Q+A: Joe Rogan
Joe Rogan Questions Everything is now airing on Syfy, and we have a few queries of our own for the polymath.
You probably know Joe Rogan from one or two of his many roles—host of Fear Factor, UFC commentator and martial artist, podcaster on The Joe Rogan Experience, actor, stand-up comedian—and his multifaceted nature may surprise you. To him, there is nothing unusual about his numerous occupations, but he knows that other people might not see it that way. “My career is very confusing,” Rogan admits. “Is he that dickhead from Fear Factor or is he the guy that makes these psychedelic YouTube videos? Who is this dude? People have a problem with someone who has varied interests.”
Such diversity is exactly what makes him so fun to talk with. He can wax equally eloquent about psychedelic experiences, economic deception, and ancient history. With his new Syfy reality series, Joe Rogan Questions Everything, about to air, INKED interrogated the loquacious Rogan about politics, drug trips, mixed martial arts, and unfuckable white dudes.
INKED: In your Syfy series, you’re going to go stay in a haunted house, search for Bigfoot, and do similar things with a group of comedians. Do you think that they’ll take things seriously?
JOE ROGAN: I will give every subject the seriousness and open-mindedness that it deserves. Unfortunately, as time goes on I’m finding that a lot of them don’t deserve it. We’re dealing with people who have heavy-duty confirmation bias and want desperately for there to be mysteries. This show is quite a psychological study of human beings. The people that are all looking for these mysteries are looking to get some form of excitement into their life. Almost all of the guys are going through mid-life crises, self-admittedly. A lot of these are what I call unfuckable white dudes. That’s how we’ve been describing a lot of the “believers.” A lot of them are men who are 50 years old and who have a great deal of knowledge about these particular subjects but are not looking at them objectively and not looking at all the possibilities, like the possibility that what they’re dealing with is total bullshit. It’s kind of unfortunate because there are a lot of real mysteries in this world, but these folks are really attached to these fringe ideas.
We think the real litmus test for the validity of any supernatural story is when it comes from someone who’s not a believer and who you think would never tell you a story like that.
I agree with you. Terence McKenna once had a great quote about UFOs—he said when someone tells you that they’ve seen a UFO, don’t ask them to describe the UFO, ask them what they think about psychics. Ask them if they believe in ghosts. You may see a pattern. It’s very astute because that’s what I’m finding in doing the show, that the mind-sets are very similar. It’s almost like they’re not happy with the way their life has turned out, so they want to find something that completely throws the standard way of life into the garbage. It’s not that their life is a mess or a waste, it’s that all life is a waste because look at this, there’s aliens.
Many of your podcasts have taken on a more serious tone and delved into political issues. What inspired this shift in thinking from the Joe Rogan who was policing his gelato in the offices of NewsRadio and watching people do crazy stunts on Fear Factor? What sparked that switch in your brain?
It wasn’t really a switch; it was a gradual process of understanding how crazy the world really is and how the blinders that most people put on to get through their day allow these things to happen, and that there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel or solution to any of these issues. A lot of people thought that Obama was going to be a giant solution. We really felt kidnapped by the Bush administration, and the military-industrial complex had gotten its grip on America. All of a sudden, you’ve got this mixed-race guy who is a product of a single-parent household who is very educated, articulate, and young. He’s us. Wow, we’re going to be okay now. But no, it’s the same goddamn thing. That was very disconcerting for a lot of folks, and what was considered conspiracy theory during the Clinton administration was more openly considered during the Bush administration and now is pretty much accepted as fact by the people that live under the Obama administration. We saw the bailouts, now we see the drone strikes and see the massive amount of corruption in the financial institutions. We have a really realistic portrait of how the world is run, essentially for the first time ever.
Do you think this is new?
When Eisenhower was leaving office in the early ’60s he warned about the military-industrial complex. The spread of information was so much slower then and more difficult. He did his duty in his brave speech to the American public warning about the dangers of the military-industrial machine, but how much of that actually got out to the world? Could you imagine if Obama, leaving office, said the same thing? It would be all over YouTube. We’re starting to realize that all these people we thought were tinfoil-hat nutters are probably not, and it probably is a grand conspiracy to extract money.
Are your political podcasts your penance for putting out cage matches on UFC or the ridiculous things that people do on Fear Factor?
With the Internet you have an ability not just to distract people but to inform people in a way that’s never existed before. And with the entertainment that exists all over the world now—the hundreds of channels—you can get more entertainment, more nonsense, more Fear Factor, more bug eating, more stupidity, but also more information, more news, more possibilities, more understanding. More data is coming into the American household than ever before. It really depends on how you choose to filter it—whether you choose to focus on stupidity and reality TV shows and watching the Kardashians, or watch Russia Today or BBC News or documentaries. One click of a remote control, boom, you’re watching a really educational, informative piece. There’s definitely a lot of distractions and definitely a lot of entertainment and nonsense today, but there’s also a lot of data, information, education, and understanding. The kids that are growing up today have a pipeline into the truth that we never had, and I think we’ve underestimated the impact of that. I think as time goes on we’re going to realize that it’s the greatest change in human culture that the world has ever known.
Do you see yourself simply as a comic or entertainer, or do you see yourself striving for something more?
