meager sums for the music that sustains the platform was considered yet another affront from the company.
Rogan promised his fans that signing with Spotify would not change the show, which in itself has created a problem for Spotify. Though the streaming platform has removed some of the most controversial episodes from the podcast’s backlog, some Spotify employees are still not happy.
There have already been 10 internal meetings about removing more episodes that have featured objectionable content, including anti-LGBTQ guests and comments.
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