Joe Rogan is known from a variety of places: host of Fear Factor, commentator for the UFC; former co-host of The Man Show, his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience and for the older crowd, his role on the NBC sitcom, News Radio. But if you don’t already, the one place you should start getting to recognize him from is his stand-up comedy. Rogan, a 20-plus year comedy veteran, tours all over the country, playing comedy clubs and small theaters. He recently released his latest comedy special, Live from the Tabernacle, on his website for $5. Having self-produced the special himself, Rogan joins the likes of Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari and Jim Gaffigan by bypassing the traditional methods of corporate distribution.
I chatted with Rogan for the better part of an hour, so we will release the interview in two parts. In this first part, Joe and I talk about the “Louis C.K. model”, the Large Hadron Collider (what?!), and about enjoying our time on Earth before the next Apocalyptic prediction.
It’s amazing. Two days after you released your special through your website (joerogan.net) for $5, I was still able to find it on a Napster-esque torrent site for free.
It’s certainly fair– it’s a fair price. Louis C.K. set the bar for that. I think he hit it perfectly. There’s gonna be people who are just used to getting stuff for free. That’s just how they roll. That’s just how the Internet is. The real amazing thing is how many people are willing to give me five bucks. If you know that there’s something like Pirate Bay out there, the beautiful thing is that there’s people who will support people who give them free content and price things reasonably. I think five bucks is pretty reasonable.
How has the response been so far?
It’s been great. I’m really happy. So far the positive reviews have been overwhelming. I’m just glad that people enjoy it. When you create something, you spend some time working on it, piecing it together. Then you perform it, and record it, and edit it, and when people say they enjoyed it, that’s all you can ask for. That’s really what the number one goal is, always.
The concept of self-releasing an album or a special on your own website isn’t something that’s very new. Comedians have been doing that since before Louis C.K. did it. Comedians have always hawked merch after shows including their self-produced CDs.
I never really did that though. We tried it a couple of times but it always just felt awkward. We tried selling t-shirts and that was awkward, too. I figured, if people really want to buy your shit, they could get it online. Sometimes people want to buy things from the show. Maybe in the future if I have more employees or something, I’ll do something along those lines. I don’t want anybody to feel like they have to buy something. I feel like people spend money to come out and see you at the comedy clubs. That’s a lot. That’s a lot to go support somebody like that: spend your money, get a babysitter, park your car, just to go see somebody talk. I feel super fortunate about the whole thing.
You seem like one of those guys who like to put lots of free content out there. You’re one of those performers who keep all that in mind: the parking, the babysitter. I think that’s really cool because you have so much free content out there with the podcast and everything.
I think it’s important. I think if you can do it for free, you should do it for free. It benefits us, in terms of keeping the podcast free. We’ve had a bunch of offers of how to monetize the podcast, including subscription services. I’ve never been into it at all. Radio was always free and I think this is essentially the next level of radio. It’s just radio without having to go through any licensing or government organization that gives you the rights to use a certain frequency. It’s really badass in that way. I don’t think they saw this coming, you know? I really don’t. I think the powers that be, if they ever thought that people could release free content on the Internet– I mean, not even just comedy specials: lectures, websites that aren’t beholden to any news corporations’ advertising connections. On the Internet, none of that censoring shit is happening. A big part of it is just wild and open. So, the ability to put a podcast out, the ability to put a CD out as an MP3 out online, it’s beautiful. It’s just an awesome time.
I was in college more recently than not, and I was a communications major. And all of my professors were telling me, ‘Listen, what I’m teaching you now may be completely different in two years. No one knows what they’re doing.’ It’s like the new Wild West.
Yeah, isn’t that amazing? I have a joke that I’ve been fucking around with lately. Part of the premise of the joke is Simulation Theory. Do you know what that is?
No, I do not.
