Though many may know him through his other work – NewsRadio, Fear Factor, UFC and now perhaps as comedy’s self-appointed cop, Joe Rogan excels at one thing in particular, stand-up. “Shiny Happy Jihad” his first comedy album since 2000’s “I’m Gonna Be Dead Someday”, hit stores yesterday. For those who haven’t experienced Rogan’s comedy, they’ll be things they expect – the punch lines delivered in an adrenaline-fueled fervor. But what might surprise them is the insightful take that Rogan brings to his material. I talked to Rogan about the similar influences of martial arts and psychedelic drugs, his magic trick and, of course, Carlos Mencia.
What I enjoy the most about your comedy is your take on the big stuff – why are we here? What are human beings exactly? And so much of comedy now is pop culture based. Why do you think the type of subject matter that you cover is so rare?
I think most comedians are just doing stuff that they find interesting. They’re doing stuff that they think is going to get a big response from the audience. I think the way I approach comedy is I’m looking at it from a different point of view than most comedians. I’ve had a very unusual life. And comedy really is just—here’s the world through my eyes. Here’s the world through my perspective.
Is there a particular experience that you’ve had that you think makes you different from most comedians?
I think psychedelic drugs are a big part of it. That’s definitely had a huge impact on the way I look at life. I think if you look at comedians, you can definitely make a distinction between the ones who have experienced psychedelic drugs and the ones who haven’t. If you look at all people in life, there’s a big difference between people who’ve experienced altered states of consciousness and people who haven’t.
You have this philosophical bent to what you do. I always think of comics who say “I’m dumb” as not very far away from a philosopher saying he’s wise because he knows how ignorant he is. I often think of Socrates as a comedian in some ways.
For sure. I mean, life is funny. Anybody who is thinking about life is going to say something funny. Because it’s fucking ridiculous.
Especially as it gets more complex where we’ve got this weird fucking life where our whole cultural structure was put together back when people didn’t have access to information and we were doing things based on ignorance. Whether you looking at the Christian Right controls a giant part of this world… that alone. The Christian Right controlling anything in politics is fucking hilarious.
I know. It goes to one theme in your bits – technology. That we have this ability to create incredible gadgets but are still very limited in the spiritual understanding of ourselves.
Yeah. Look at how the Christian Right is using the internet to gather people up for the cause. How fucking funny is that?
Or like when they were talking about how these terrorists might be communicating over the web with hidden messages in jpegs - pornography jpegs. That people could be jerking off to something that’s a terrorist message.
Yeah. It’s a weird world we live in. If you’re paying attention it’s funny.
There’s a great quote by a guy named Dennis McKenna that says, “As the sphere of knowledge expands, the surface area of ignorance grows ever larger.” The idea is that as you light the bonfire the more darkness you expose. As the bonfire gets bigger, the more you expose, the more you realize you don’t know shit.
I love the quote.
It’s a great quote that he came up with while he was on mushrooms.
Did being on a show like “Fear Factor” make pop culture a less interesting thing for you to talk about?
Well pop culture doesn’t fascinate me at all. The only thing it is to me is a point of comedy. Every now and then you can point out that people aren’t paying attention to the fact that we’re on a rock flying through the universe but they are paying attention to the fact that Brad and Angelina just picked up another baby.
It’s a tool for you, not the target.
People will go, “has this girl lost her mind? The other day she was on TV and she was saying this.” To me, the only way that’s interesting is that people are willing to pay attention to something so fucking dumb and mundane.
It’s strange because we don’t have an idea what it was like to live in a time when actors weren’t famous.
You know what it is. The whole thing is this giant alpha-male chimpanzee dominator trick. It’s an aberration in the system. We are designed to imitate successful behavior. That’s how we learn from other people’s mistakes without making them on our own.
When you see the head of the tribe, the person who conquers the enemy, the person who speaks the great truth – that person’s supposed to be emulated. The person who’s supposed to be famous. Now somehow we’ve managed to get actors to pretend to be that person and get into a situation that’s completely concocted, completely artificial. People see this situation in the movie and they idolize that fake person.
It’s a weird flaw in our wiring that we’ll idolize someone who has got attention. I’ve met a bunch of them and they’re fucking boring as hell. They’re idiots.
I look at fame as this gigantic magic trick. I’m around people sometimes and they’re fucking nervous and they stammer. And these are grown men. They get weird with me. You take a picture with them and they put their arm around you and you put arm around them and I feel their body shaking. They’re nervous because they’re next to the “Fear Factor” guy. You know how fucking crazy that is to me? How weird are fucking people?
