How Joe Rogan became the king of podcasts!
In December 2009, standup comic & MMA commentator (although there are several other capes that he’s donned over the years), Joe Rogan would start a podcast with his close friend and cameraman, Brain Redban.
It was unnamed then. Just one of the projects that the duo could shoot, edit and upload easily while they travelled to different cities.
Exactly 11-years and some 1500-episodes later, that podcast would ink a $100-million+ (rumored) exclusive deal with Spotify, etching his name in history forever.
The Joe Rogan experience, hands down the most popular podcast in the world, just made history. Everybody who’s even remotely familiar with podcasts would have enjoyed one of Joe’s experiences, as they are called.
But what most people do not realize is how this standup comic with a keen interest in MMA, became the highest paid podcaster in the world.
It’s surprising, isn’t it? Especially considering that his podcasts are pretty tame compared to the raucous commentary and hosting style he employs otherwise. Don’t forget that if there was ever a show that broke conventional norms about podcasting, it’s this one.
What is it about the Joe Rogan experience that makes it pop in this loud and crowded entertainment space? Let’s try to unravel that mystery.
Joe the comedian
Joe’s story is the quintessential rags-to-riches one. Abusive father, domestic violence, scrawny kid who grew up fearing that he’d turn out to be a loser.
So he turned to martial arts, which was the big thing in USA in the 70s and 80s. It was during his Taekwondo days that his comic timing started to shine. His buddies were mighty impressed. So much so, that they encouraged him to do his maiden stand up gig. After 6-months of practice, he made his first stage appearance in 1988.
We would love to say that the rest was history. But it wasn’t. There are no fairy tell endings in the real world. At least not in most cases. So Joe would go on to do a million other jobs to stay afloat.
Here’s a fun fact. Joe won the US Open Championship for Taekwondo and also worked as a martial arts instructor for a while. Here’s a spinning roundhouse knockout from young Joe, in case you are curious. Yeah, you’re right. Hair does make you fast and strong, doesn’t it?
His bawdy comedy style would take him to strip clubs and bachelor parties for the next couple of years. Joe Rogan, the standup comic had arrived. He decided to shift base to NYC, where the action was.
Two years later, he landed his first TV gig on MTV’s Half-Hour Comedy Hour. This can largely be described as his entry into mainstream entertainment. He soon landed a role in Hardball, a sitcom produced by Fox.
Joe the commentator
His passion for martial arts took him to the UFC in 1997. This was when he was already an established standup comic, mind you, and a TV star if you consider the sitcom role. But he took up a job as a post-fight backstage interviewer, which according to sources was not very lucrative.
Two years later, he quit the job citing that the remuneration wasn’t great. No surprises.
When Zuffa LLC took over UFC, Joe was reappointed. This time with premium tickets to all UFC events thrown in along with the paycheck.
Joe became a UFC regular and commentator in 2002.
From 2001-2006, he also hosted Fear Factor on NBC, which added to his popularity as a TV star.
Joe the podcaster
In 2009, Joe hired Brain Redban, a fellow standup comic and video editor to record him during his tours. In the same year, he started a free podcast which came to be named ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’ in 2010.
In the early days, the podcast was just two people sitting and talking about ‘stuff’ clacking away on their laptops. Doesn’t sound earth shattering does it? But that’s where Joe’s raw, uncut streaming style manages to draw the audience in. It’s unedited from start to end. It feels like an authentic show.
Club that with his cheeky sense of humor and a wide repertoire of questions that he throws at his guests. Suddenly, you’ve got this very entertaining and informative show that you can’t take your eyes off.
Think of it, who else would ask Elon Musk about drilling tunnels under LA and follow it up with what he thinks of while brushing his teeth every day? Oh, he also got musk to toke on TV, which is a whole different story.
Breaking the conventional norms of podcasting
What fascinates most people is how Joe has managed to break away from all conventional podcasting norms, such as these.
- He started off on YouTube and decided to keep it an independent, free show.
- Most podcasts range from 15-18 minutes. A little more or less maybe. But that seems to be the sweet spot that works for most podcasters. It’s not easy to retain the audience’s attention for more than that. But the Joe Rogan experience ranges from 30 minutes to a whopping 5-hours at times. In case you missed that one, it’s the Alex Jones Returns podcast #1255.
- He did not join a network. This one’s a biggie for beginner podcasters, especially someone like Joe, who was quite popular to begin with. He had the connections. He could have just walked into a network and walked out with a deal. With a network comes support, infrastructure, marketing, and the whole 9-yards. But he decided to stick it out solo and do all the heavy lifting. Maybe he didn’t expect it to blow up the way he did. Maybe he wanted full editorial control. We don’t know for sure.
- He didn’t market the podcast. Most other artists think about marketing even before they launch a show. He just aired it live one fine day and let it grow organically. In a few years, the show was raking in millions of views. This is in a lot of ways connected to YouTube’s growth as well. But hey, we are not trying to belittle what this guy has managed to achieve. It’s phenomenal in its own right.
- He didn’t ask his friends for free reviews or shout outs. What was stopping him from pulling a few favors from his famous friends, right? A shout out or two in the early days would have been a great shot in the arm. But nada. It didn’t happen.
What makes the show so popular?
We know that it’s impossible to provide a definitive answer to explain the wild popularity of the Joe Rogan show. There have been thousands of debates and critical analyses of why the show became the sensation that it is today.