Simulation Theory is one of those new theories being batted around by those quantum physicist guys. These are legit scientists who are trying to determine whether or not we live in a computer simulation. People have been really serious about it. There are some German scientists who are going to do some sort of a test to find out whether or not we are in a computer simulation. A lot of it is based on some new evidence discovered. One of the pieces of evidence is — it sounds really crazy — it’s self-correcting computer code. They’ve found self-correcting computer code in all of the equations for quantum physics. Essentially what quantum physics is is they’re trying to measure the smallest possible part of reality that they can actually measure. It’s really fuzzy science. Quantum physics gets really strange.
Like this guy, Richard Feynman, who’s a famous physicist, said, ‘If you think you understand quantum theory, you don’t understand quantum theory.’ It gets that nutty. At the base of this stuff is this self-correcting computer code is being found. And they don’t understand why it’s there. Because it’s a very specific type of computer code. It’s not like it’s random numbers that might appear in nature naturally as a part of an ordinary sequence, like the Fibonacci sequence or something like that. It’s self-correcting. It’s the same type of computer code that was actually invented in the 1940s by some mathematician. So the really whacky people are looking at this and going, ‘Are we in a simulation right now?’ I mean, if there was a simulation that was so good, you couldn’t discern it from reality, how the hell would you know if you’re in a simulation or not? And are we in it right now? And that’s what I’ve been fucking around with on stage. That might be what the case is. We might live in a future that’s boring and so we decided to take a simulation in the Roaring 20s of the Digital Era.
That’s what this is: The Roaring 20s. This is the crazy time before the government banned booze. People have a rosy view of what our own history was like in the United States. Well, in the 1920s, the reason they call it the Roaring 20s is because people were going crazy! They were fucking and drinking. Alcohol was illegal, so there were all these speakeasies. For the Internet, this really is like the Roaring 20s. This is like the time before anybody locked anything down. Everything is pretty much still wild. There’s all this talk and there’s all these bills that they’re trying to pass to be able to regulate the Internet and read your emails and regulate this and regulate that. They’re trying to stick their fingers in a gap in the dam but this dam is so full of gaps. There’s no way they can fill it up! This is a very, very strange time. I think we’re really lucky. This is a really fucking fun time. It’s fun to see states like Washington and Colorado make pot legal. That probably wouldn’t have happened before the Internet. I think people are having a deeper understanding of what’s going on in this World.
You’re a very well read guy. I’ve read and watched some interviews you’ve done. You talk about Terence McKenna and ‘time wave zero novelty theory,’ quoting war speeches from 1933 or talking about the Northwoods Documents in the 60s. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I watched your special where you talk about the Large Hadron Collider and I think, ‘Did I just learn about physics from the fucking Fear Factor guy?!
Well, the Large Hadron Collider is one of my favorites. You know what it is, man? I’m just very lucky that I have a lot of time to pursue all my interests: things like the LHC or ancient quotes from generals from the 1930s. I do a lot of reading of stuff that I’m interested in. But I can see why you would think that I wouldn’t. I’ve done so many dumb things like Fear Factor. The people that aren’t into martial arts tend to have a negative view of that as well. It’s like, ‘You’re involved in cage fighting? You’ve got to be some sort of fucking dummy.’
Where did all that interest in these topics come from?
The same place they come from for everybody. These are all fascinating topics. They’re fascinating to you and they’re fascinating to me as well. I think the Large Hadron Collider is amazing. It’s really an amazing group experiment. I think it’s 10,000 different scientists involved. They’ve found some incredible shit. One of them was this stuff called ‘quark-gluon plasma’ [Ed. note: Yes, I had to Google this just to spell it] and it is apparently the densest matter known to man now. They figured this shit out from this crazy experiment. It’s all going on right now. It’s pretty amazing, this huge scientific experiment involving over 100 different countries. They’ve really come together from all over the world to do this thing. It’s really nuts, man. It’s like a science fiction movie. What’s fascinating is that a lot of people don’t even know that this is going on! They’re trying to get to the nature of the universe. What they’re doing with this is they’re trying to find the Higgs Boson— which they believe they’ve found it. This is a particle that existed mere milliseconds after the Big Bang. It’s truly amazing, man.
