Here is part deux of my interview with stand-up comedian and former Fear Factor host, Joe Rogan. The first part is here. If you’re just joining us, Joe self-released his own special on his website for $5 (go to joerogan.net and watch that now if you haven’t already!). Otherwise, check out Joe talking about his early days of stand-up and how he thinks the Internet should bring comedians closer together as we all try to climb to the top.
You can bring all these heady topics into a stand-up set, which can be very intimidating to bring up on stage. Have you always talked about such heavy subjects on stage or did it develop as time went on?
Definitely as time went on. If you go back to a lot of my earlier stuff, it was mostly sex jokes. My early comedy was mostly just dirty jokes. As I got older, and as I got more comfortable on stage, becoming a better comedian, you become better at writing. Also, I started smoking pot. And once I started smoking pot, those were the things that I wanted to talk about. Even though I might have thought about those things before, I wasn’t really into actively chasing them down on stage, trying to turn them into a bit. Then, all of a sudden, those things I had only considered started turning into subjects for comedy. I just did it, you know?
I have this long bit from, I think, my Shiny Happy Jihad album. It was about the de-evolution of man, about how dumb people were out-fucking smart people at a staggering pace. Then one day, we’re gonna wake up and the power’s gonna shut off and we’re going to be waiting for someone to turn it back on. And the guy who knows how to turn it back on? He died. There’s no one left. It’s just us. It took the longest time to figure out how to make this bit work. It was wordy and verbose. It was kind of like, if you did it wrong, it was almost douchey. ‘What are you saying? That you’re smart or something? That we’re dumb?’ There are so many ways that you can misinterpret that. But eventually I figured out how to do it. It’s about doing a lot of sets and getting on stage.
When I lived in Manhattan, well, I was actually living in New Rochelle and I would drive in, I stopped doing the short club sets after awhile. I started doing the satellite rooms more because I could do longer sets. I found that for me to grow, it was really hard for me to do these five-minute sets. It felt like just when you’re getting cooking, it’s already over. You don’t want to introduce the subject of time machines in your very first joke. You want them to get to know you. You want them to trust you. You want to make them laugh so they already feel good about the relationship that you have. Then you can bring up some time machines. You need at least 15 minutes. I feel like five minutes really holds you back in your development. With longer sets you get to unwind a little. You start to get loose. Then you catch your groove and you don’t even want to get off the stage.
But you look back at the grind and laugh. Greg Fitzsimmons and I started out about a week apart from each other. We were really together in the very beginning of both of our careers. We were really good friends; we did a lot of gigs together. We look back on those struggling days and we laugh our asses off. We have some of the best conversations just looking back at the crazy road gigs we did. The crazy trips that we did to the middle of fucking Maine, our cars dying, the crazy people you meet, people not wanting to pay you, and just nutty shit that happens. You look back on that. It’s fun to look back on those days. They’re like Glory Days, but they’re the opposite, going over all of the craziness that you had to go through to become a professional comedian. You’ll look back on these days, man, and love it.
Do you see this self-produced/self-released model being the way in which you want to continue?
Definitely, definitely. If it’s financially viable then I want to do it that way. There doesn’t seem to be any drawbacks to it. It seems to be the best way to do it. You keep it real cheap– five bucks. It seems like a good relationship. I like it. I’m motivated to write all this new shit now. I’m really motivated to get the next one out there. And I love the freedom of doing it this way. When Louis [C.K.] came up with the idea of doing it himself, I was like, ‘Whoa! You can do that? That is fucking genius!’ Then I looked at his infrastructure and the way he set it up and it seemed like the perfect way to do it. As soon as I thought about it, I never thought about not doing it like that. It just seems like the perfect way to do it.
What I think is fascinating is that the model used to be that you had to self-release your own CD as you started, until a Warner Bros. or a Comedy Central decided to pick you up and release your album or special, where you could then build fans from their broadcast network. Now it seems like when you’re big enough, like you or Louis, you get to self-release your own material. It’s the other side of the arch that’s now appeared.
Yeah, and I think this model will work for someone who isn’t famous, too. I think what the cool thing about this sort of thing is that people will download it. They can gift it to people and just send it to them. You could be a guy who maybe is just starting to crack into national clubs but most people haven’t heard of you. But if you have something out there and people find it and like it, they send the link out to their friends. Next thing you know, you’re a full-fledged popular stand-up comedian. That’s what basically happened with Russell Peters. He became super huge because of the Internet, all because of people downloading his YouTube clips and laughing their asses off. That was how Russell became gigantic. There was no show he was on or movie he was in. Russell Peters is a fucking superstar. He does 15,000-18,000 seat arenas. He sells out these places. And all that came out of the Internet. It’s a beautiful time, it really is.
