Fighting talk: how Joe Rogan became the world’s most famous podcaster

Spotify’s biggest star has courted plenty of controversy – and attracted millions of listeners

The Joe Rogan Experience on Spotify 
The Joe Rogan Experience on Spotify 
(Image credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

He’s smoked weed with Elon Musk, discussed Big Data with exiled whistle-blower Edward Snowden, and talked politics with Bernie Sanders. It’s high-profile guests like this who have helped make Joe Rogan’s podcast one of the hottest properties in broadcasting.

With a back catalogue of more than 1,700 episodes, and an average of 11 million listeners, The Joe Rogan Experience has become the one of the world’s most popular podcasts. And its reach saw Spotify pay in excess of $100m for exclusive rights in 2020.

A lot of people are “Joe Rogan super fans”, and it’s “easy to see why”, said Esquire. The 54-year-old American stand-up comedian and Ultimate Fighting Championship colour commentator has “charisma and curiosity in spades”.

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Many digital commentators believe that The Joe Rogan Experience is the “most influential platform” on the internet – “they might just be right”. However, it’s not just smoking a “big fat bifta” with the world’s richest person that has seen Rogan make headlines, he’s also become an “important peripheral figure” in the so-called internet “culture wars”.

The power to influence

Few men in America “are as popular among American men as Joe Rogan”, said Devin Gordon in The Atlantic. And on his podcast, the guests can be divided roughly three ways: comedians, fighters and “thinkers”. The third topic “requires air quotes”, Gordon added, because it “encompasses everyone” from Oxford scholars and MIT bioengineers to culture drivers and conspiracy theorists.

As one of the most consumed media products on the planet, Rogan has the power to “shape tastes, politics [and] medical decisions”, said Matt Flegenheimer in The New York Times. The host “is dangerous, at least in the way that comedians like to be dangerous”. Rogan should “probably not be taken at face value, except when he should, and the discerning listener should be trusted to tell the difference”.

Musician Neil Young and outspoken commentator Joe Rogan

Musician Neil Young and outspoken commentator Joe Rogan
(Image credit: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images and Jo Hale/Redferns)

‘Helping spread misinformation’

During the pandemic, Rogan has “often peddled falsehoods… or hosted guests who do”, The Times said. And he has been criticised for “helping spread misinformation” – particularly around Covid vaccines, the BBC added.

Last month, Canadian musicians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell both asked to have their music pulled from Spotify, with the former saying they can have “Rogan or Young, not both”.

Young’s boycott – in protest at sharing a platform with the vaccine-sceptical Rogan – wiped more than $2bn off Spotify’s value and proved to be “a PR disaster”, said Dorian Lynskey in The Guardian. But the choice for the streaming service was a “foregone conclusion”. Accounting for 4.5% of all podcast listening on Spotify worldwide, Rogan “is a star of the magnitude of Adele”.

‘Maniacs and lunatics’

Rogan apologised to the company and said he would “try harder” to get people with differing opinions on his show, the BBC reported. But weeks after the celebrity vaccine war, a new controversy has hit the headlines.

The row about the podcaster “intensified further” over the weekend, Sky News said. Spotify have deleted a number of episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience in which the host was “found to have used the n-word”.

Daniel Ek, Spotify’s CEO, “waded” into the row and despite telling employees that he does not support Rogan’s use of racial slurs, the company will not be cutting ties. In a memo to staff, Ek said: “While I strongly condemn what Joe has said, and I agree with his decision, to remove past episodes from our platform, I realise some will want more. And I want to make one point very clear – I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer.”

Former US president Donald Trump has urged Rogan to “stop apologising to the Fake News and Radical Left maniacs and lunatics” after continued attempts to cancel him, the Daily Mail reported. Trump added: “How many ways can you say you’re sorry? Joe, just go about what you do so well and don’t let them make you look weak and frightened.”

If the establishment had its way, the podcast star would “surely be chastened, ‘cancelled’, reeled in”, The New York Times said. Maybe Joe Rogan is just “too big to cancel”.

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