But as avid listeners of Joe’s podcast since his early days, here’s our two cents about it.
He’s earnest – If there’s anything about Joe Rogan that’s remained unchanged over the years, it’s his earnest. He’s not the typical congenial, spit-roasting TV show host that we’ve grown used to seeing over the years. He’s no David Letterman or Jay Leno. But you hear the guy speak and you know that he speaks his heart. In fact, he’s closer to Howard Stern than any of the others that we’ve seen as interviewers. There’s an unashamed sincerity in the way he presents himself, even though some of it appears as healthy masculinity and borderline radical freethinking.
He’s curious – He once said in an interview that he’s most fascinated by things that make him nervous or scared. That reflects in almost every pod, right from the start. He talks conspiracy theories, psychedelics, he’s a skeptic & not exactly ideological. Sometimes, he bites off more than he can chew, but refuses to back down. From accusing Kayne west of starting a cult to laughing out loud when his buddy’s unsavory remarks about female comics, he’s had his share of brain fog moments. If he’s biased, it’s primarily towards things that seem to work. In a nutshell, he appears to be a mirror of the society that most other podcasts fail to show. He’s occasionally accused of being a far-right culture peddler and of attacking marginalized groups, which he’s clearly not.
His interests are compelling – Here’s a list of recurrent topics that oft come up in Joe’s podcasts. Wolves, DMT, concussions, mushrooms, marijuana, space, aliens, fitness, anabolic steroids, Area 51, conspiracy theories, psychedelics. Irrespective of the guest on the pod, these topics will make a routine appearance. Who doesn’t want to hear some of the experts on these topics unravel information that’s rarely available in the public domain? The Lance Armstrong podcast became hilariously popular when Joe asked him if he tokes.
His guest list is enviable – Any podcaster worth their salt would know that the popularity of the show is largely dependent on the kind of guests that they manage to pull in. That’s where Joe has really shined. He’s managed to garner an enviable guest list that includes some of the top names that cut across verticals and industries. Elon Musk, Alex Jones, Nell deGrasse Tyson, Bernie Sanders, Bob Lazar & Jeremy Corbell, Mike Tyson, David Goggins, Lance Armstrong, Edward Norton, Edward Snowden, Gabby Reece, Macaulay Culkin, Guy Ritchie & Jordan Peterson. The list goes on and on. The conversations do not always center on the industry the guests represent either. They often go haywire and veer more towards Joe’s interests.
YouTube’s growth has been insane – From a single video that showed one of the founders at a zoo to 500-hours of content being uploaded every hour, YouTube has become this behemoth that dwarfs every other social media platform. It is estimated that YouTube has 2.3 billion users around the world. For someone like Joe, who was already quite popular in America, this served as the perfect Launchpad. Some people might tend to differ, but we definitely attribute part of the success to the dramatic growth of the YouTube community.
The $100 million deal
A lot of brouhaha has unfurled on media outlets after the Spotify deal, including a drop in stock prices. Some overzealous fans went to the extent of calling out Joe for selling himself after remaining unbiased for all these years.
There are various reasons why he could have taken this deal. It starts with the most obvious. It’s a shit ton of money. Folks, let’s get this straight. It’s not every day that you get a $100-million licensing deal. Let’s cut the guy some slack here for accepting a truckload of Benjamin. Who wouldn’t have?
Moreover, the format of the show remains unchanged. Spotify does not have any creative control over the content as Joe revealed. It’s still a free show. The only thing that has changed is that the episodes are no longer available on YouTube.
For one, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Joe since the deal was inked. First came the ‘Portland Fires’ episode followed by an unprecedented public apology. Then came reports that the ‘zero editoral control’ was not exactly what it was made out to be. Either way, the show’s going to stay on Spotify.
Tough luck for anyone who thinks that the world is no longer the same without ‘The Joe Rogan experience’ on YouTube.
Our top 5 Joe Rogan Podcasts
On that note, here are our top 5 Joe Rogan podcasts. It was incredibly difficult to narrow down on a list of five from 1500 mind you. So this is not an exhaustive list for sure, and not necessarily in this exact order. But it definitely tops our list of Joe Rogan favorites.
#5 – Neil deGrasse Tyson – Podcast #1159
Neil deGrasse Tyson has become a recurrent guest of sorts on the JRE. His podcasts are fun because Neil’s uncanny ability to break down complex concepts into simple layman’s terms. How about dissing the theory that microwaves are toxic?
#4 – Mike Tyson – Podcast #1227
When you’ve got Iron Mike on the podcast with Joe Rogan, you can be rest assured that it’s going to be entertaining. Mike speaks about everything from Cannabis to acid and a movie deal. Great pod.
#3 – Alex Jones – Podcast #1255
You don’t have to endorse Alex Jones’ radical views to enjoy this podcast. The far-right radio show host delves deep into all topics controversial, including gun-control. Watch it for the self-realization moment.
#2 – Elon Musk – Podcast #1169
Elon Musk takes a drag of marijuana. Tesla shares drop 9%. Enough said. Go watch it already. No wait, there’s AI, Neuralink, hyperloop and tons of other information.
#1 – Edward Snowden – Podcast #1368
In a 3-hour conversation, whistleblower Ed Snowden talks everything from NSA surveillance to Aliens.
To sum it up
Whether or not the Joe Rogan Experience will continue its unabated, borderline-controversial form remains to be seen. What are your thoughts about the Joe Rogan experience and the swanky new Spotify deal?