And the people at Comedy Central and some of these places certainly help comedy. Having a show like Tosh.0 most certainly helps comedy. I think this added competition of people releasing their stuff on the Internet is only going to make them step up their game. It’ll increase the quality of those shows as well. One of the beautiful things about getting to release your stuff on the Internet is you get a real individual voice. The problem with releasing something with somebody else who wants a say about what you do and what you don’t do is that you’re never going to find your best shit with other people sticking their hands in it and messing with it. Your best shit is going to come from your own mind, your own perceptions, your own points of views. You’re going to put it together the way you think you should put it together. As soon as someone comes in and says, ‘We don’t want you to do that bit. Do you think you can talk about this instead? Maybe you could say it this way instead?’ I’ve had that happen and it’s gross.
Doug Stanhope and I had that happen when we were dong The Man Show. The beautiful thing about the Internet is you don’t have to do it that way. When we do the podcast, we do whatever the fuck we want. Nobody can tell us anything different. That’s why the podcast has been so successful. It’s because you have a unique singular voice, instead of a bunch of people saying, ‘Don’t talk about this because it’s bad for business,’ or, ‘The advertisers are shying away because of this.’ It’s like, ‘Who are you, really?’ If they can answer that, then they know you. Then you’re not putting out a song and dance.
I have to say, as a young comedian, watching and hearing you upper-level guys talk about these new business models and opportunities to showcase our material is really uplifting and gives hope for what the future brings for the new generation of comedians.
You’re going to have more, too. You’re going to have more opportunities than ever. If you’re funny — and this is how it’s supposed to be — if you’re funny, the people that are in a position of power already, they’re supposed to alert their fans about you. See, that’s a real network. The real network should be the comics that are successful helping the other comics become successful and letting people know about comics who are really good. That’s why FX and Comedy Central are so important. That’s why plagiarism is so dangerous. Plagiarism ruins that sort of camaraderie. People go, ‘Me first. Fuck everybody else. I’m just gonna steal everybody else’s shit and pretend it’s mine and trick everybody else and make it.’
The problem in doing that is you miss the whole point about what it’s supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about the art, about creating the art. Anytime you’re stealing something, you’ve stopped doing the most important part of it. When I come up with something, and I write it down, and I fuck with it in my head, and then I go on stage and I do it and people laugh, that is the greatest reward in the universe– next to having a child. It’s this little burst of creativity coming out of who-knows-where, and it comes out of you and onto the paper and then you hone that thing and bring it to the stage: that’s what it’s all about. It’s about that process. It’s not about you doing it. It’s about your friends doing it, too. It’s about everybody doing it. It’s about the art of doing that.
Most of us started out loving to watch comedy more than anything and somewhere along the line, a lot of us lost that feeling because of the struggle of it all and the competitiveness of it all. I think that a lot of it is reaching for slots that are available on networks like NBC and ABC and the movies and everything. I think with the Internet, it’s us comics supporting one another and raising up these guys that are coming up: take these guys on the road with you, link to their Twitter, put them on the podcast. As this builds up, people go, ‘Ari Shaffir told me that Tom Singer is funny. Ari wouldn’t lie to me. So I bet Tom is really funny. I’m gonna go see Tom.’ Because of that, everybody connected in that chain sort of sees everybody else and everybody gets better. The audience gets happy because they have more comedy to watch.
That’s what it is, man! I was at an open mic the other day and this comedian was complaining about someone else getting a deal with this or that network instead of feeling happy for them.
You can’t do that. You just can’t, man. You can’t let the green monster get the best of you. That’s poison! Someone said that once, that jealousy is a poison that only works on the person…I forget the quote, but it was some old dude. Jealousy towards someone else that is undeserving is poisoning to you alone. You’re letting yourself have all these negative feelings because you’ve decided to follow a weak pattern of thought. It’s just instinctive. You just have to be taught how to address your thoughts. When situations come like that, you have to have the experience and the discipline to not let your mind go to those dark places. Jealousy is one of the least creative-inducing emotions you can have. If you’re jealous, you’re creativity’s going to be shit. You’re going to be in this weird funk of narrow, selfish thinking. The most fun I have is when I’m on the road with my boys, like Joey Diaz, Ari, Duncan Trussell, when they are killing and I get to go on stage, too. I’m happy when we’re all happy. That’s what it’s all about, man.
If you haven’t already, download (legally) Joe Rogan’s new special, Live from the Tabernacle, at joerogan.net. Seriously, it’s just $5.