Joe Rogan is popular these days because of his podcast The Joe Rogan Experience, which also has a rep for getting notable guests such as Elon Musk and the Infowars guy. I haven’t listened to a lot of his pod-shows, but I had a preliminarily malformed opinion of him because he used to host the show Fear Factor, when that reality/competition show was a big deal on network television. When I tried out for The Weakest Link, a quiz show, one of the producers said the people who auditioned for Fear Factor were dumb jocks, so some of my perception of Joe Rogan was that he was mean to dumb people for money. I watched Fear Factor a couple of times but it seemed like whenever I watched the show they were challenging people to overcome Fear by eating revolting animal by-products or insects, so I didn’t check in too often. I was also thinking Joe Rogan was on MTV, or maybe Friends, at least once, but the other day when I was talking about wanting to see Joe Rogan’s appearance as a comedian in Baltimore, somebody told me Mr. Rogan was on the successful situation comedy News Radio, which forced me to do some research on Wikipedia, where I learned Mr. Rogan started out as a working comedian in Los Angeles, but also would have been happy to be a professional kickboxer, so he is very much an All Techniques Into One sort of person. While part of me sees Joe Rogan as something of a trippy searcher, receptive to many viewpoints and eager to discuss and ponder things, there’s the other part of me that has always thought maybe he was kind of a reactionary.
So because I wanted to learn more about Joe Rogan, I went to his comedy show at the Arena in Baltimore. After looking at the available seats on Ticketmaster, which I hate, I figured the show would not sell out, so I would not have to pay a Ticketmaster penalty for buying a ticket too far in advance of the show. I know. I got to the venue a little after the doors opened, and saw a guy asking people if they had tickets to sell. I recognized this behavior as the move scalpers make when they are trying to scoop up tickets to turn back in for cash, I think that’s the move, anyway, because these guys won’t sell you a ticket, but they know who’s selling, and the dude pointed me toward a gent who told me he had really good seats (around $80) down front on the floor, but I didn’t want to pay for really good seats down on the floor, I just wanted to get inside the building (around $40), so we couldn’t come to terms. I purchased a ticket inside at a ticket booth, and the Ticketmaster logo was waiting for me on the payment device thing where you swipe or shove your card into the chip reader. A small victory for me, I saved whatever jacked-up service charge I would have paid on the internet, so for me that justified getting in line to pay too much for a soda pop and a hot dog.
The concession lines were long, and they moved slowly. To me it seemed like the entire venue was understaffed, but I figured there’d be opening comedy acts before the main event which I was not interested in, so I was not in any sort of state of agitation about missing any of the show. A gentleman on the line to my right, however, was definitely agitated, and I didn’t catch the whole exchange, but it ended with him raising his voice way beyond the Irate Customer level and screaming at a concession worker about how they had a responsibility to the people lined up and should tell people when they run out of stuff, in this case, hotdog buns. I think he ended up buying a beer and getting change, and he took two 25-cent pieces and bounced them down on the counter, saying “50 cents, that’s what you’re worth!” The concessionaire didn’t take it lying down and she said to no one particular that she wasn’t there to be disrespected like that. Somebody behind me in line was sort of applauding as the guy was having his meltdown, but I don’t know if it was in support or in ridicule. I ordered two hotdogs and told the person at the counter to just put them in a bag because I was going Paleo. I asked “So, how’s your day goin’, and the reply was “this is the worst first day of a job I have ever had.”
The meltdown man was how I figured the entire audience for this show was going to be, angry white guys, but while the crowd was predominantly Caucasian, in the 20 and 30-year old range, there were lots of women in attendance, and many of them were dressed nicely, for a summer date. There were also people of color at the show, and the overall energy of the crowd was pleasant, excited to be at the show, but sort of low key.
I was expecting a boiling cauldron of virulent meatheads and maybe some fascists. I kept looking for fascists, and I forgot what kind of brand-label clothes fascists wear, so if there were fascists there, I failed to profile them accurately. I saw one guy I thought might be a fascist, a big guy with weird sort of slicked-down hair. It didn’t fit my perception of a fascist haircut, which seems to me to be short, well-kept hair with some design details, like undercutting and varying-length layering or levels or whatever a professional barber would call it. The guy was wearing a vertically-striped long-sleeve shirt with a collar and too many buttons. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a shirt and thought it had too many buttons, but it was the first thing I thought when I saw this guy’s shirt. There were prominent buttons on the breast pockets, and there were buttons on the sides of the sleeves at bicep-level, I guess to facilitate rolling up the sleeves and securing them with the button. This guy was also wearing nice blue jeans, like the kind my wife likes me to wear every once in a while, and he was wearing expensive-looking putty-colored leather loafers and no socks. The guy’s hair, though, it was unusual, smoothed down across his forehead with some shiny stuff.