Doesn’t that fuck with your head?
It just makes me curious. It doesn’t fuck with my head because I don’t take it seriously.
The way I look at is I have a magic trick. The magic trick is celebrity. I somehow figured out how to navigate through the waters of show business to the point where this magic trick works, where people look at me and they get crazy. But if I’m so dumb that I’m tricked by my own magic trick. Where I actually think that I’m special. That I’m different than everybody else. That’s ridiculous. That’s the real problem with celebrities – they’re tricked by their own tricks.
They’re like, “Wow, I pulled a rabbit out of my hat!”
“Where did the rabbit come from?”
When you put the rabbit underneath and knew it was there the whole time.
Since a lot of people know you from “Fear Factor” that it makes them label your stand-up as testosterone driven, which I think is kind of a diss because it doesn’t catch how thoughtful it is. Does that frustrate you at all?
It’s not frustrating. If I didn’t know me, I’d probably think I was a dick. If I look at me on TV, “Oh it’s the Fear Factor guy? Oh god.” How could you not think I was a dick? Not only did I do “Fear Factor” but I also do commentary for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. If you just looked at that on paper without seeing me do stand-up, you’d think how could this guy be anything but an idiot.
But the martial arts aren’t really meat headed. There’s a lot of discipline and self-knowledge that comes from them.
The human struggle is very fascinating. You learn so much about people by watching people deal with adversity. And there’s no greater example of adversity than watching two men trying to dismantle each other with their own bodies, especially mixed martial arts which I find so much more fascinating than boxing or something like that.
Going back to philosophy for a bit, it’s that sense of what life is all about. That visceral level of combat - that experience is very meaningful.
And to understand what that experience is all about. And to understand how your own life is always affected by physical insecurities. That every man’s fear deep down inside is being dominated by another man. And when you overcome that fear, when you get past it, when you rise about it – it gives you a different and more enhanced perspective on life itself.
Martial arts really are a vehicle for developing human potential because it allows you to transcend. It allows you to transcend your monkey body and experience things from a more balanced and enlightened perspective. Though it doesn’t seem like it should.
To overcome that physical confrontation fear that everyone has – that’s totally and completely natural – it’s like learning how your car works. You got to get in there and go “what the fuck is the carburetor.” And once you do that, you’re the controller. You’re the computer chip that controls your whole body. If you have a better understand of your body, then your body is less likely to influence you in adverse ways. It’s less likely to fail you or it’s less likely to betray you when you get nervous. Less likely to make you make bad decisions.
There’s no one thing I can pin down as a catalyst [for my stand-up], but for sure martial arts and psychedelic drugs are two big ones. In very similar ways.
I was doing “Fear Factor.” And I was doing “The Man Show” at the same time. And I was doing the UFC. I was doing comedy still, but I never went out of my way to do a CD.
You definitely have to tighten your act up. When I go on the road, one of the things is when I do four nights in a city – Thursday through Sunday - by the time Saturday rolls around I’m in fucking shape. My stand-up is just blowing. You really feel it – you really feel that blow.
And when you’re working on new material and you’re trying to tighten it up and turn it into a special or the right way to describe a certain thing, the right way to put things together, it really is like training.
The whole idea of stand-up is to give someone access as seamless as possible to the way your mind works. And you want it to be smooth and fluid as possible, so it enters their mind with the minimum amount of resistance. That’s why you have to describe things is a certain way that lets people know that you think a certain way and by the fact that you think that certain way, that you’re just like them. So they can go, “Oh I see where he’s coming from. He’s just like me and I think like this. And a-huh… a-huh…” And before they know it, they’re locked up in your mind.
Your thoughts become their thoughts. Is there anything that you found that creates resistance in an audience to getting in your head?
Yeah, if they think you’re a shithead.
But you said earlier that you think people who didn’t know your stand-up might think you’re a dick or a shithead.
I always try and get that out of the way right away. One of the things I do when I get on stage now is say, “Thank you for taking a chance on the Fear Factor guy.” (laughs)
You’ve been able to take the money from “Fear Factor” and other stuff and put it into your comedy – anywhere from your own Joe Show to upgrading the sounds system at the Comedy Store. It’s sort of a model now for comics to use TV work to give them the money to focus on the stand-up. How do you see working this balance in the future?