I’m not striving for anything, I’m just doing what I do. That sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true. I have a really unique place in this world and a really unique position with the podcast. In an hour, I’m going to leave and do a podcast with Graham Hancock, who is a really fascinating guy that has an alternative view of history and believe that there has been a series of cataclysmic events that happened all over the globe and that human culture and human civilization is probably tens of thousands of years older than we learn in mainstream education. It’s been slowly but surely proven. Since he started writing his books in the ’80s, there’s been the discovery of Gobekli Tepe, which is a massive site in Turkey of unexplained stone structures that are over 14,000 years old. So it predates the construction of the pyramids at Giza by over 9,000 years. It’s really stunning because it was thought up until recently that the people that lived then were just hunter- gatherers and that there was no advanced culture capable of building something like this. He’s going to be on the podcast dropping a lot of science and letting people know what the fuck is going on. It’s a really unique opportunity to have a conversation with a guy like that, not just to sit down and have him talk to me for three hours, but talk to me live on the air where hundreds of thousands of people can be intrigued by the possibilities that he addresses.
You’re a commentator for the UFC and train in martial arts, but you don’t fight. In your teens, you won the Massachusetts full-contact taekwondo championship four years in a row and won the U.S. Open Taekwondo Championship.
Yes, and I have a black belt in Brazilian jujitsu. I’ve been training in martial arts most of my life, but I had my last kickboxing fight when I was 22. There was no money in it back then, no UFC. And if UFC had been around I probably would’ve done it. But it probably would’ve derailed all the other aspects of my life, because to try to be a professional fighter is an incredibly grueling task and an incredibly grueling thing to try to do for a living. You’re talking about working out two to three times a day, five to six days a week, and constantly being sore and exhausted and trying to maintain energy and enthusiasm. Then also dealing with injuries—not just physical injuries, but worrying about your mind and the deterioration of your mental capacity.
Do you consider mixed martial arts more of a definitive contest than something like boxing, where some decisions have been debated?
They question the judge’s decisions in MMA all of the time as well. Judging can be bad in both of them, but MMA for sure is more of a realistic contest, more of a realistic test as far as using the body in martial arts competition. Although not considered a martial art, boxing is really a martial art. It’s a very limited martial art as long as you agree to just box. It’s only hands. There are no kicks; there are no takedowns. It’s effective in competition, but in an actual physical fight against someone who’s just a wrestler, you’re going to get killed. Floyd Mayweather would get killed by an average college wrestler. There would be no competition. If you took Floyd Mayweather today and made him fight against your average college wrestler, that college wrestler is going to shoot on him, pick him up, drop him on his head, and knock him out. There’s nothing that Floyd can do about it. He’s going to get knocked out by getting slammed on his head. A judo guy would do the same thing to him. A jujitsu guy would strangle him, no question about it. Boxing has a very limited way of competing, but in that limitation there’s beauty. A guy like Mayweather has mastered the art of hitting the other guy more than he can get hit himself. It’s beautiful to watch, just like it’s beautiful to watch Michael Jordan nailing a three-pointer. It’s beautiful to watch anybody who masters something. But when it comes down to martial arts, the only true form of martial arts that is realistic is mixed martial arts.
We should talk about your tattoos. your arms are pretty inked.
My left arm is fully sleeved from wrist up. My left arm [piece] is something that I saw during this crazy psychedelic experience I had where there was this golden Buddha communicating with me and trying to relate to me the secrets of life and the secrets of happiness and harmony in this world. In his hands in the picture, there’s a floating molecule, which is a DMT molecule. That was the psychedelic drug I was on, which is the psychedelic drug your own brain and your own body produces. There’s a dragon wrapped around the Buddha. Both of my arms are done by Aaron Della Vedova from Guru Tattoo in San Diego.
What about your right arm?
It’s one giant piece where [famed Japanese swordsman] Miyamoto Musashi is fighting this tiger with a samurai sword and a rope. Above it is a really old tattoo that I got when I was, like, 22 by a guy named Danny Williams from Connecticut. He’s actually dead now. I’m going to have that lasered off and have Aaron finish the right piece.
So you’re not comfortable having that older piece on you anymore?
No, I just want the whole thing to be Aaron’s work, and I want him to finish it all the way up the top.
Does martial arts give you more confidence in getting up to do stand-up comedy? Even the simple fact that you can probably kick the ass of any heckler that bothers you?
No, not necessarily. If you suck, you suck. It’s a terrible feeling. I’m probably more confident with hecklers because I’m not physically scared of them, but the anxiety is in doing a good show. That anxiety always exists. You’re worried about bombing, you’re worried about failing and not living up to the expectations of all these people who paid money to come and see you. It’s a tremendous obligation. I use the word obligation to describe how I feel about the people that come to see my comedy and the people that love the podcast and also the people that enjoy my UFC commentary. It’s happy obligation. I’m happy that I have this obligation to do my best, but I have an obligation to do my best and be on top of it. I can’t have a poor performance. I do not have the latitude to do a half-assed thing and sort of walk through it. I’ve staked my reputation and the relationship that I have with my audience all on them enjoying what I do, and if they don’t enjoy what I do, I feel like shit. It doesn’t matter if you’re a martial artist and can kick someone’s butt. If you suck, you suck. And that’s a terrible feeling.