From my spot in the hot dog line I heard the opening comedian screaming to Baltimore. “Baltimore!!! ‘Baldimore,’ crab cakes and football.”
I thought maybe there would be a lot of Mixed Martial Arts enthusiasts in the crowd, because Mr. Rogan is a big supporter of combat sports, and I saw one gent with the mangled ears you get from that activity, but he was the only person I saw in that condition. I kept looking around while I was waiting to buy my hot dog and soda, but I didn’t see any offensive t-shirts or MAGA hats.
I caught some more of the “crab cakes and football” comic’s act once I got my hot dog situation straightened out and was led up some scary-steep stairs to my seat in the last row of the facility. I’m going to describe some more opening-act jokes, but I can’t remember specifically which of the two comedians made which remarks, so I’m just going to describe the things I heard from the two of them.
The same way my thought about the shirt with too many buttons popped into my head, I had a feeling about this show; the warmup acts reminded me of a Sam Kinison appearance I saw in the early ’90s in Baltimore at a club called Hammerjacks. Kinison, in addition to being funny, was known for his whisper-to-a-scream stage modulation and cursing. The guys opening for him screamed and cursed and were not anywhere near as funny as Sam Kinison, they were just saying offensive stuff in loud voices, but the crowd enjoyed them and roared with approval.
The comics opening for Joe Rogan made me feel like they were opening up for Joe Rogan as I understood him; a comedian who is intellectually curious but rhetorically combative and willing to say things that are offensive, but since he doesn’t move his jokes artistically very far beyond the bald fact of the observation, he is possibly celebrated by people who aren’t interested in the possibilities of intellectual rigor as much as they are interested in hearing bad words and offensive stuff said about people they don’t like.
One of the opening comics said something along the lines of how Amy Schumer was pregnant, and he thought she was always pregnant, because she’s fat, and that she married a chef who used to be a farmer, so her husband had experience with pigs. I didn’t know if there were any ideological differences between any comedians and Amy Schumer that would explain this sort of ad hominem attack, so that stuff seemed to be simply offensive. I looked at some videos on YouTube and apparently there’s been a lot of back and forth about Amy Schumer stealing jokes, and in the words of comedian Marc Maron, she has been “Verbally career-raped by an army of unfuckable hate nerds.” So I’m not sure calling her a pig is part of any argument about Amy Schumer stealing jokes, I think it was supposed to be a joke. These are the jokes.
We were also told a story by one of the comedians, who, while taking time for self-deprecating remarks, talked about calling someone “chubby” as opposed to “thick,” and we were led down a semantical rabbithole, examining how we describe people who aren’t in our presence.
There were some remarks about Louis C.K., with the comedic premise being that only unattractive people get busted for sexual harassment and abuse stuff, and Mr. C.K. got in trouble because he’s not The Rock or James Franco, because those guys would not get in trouble for doing the things Louis C.K. did, which is sort of an incel-flavored take on performing a possible sex crime, but again, it was presented as a joke, as an opening act for Joe Rogan.
One thing about the evening’s crowd, though, there wasn’t any of the kind of reaction you hear these days at many comedy events, groaning and ooh-ing when a horrible offensive remark is made. For the most part, when someone said something offensive, it wasn’t met with a hiss or a groan, it was simply met with a lack of laughter.
Joe Rogan came out screaming. He talked about being very high on marijuana. Some of his stuff was unintelligible. There’s a certain way to yell and scream when you hold a mic that involves backing off the mic so that the tone of a loud voice is apparent, but the intensity is abated, and there’s no overmodulation and distortion. Mr. Rogan needs to master the technique of backing off the mic or else he needs sound engineering or equipment that will compensate for screaming into the microphone.
I don’t think the comedy was that great, but I do think people should be able to say whatever they want. Joe Rogan advocates for this, and he tells jokes along these lines to defend his premise. He said the n-word in a joke about not saying the n-word, and the biggest laugh he got was when he said he had his DNA analyzed, and he’s 1.5% African, which is many times more African than Elizabeth Warren is Native American.
Toward the end of his hour Mr. Rogan exclaimed, “Hey you fucks—these are just jokes!” I feel like Mr. Rogan’s podcast ultimately might be more entertaining to me, because he’s probably not trying to do shtick and generally wants to have a good discussion about something, or do a good interview.
Mr. Rogan made statements such as it’s tough to be white, that girl power and white power are next-door neighbors, and that he says things he doesn’t even mean just because he thinks it’s funny. This is Joe Rogan’s comedy. He did a gag about sending his wife pictures of dicks that aren’t his just to see if she’s paying attention. In response, a guy three rows in front of me said, “That’s a good idea,” but I don’t know if that was supposed to be a joke. It occurred to me maybe I should have stayed home and listened to some podcasts.