Why do people like Joe Rogan?
This is a question I’ve been grappling with for about three years now. For those of you who are somehow unaware of who Joe Rogan is, allow me to give you a short background. Joe Rogan first came into the public eye as a comedian who hosted the popular television game show Fear Factor back in the early-to-mid-2000s. Since then, he has become a commentator for UFC, and developed the most-listened-to podcast in the world. Rogan’s daily listenership is well over 10 million. For reference, the next closest daily podcast belongs to the New York Times, whose The Daily podcast brings in about 4 million listeners per episode.
But if you look into the other podcasts on the most downloaded lists, they are either highly-produced entertainment shows like Stuff You Should Know and This American Life or political commentary like Pod Save America and The Ben Shapiro Show. Rogan’s show, The Joe Rogan Experience, does not really fall into either of those categories. On any given day he can be discussing comedy, athletics, social issues, science, and yes, politics. The point is that Rogan’s show is not easily lumped into one box. In a nutshell, it’s Rogan talking to people he finds interesting.
I myself have gone through multiple stints of listening to The Joe Rogan Experience, and frankly, I am currently not that into it. Episodes can go on for literally hours. Who has time for that? But there’s no question that there’s a mass appeal to Rogan, and the question remains – why? Why are there so many people who choose to devote hours of their day listening to a man have discussions with people he finds interesting?
Many people will tell you that the fact that he talks to anyone is the reason he’s so popular. In a world of cancel culture and echo chambers, Rogan will have a discussion with anyone he finds intriguing enough to have in his studio for an extended period of time. He doesn’t create an echo chamber; he opens up his listeners to ideas they may not have been familiar with beforehand. And to an extent, this is true. There are many people out there willing to listen to opposing views who want to broaden their education and understanding of the world.
However, The Joe Rogan Experience is not a guest-driven show, meaning that the show does great numbers whether there’s a guest on with a large following or whether it’s a mostly unknown face. Rogan does not need his guests to bring an audience with them; he has his own already in place. That tells me that there’s something about Rogan himself that’s unique. There’s at least one quality Joe Rogan has that separates him from the rest of the public figures in his space and makes people interested in what he has to say.
I think that quality is his differentiation of thought - not among his guests, but within his own beliefs. What does that mean? Let’s start by analyzing a concept from earlier: echo chambers. A political echo chamber is when someone keeps hearing the same ideas they already agree with without hearing the opposing side, so they never get the chance to understand where the opposition truly stands. Individuals end up only hearing their prior beliefs repeated to them constantly and do not have any way of filtering out fact from opinion because everything is just reaffirmed by every source coming in.
But it goes deeper than that. Let’s say a person feels very passionately about one topic - for example, abortion. It does not matter which side of the abortion topic they fall. They are heavily invested in one topic, but do not really have an opinion on most other political issues. That person will seek out opinions that confirm their belief on abortion – why that side is correct, how to debunk the other side, etc. However, there is only so much a commentator can discuss about abortion, and eventually, the commentator will move onto something else. Since the consumer agreed with the commentator on abortion, they will continue to listen about other topics, such as healthcare, guns, education, business, technology, etc. As these arguments become ingrained, that individual is more likely to seek out others who share those opinions than they are to seek out opposing views. These creations of echo chambers are the primary reason as to why there are no Conservative Democrats or Liberal Republicans anymore. Everyone on each side tends to agree on almost everything; it’s just a matter of degree at this point.
Rogan is different. He is pro-choice and pro-gun. He’s pro-LGBT-rights, but is vehemently against trans women competing in sports against women, especially in his arena of MMA. His initial endorsement in 2016 was for Bernie Sanders, with Donald Trump being his second choice, but he ended up voting for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. The man, like his podcast, cannot be put into a box. He is a breath of fresh air in this age of polarization. Ironically, it is this exact quality that makes him a target. Because he is so refreshing, he is able to garner a huge following. His following enjoys the differentiated opinions both he and his guests have. It is the popularity combined with the platform he provides that make him such a lightning rod and target for attack. It says a great deal about our society that a man with differentiated opinions cannot be successful without being attacked from the extreme sides.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.