In the UK, Joe Rogan is probably best known for playing Joe Garrelli in the sitcom NewsRadio, as a presenter on the American reality show Fear Factor, and as a commentator for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. What us Londoners may not be aware of is that Joe is also a prolific stand-up comedian, gigging regularly to huge audiences around America for over fifteen years. He mixes traditional stand-up with political satire, a dissection of religious stories, Egyptian history, and an analysis of why Brokeback Mountain isn't realistic. He also makes his own show exclusively for his website, and even finds time to expose the various material thieves operating on the circuit. As you can imagine, Joe has his fingers in a lot of pies, in a very real and literal sense.
On September 6th and 7th, Joe makes his UK debut at the Arts Theatre in the West End. Londonist met with Joe to talk about stand-up, the writing process, and material theft.
My name is Joe Rogan, and I'm a stand up comic from Los Angeles. I'm doing a syndicated show about the UFC, but most of my time is spent writing and performing stand up comedy, as well as writing for my website, www.joerogan.net.
How did you get involved with the UFC?
I've been involved in martial arts ever since I was a little kid. When the UFC needed someone to interview fighters after their bouts they asked me and I jumped at the chance. That was 1996. I worked for them for a few years, but it was the dark ages when the sport was banned from cable television and could only be held in weird little towns in the south. I stopped working for them in 1998, and then when the new owners purchased it in 2001 we became friends, and eventually they asked me to work for them too. I love it. As a fan, it's truly a dream job.
Have you ever experienced any backlash from you openly declaring certain stories in The Bible "retarded"?
Only from people dumb enough to disagree with me. I think tolerance of all sorts of ridiculous ideas is fine and dandy if you want to keep a peaceful society. Do what you want, think what you want and all that good stuff, but I think that at the end of the day when people are freely expressing their opinions on subjects it's important to be completely honest about how you perceive things. There may very well be a God. I'm far too dumb to be able to argue about it one way or the other. What I can argue though, is that a group of people that lived thousands of years ago who believed that the world was flat and the sun was 17 miles away were probably wrong about a lot of other shit too, including stories about people walking on water, and coming back from the dead. What's shocking to me isn't that someone would say that in this day and age with all the access to information we have that old fairy tales are retarded, but rather that you could get someone to argue that they're NOT retarded.
Are the jokes you write when you're not high different to the ones you write under the influence?
Yeah, the jokes I write when I'm high are funny.
What inspired you to get into comedy? Were you a fan of stand-up as a kid?
Yes, I was a huge fan of Richard Pryor, and later Sam Kinison. Those were the guys that inspired me to love the art of stand up comedy. I had a lot of reservations about getting into it, though. It was really my friends that talked me into doing it. I owe them a great deal.
You've got a reputation for outing comedians who copy the jokes of other comics. Do you think people like Carlos Mencia purposefully and actively steal material, or do you have another explanation as to why it happens?
Absolutely. They're not creative or intelligent enough to come up with material on their own, and when they hear something funny, they just repeat it, or twist the words around a little to try to make it "theirs." It's really a matter of them not having the courage to dig deep enough; to scour their mind and expose the dark corners of their psyche. I think anyone of reasonable intelligence can be creative, it just involves letting go and being honest, and for a lot of people that's just too real. It's much easier to let other people do it and then copy what they say. When it's really obvious is when you read what they write, or listen to them speak off the cuff. Then they're exposed for who they really are.
In previous interviews, you've emphasised how important you think the Internet is for comedians. I understand you have two full-time employees to handle your web presence. What do they do?
One of them is in charge of all my online video content. He's a really talented editor, and a very creative guy. He makes all my "JoeShows" on www.joerogan.net and he films and records all my shows so that I can review them later. The other employee is in charge of managing my MySpace page and updating the dates on my website. He sends out bulletins advertising my upcoming shows.
What are your thoughts on the plethora of comedy websites powered by user content, in regards to finding new talent?
I think it's great. The internet is a truly fucking amazing resource. It creates the ability to promote shows and makes it an open thing that anyone can have access to. This is an amazing time for comics. With some hard work and smart writing you can develop a following just on the internet alone with blogs that people can read and funny videos that people can watch. Before the internet you always needed help, whether it was radio, TV, print, etc - you always had to count on someone else to get the word out. Not any more. The other stuff certainly still helps, but you can get a lot done on your own now, and do it completely uncensored.
Tell us about your best ever gig?
As far as stand up comedy goes, there's been so many great ones that no one show stands out in particular. Any show where the audience has a great time and I have fun with them is the new best show. I have this running gag with my girlfriend where I come home from a gig, and I'll tell her that it was the best show I've ever done. I'm serious when I say it, but I say it so often that it's sort of become a joke.
And the worst?
As for the worst gig, once I had to do stand up at a "jack and jill" strip club in Woonsocket Rhode Island way back around 1989. What a "jack and jill" strip club is, is a guy goes up and does his little strip tease, and then the girl goes up and does hers. In between them I would tell jokes and then introduce them. The whole scene was completely surreal. There was only one man and one woman performer for the entire night, and they both looked like they had been let out of a meth clinic about 20 minutes before the show; fleshy, toneless bodies littered with bad home made tattoos that they tried to cover up with bandannas, weird scars, greasy hair - the whole deal. The audience (all 8 of them) looked even worse. To say I bombed wouldn't be honest, because when you bomb one of the saddest parts about it are the sympathy laughs.
I didn't even get those. It was nothing but my shitty, amateur jokes and silence. They didn't even look embarrassed for me. To this day I'm not even sure if they spoke English. They just sat there and stared at me. I remember being on stage thinking that one day when I've "made it" I'm going to look back on this day and laugh. I think I spent the entire two hour ride home trying to summon a UFO to come down and abduct me.
Bearing in mind that the correct answer is Poirot, who is your favourite detective?
Poirot? How DARE you. The greatest detective in the history of the universe was Inspecter Clouseau. Peter Sellers, bitch. Respect.
Pff, incorrect! But back to comedy - where do you want to go from here?
I'm enjoying every single aspect of my life right now; I love doing stand up, I love working for the UFC, I love all the traveling - I couldn't be happier. I really just want to continue doing what I'm dong. Keep writing, keep performing, keep my mind open and enjoy the trip.
Whenever we interview people, we normally finish by asking if they've ever been sick on the Tube. As you're not a Londoner: have you ever been sick on Dane Cook?
Is that a gay joke?
Joe Rogan plays the Arts Theatre, 6/7 Great Newport Street, London WC2H 7JB on September 6th and 7th at 10pm (doors 9.30pm). Tickets available here, or by calling 08700 600 100. Nearest tube is Leicester Square. Photo © Dan Dion.