Anything I do from here on out, unless it’s insane money, I’m gonna do because it’s interesting to me. Anything I do, even if it’s insane money, I’d do it as “Well, here’s an opportunity to get some more material.” I’m going to figure out how to translate it into comedy.
It comes to a point where if you’re really creative in a certain aspect and you’ve done other things in the past just for money, I think people, especially your fans, will expect you to abandon that. They’ll go, “We know who you are now, let’s see you do the real shit.” That’s really what I’m doing.
I was pretty aware when I hit the point when “Fear Factor” was done—there was no, “Oh, where’s my money maker.” What I was thinking when “Fear Factor” was done was “good.” (laughs)
There’s still going to be some confusion because of the UFC thing but I think as long as you’re honest, people see it.
I’ve never seen UFC. But once I heard you talk about it, it fit. The visceral experience of fighting and what it can show about life. It makes sense with who you are.
Violence is as much an aspect of life as sex or eating or anything else. And it shapes people. I have a friend who is a stand-up comedian. I got him into jiu-jitsu. I gave him a gift of a year of free jiu-jitsu classes. I just said, “Do this, it’ll be good for your head.”
It’s completely transformed his life. He’s done it for a year and a half now. And he’s really becoming good. He was this nerdy character and this really skinny kid who basically smoked cigarettes and didn’t really work out that much. And over the last year and a half, his body’s changed. He’s got muscles now. He works out all the time. He’s much calmer. He’s much more secure. If you saw the thing with Carlos Mencia…
Ari Shaffir. Yeah. Ari has been doing jiu-jitsu for a year and a half. And when I brought him on stage, if that was the old Ari from a year and a half before, he might not have been able to stand in front of Carlos and say all those things like “Yeah, you did steal that joke.” He might have been nervous.
With the recent release of the Cosby/Mencia video – which I think is the most damaging evidence yet – do you feel even more vindicated?
I didn’t know about the Cosby thing. George Lopez emailed that to me. He was so happy that somebody called out Mencia. He said, “That motherfucker been a thorn in my side for sixteen years.” [Mencia] stole thirteen minutes of George Lopez’s material for his first HBO special out of a half-hour. He’s a real bad person to have in the comedy community.
I hope the Lopez/Mencia stuff gets compared.
Yeah, I hope they do too. Somebody put together that Cosby video. It’s happening on its own now.
The thanks to Mitzi Shore [founder of the Comedy Store] on the CD must be bitterswe…
No. Not to me. Mitzi Shore is the one who helped me. Mitzi Shore to me was the Comedy Store. What the Comedy Store is now is “Weekend at Bernie’s.” It’s a shell. It’s a place to do comedy and that’s all well and good.
You encourage people to still go there.
Sure, why not? My friends go there. There are comedians that I know who are there. But it’s not the Comedy Store. It’s not the place that I would ever work at for free. Right now it’s just some club that some douchebags are running.
There’s a lot of clubs that douchebags are running all over town. It allows comics to have an audience. It allows people to see a talented performer and become fans of that guy and come see them at another time. And that’s a good thing.
I think my time with Mitzi and what her Comedy Store has done for the comedy community in general and me in particular is monstrous. I’m very happy I thanked her on my CD.
I didn’t mean so much her but the part that said the Comedy Store was the greatest comedy club in the whole world.
Well it was. It’s still a great room. It’s a great building to perform in. But now that fucking plagiarist wanders around the building. That’s where his home is now.
Comics aren’t going there any more. Ari Shaffir isn’t going there any more. Joey Diaz doesn’t go any more. Al Madrigal just stopped going there because Carlos is in the back of the room. He got off stage and Carlos was watching him for ten minutes. He’s like, “What the fuck is this?” A lot of comics are doing the same thing. It’s a bad place. Audience members are boycotting it because of the way they treated me and the whole situation.
People now at least know the truth. When you see Carlos Mencia go on stage and you think what he says was funny, I guarantee you that whoever created it is not getting paid.
You just did a show at Los Angeles’ UCB. How was that?
It was awesome. I really loved it. I can’t wait to do it again. I just got an email from the guy who runs it. We’re going to figure out when I can get in there again.
It was so much fun. It was such a great environment. The fact they don’t serve alcohol is pretty bad-assed. People bring their own alcohol so they don’t have to have waitresses and pick up their tabs. Fucking awesome show. One of my favorite places to perform ever. I can’t wait to go back.