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Michael Swartz / January 12, 2022

Is Joe Rogan a Man of the People?

His remarkable influence with 11 million listeners should speak volumes.

A particular graphic recently piqued our attention. This bar chart showed the relative audiences of primetime cable news networks and hosts such as Rachel Maddow, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and — leading the pack — Tucker Carlson, with more than three million viewers a night. But none of those personalities could touch the popularity of the name at the top of the list: podcaster Joe Rogan

It was claimed that Rogan has an audience of 11 million per episode of his “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast. While the podcasts don’t come out daily, averaging about three to four episodes per week, that’s the sort of audience that could be favorably compared to that of radio great Rush Limbaugh in his prime.

Obviously, there’s an element of apples to oranges there — one critic noted that Rogan isn’t tied down to a time slot like the others. But as Canadian author and upcoming Rogan guest Jordan Peterson put it, Rogan’s doing so well “because he doesn’t lie, or talk down to his audience, or manipulate for his own narrow advantage.” And at 11 million people per podcast, he’s also found a wide audience that has firmly placed the online Spotify service on the map when it comes to the podcasting genre.

Joe Rogan may seem like an overnight success, but he’s really been hanging around for decades as one of those B-list celebrities who you’d see pop up once in awhile. Beginning in the world of stand-up comedy in the late 1980s, Rogan’s first regular exposure to the rest of us was as a character on the 1990s sitcom “NewsRadio,” eventually parlaying that into the hosting duties for the long-running NBC series “Fear Factor.” (Interestingly enough, those hosting duties coincided for a time with those of another reality TV host who did “The Apprentice”; another brash guy by the name of Donald Trump.)

Rogan never stepped away from comedy, though, doing several comedy albums that were successful enough to lead into hourlong specials for both Comedy Central and Netflix. Add in the experience as a color commentator for UFC events — Rogan claims to have won a national Tae Kwon Do title as a teenager, which gave him the proper perspective on the sport of mixed martial arts — and you get a sense that Rogan would come at things from a unique perspective.

During a career lull in 2009, Rogan began his podcast as long-form video, eventually building his YouTube following to more than eight million. In a 2021 profile, The New York Times described the initial success: “These modest beginnings — built around unstructured conversations about stand-up, or political hucksterism, or why women wear heels (in the opinion of men) — enshrined what has remained the podcast’s defining technical feature: an absence of curation, or any discernible editing, as if such filtering would amount to a form of censorship, doomed to cheapen the product.”

Over the years, Rogan broadened his guest list to a point where it’s no shock to see big names from unique perspectives such as Elon Musk, Dr. Robert Malone (inventor of the mRNA technology used for the coronavirus vaccines), renowned conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, classic rock musician and Second Amendment advocate Ted Nugent, left-leaning journalist and author Matt Taibbi, and Senator Bernie Sanders, whose “insanely consistent” views led Rogan to back him in 2020.

It shouldn’t be surprising that even Rogan is not immune from censorship. That interview with Malone, in which the two discussed COVID topics not approved by The Party, went viral on YouTube before being removed by its censors.

Interestingly, while Rogan has a reputation for straight talk, his overall political views are difficult to pin down because he’s not politically correct like a progressive nor does he hew a conservative line. He had little use for either Donald Trump or Joe Biden. However, Rogan conceded he would have rather voted for Trump because of Biden’s dementia.

At the beginning of this year, Rogan made another social media move. While he hasn’t completely abandoned Twitter, Rogan’s concerns about censorship in the wake of Twitter’s ban of Representative Marjorie Taylor-Greene led him to open an account on the alternative social media site GETTR — leading to a million-strong surge in usership for the upstart, which now boasts four million users. “Just in case s**t over at Twitter gets even dumber, I’m here now as well. Rejoice!” wrote Rogan, and certainly GETTR founder (and former Trump adviser) Jason Miller did.

However, as Rogan’s fame grows, one challenge will be that of not alienating his core audience, which is made up predominantly of males under 50. More importantly, though, Joe will have to contend with his golden goose of Spotify, with whom he has a longterm deal thought to be worth up to $100 million. He promised Spotify would not control his content when he signed the deal, but cancel culture is always lurking about and it’s not as easy to secure nine-figure pacts as it is to switch social media outlets.

Those who are looking for a partisan to be their Everyman, commenting on the passing scene, won’t be happy with Rogan because he’s not a strict creature of Left or Right. Rather, he’s an equal opportunity basher of both sides when he feels they deserve it. Showing neither fear nor favor seems to be the biggest part of his charm.

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