Joe Rogan is an unlikely figure on the frontiers of intellectual life. The self-identified meathead, wrestling commentator, and stand-up comic doubtless didn’t expect to be interviewing presidential candidates, space-voyaging CEOs and New York Times hacks when he started his podcast. But a decade and a $100 million Spotify deal later, here we are.
Despite this popularity and success, Rogan’s presence has largely been an unwelcome one from the view of progressive pundits. Many of the profiles written about the podcast are only grudging in their praise, as writers clearly not in his usual audience grapple with why so many enjoy listening to him.
The results read like an explorer documenting an uncontacted tribe. As Devin Gordon wrote in the Atlantic last year after his attempted immersion in the Joe Rogan Experience:
“I came away more comfortable with Joe’s vision of manhood – and more determined to do the exact opposite. We’re just different. Joe Rogan lives every day like it’s his last. I live every day like I’m going to have to do most of this crap again tomorrow.”
The other main objection to Rogan is that he publicises politics that progressives don’t like. His frequent hosting of members of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web, a group of dissenting smarty-pants who share a dislike of progressive censorship and push back against progressive nostrums, is one part of it. Another is his habit of entertaining figures often described as “far right” – sometimes even justifiably.
Ben Sixsmith’s recent profile for the Spectator, while sympathetic, offered some gentler criticisms of the show, noting that Rogan’s appealing lifestyle and outlook is unattainable for most:
“…the audience has only seen Rogan at the top. We know he works hard, but the work we see him do is bullshitting with his friends and commentating over MMA fights. We know he exercises, but we see him do it in the hills around LA, beneath the Californian sun. In essence, Rogan presents the best of both worlds: he can do the hard work of a man and make it look as if it is the recreation of a boy.”
Unlike its peers, Sixsmith’s piece appears not to have been written through gritted teeth. When Slate’s Justin Peters writes that Rogan “can interview whomever he wants, and he can conduct those interviews however he so chooses, and that is fine”, you sense this is “fine” only in the sense that an annoyed girlfriend means it is in fact not.
This unconvincing acceptance signals perhaps the greatest reason for Rogan’s success: the dominance of the media by university-educated, slightly effete metropolitan men who read a lot, vote Democrat, and have a very well developed sense of irony. They cannot speak to Rogan’s audience in the way he can because they do not see the world as he does. That will continue to bother them as he migrates to Spotify.