Robert Jackman

The genius of Joe Rogan

Plus: Sam Harris's podcast on coronavirus is brilliantly informative but he lacks the common touch of Rogan

An ordinary Joe: Rogan's success flows from his slacker style and engagement with big ideas. Photo: Vivian Zink / Syfy / NBCUniversal / Getty Images

Last month, just before coronavirus conquered the airwaves entirely, millions of Americans gave up two hours to hear a professor of epidemiology discuss the emerging pandemic. Despite its huge reach, not to mention its quality, the interview wasn’t broadcast on any of the news networks. Rather it was the work of a former martial-arts pundit and hallucinogenic-drug enthusiast who also happens to be one of America’s most popular — and influential — podcasters.

Although it racks up some 190 million downloads a month, The Joe Rogan Experience tends to fly somewhat under the cultural radar — particularly in Britain. Even worse, his brash style and predominantly male fan base means that Joe Rogan is sometimes unfairly labelled an arch-reactionary. When in fact — as his even-handed interview with the epidemiologist shows — he’s actually nothing of the sort. So what is he?

As a semi-regular listener myself, I’ve coined my own term for Rogan: the manchild intellectual. How better to describe a man who has a natural aptitude for big ideas — just listen to his two-hour sitdown with the then presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders last summer — but who’s rarely seen out of a crumpled T-shirt and baseball cap? And who occasionally cuts off his guests — Sanders included — to show them video clips from YouTube?

For someone accused of toxic masculinity, Rogan is a mighty good listener

The slacker style has its advantages. Unlike the vast majority of pundits, Rogan isn’t afraid to admit his ignorance of a topic or ask basic questions. When he learns something new, he makes no effort to hide his surprise (several times in the epidemiology episode he lets out a gobsmacked stoner ‘woooow’ that makes you wish he were a little more self-conscious). And for someone accused of embodying toxic masculinity, he’s a mighty good listener.

All this provides a good formula for getting guests to let their guard down.

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