It’s amazing how you’re able to relate that to the audience. In watching the special, sometimes you’re able to explain a very dense topic, like the Large Hadron Collider, and familiarize the crowd with it efficiently enough to get us on board so we can follow you on your thought process.
Yeah, it’s hard sometimes to work in, like the LHC. You know, Bill Hicks, who is one of my all-time favorite comedians, had a really funny line. I’m gonna paraphrase because I don’t remember exactly what it was. But basically it was saying that he mixes in his comedy with dick jokes. You have to have a certain amount of dick jokes to keep the audience interested. Essentially, that’s what I’m doing. I’m just sort of following the Bill Hicks lead. I mix in things that I’m actually interested in, like how Allan Henry built nuclear reactors and didn’t know how to shut them off. That is amazing to me! That somebody said, ‘Okay, go. Is there a way to shut it off?’ ‘No.’ ‘What happens if we don’t shut it off?’ ‘It poisons the ground forever and no one can live there for 10 times longer than there’s been recorded history of civilization. Should we make it?’ People were like, ‘Yea, fuck it. Make it!’ That, to me, is weird. It’s weird. It’s sad. It’s fascinating. And it’s funny. But I can’t do a whole set of that stuff. I’ve got to have like silly shit mixed in with that. If I go weirdo on an entire set about space and molecules and bacteria living inside your body…it’s almost too much, you know? So, dick jokes, they sort of balance it all out.
Yeah, Doug Stanhope had that line about how he used to want to change the world and he’d have solutions to social problems, then he’d throw a fistfuck joke in the middle of it to keep the audience interested.
Stanhope and I are very close and one of the things we both agree on is that, as we get older, we give less and less of a fuck about trying to ‘save the world.’ It’s like, ‘Come on. You’re not saving shit.’ Just have a good time. Just have some fun. I think, with Stanhope especially, he had a big following for a long time of really intelligent people and fuck-ups. That’s his crowd. And Doug has some really good points. He’s a really bright guy. And if you sit down with him to talk about politics or anything — a lot of people wouldn’t think to go ask a dirty comedian like Stanhope what’s wrong with the world politically or what’s wrong with the world economically — but he’s got some fucking answers. He’s a bright guy. But I think somewhere along the line he realized, ‘This is way bigger than both of us. You can’t just point things out and hope that people get them. You have to enjoy your time, too.’
Speaking of enjoying your time: I’m glad you’re spending one of your alleged last days on Earth talking to me. [We spoke on Dec. 20]
Well, listen man, I really don’t think it’s going to be the end of the world. I don’t think anybody really believes it’s going to be the end of the world. I don’t think the Mayans believed it’s going to be the end of the world. I think there’s a lot of silliness where there are a lot of people focusing on this one day as if it’s really significant. But you should really pay attention to what’s been said about the alignment of the galaxies and shit, 2012 being a rare alignment and all.
According to Neil deGrasse Tyson, who knows way more about this shit than me, he says this happens all the time. I believe him. So if there’s no astronomical reason to freak the fuck out, what is it exactly? Some people from a civilization that doesn’t even exist anymore? And what did they predict exactly? They’re not even fucking here anymore! And we’re having this silly idea that they could predict the end of time. I think it was just a calendar that they had. Who knows? Maybe they knew something about human behavior. Maybe they knew about our ability to figure things out and that the way that technology was increasing exponentially, maybe they deduced that exactly two thousand years in the future that we’d have our shit together. That’s an intriguing possibility. Because a lot of people don’t believe that it’s a bad thing, that Dec. 21, 2012 is going to be an event, but not necessarily a bad one. Again, no one’s ever fucking predicted anything ever. Y2K, nothing happened. Remember when all those dudes were putting up billboards all over the country thinking that they figured out the end of the world? Nothing happened.
Stay tuned for the second part of my chat with Rogan. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, download (legally) his new special, Live from the Tabernacle, at joerogan.net. Seriously, it’s just $5.