Many stand-up comedians aspire to having their own sitcoms; some, like Tim Allen, end up big movie stars. But only Joe Rogan has shot to fame by hosting a show where people eat bugs and entrails (Fear Factor, sadly no longer on the air except in reruns), and doing serious color commentary on the UFC's mixed martial arts pay-per-view events.
"I think in a lot of ways, as a stand-up comedian, it still sends a very weird and confusing message," Rogan says over the phone. "It's like: Stand-Up Comedian-slash-Cage-Fighting Expert? Like, how does that work? You know, it's a weird gig. It also definitely makes me far more aware of the contradictions and how important it is to be self-deprecating about it, and to poke fun at myself and how silly it is."
Rogan trained in jiu-jitsu from a young age, which he credits for keeping him calm offstage, but has no desire to participate in the cage fights himself, saying "until they figure how to cure brain damage, I'm out." But he has no compunction about picking high-profile feuds with those whom he feels deserve it: at the Comedy Store earlier this year, he got into a heated debate with Carlos Mencia after referring to him as "Carlos Men-steal-ia," a reference to his allegedly being a joke plagiarist. Rogan was banned from the Comedy Store, ostensibly for taping the bit and putting it on YouTube without permission, and was dropped by his stand-up agent when they asked him to apologize; he responded that he hadn't taken things far enough. Rogan now wonders if Mencia is even aware of the problem.
"He's a really fucked-up dude. It's not like he's just this calculating—he believes he's this really great comic. He doesn't even believe he steals. There's something wrong with him. When I was arguing with him onstage, he was like, 'What jokes? What jokes do I steal?' And I was like, 'Is this guy crazy?' I'm listening to him say this, and I'm like, 'Um, is he insane? Or am I crazy? Have I made this up? There was this flash in my mind: 'How weird would it be if I'm completely out of my mind, and this guy doesn't steal material, and I'm onstage accusing him of it, and it's all just my brain short-circuiting or misfiring?' But then as I started bringing up examples—over and over again—you could see it just crash his reality. You could see it in his eyes. You could see the realization: 'Oh shit, I am a thief.'
"And then he would try to come up with a new lie to cover it up, and a new lie, and a new lie—and they were so preposterous. When I called him out about George Lopez, he said the only reason why George Lopez hates him is he doesn't want other Hispanics to succeed. Like he grabbed him and choked him and threw him up against the wall because he doesn't want any other people of Latino descent to be funny. That's one of the dumbest fuckin' things I've ever heard anybody say—but it was something to say. And that's all he needs. All he needs is anything that can come out of his mouth that can be interpreted as a valid excuse. And whether it's 'Everybody is jealous of me,' or 'You love to talk about me because you're gay and you're secretly in love with me'—his reasoning is hilarious because there's no truthfulness in any of it. It's all just about finding words to fill in the blanks. You remember when you were in school and you didn't know the answer to something, so you just bullshitted? That's basically what he's doing with every aspect of his life."
Rogan views the success of Mencia's TV show Mind of Mencia as evidence of the dumbing down of America, saying "[Comedy Central] put this one show on, and it fuckin' sucks, and they didn't know this guy was a thief when they first hired him, they thought they were just gonna get a Latino take on sketch comedy and it could be kinda funny, and maybe it'd be a little outrageous, and then they air it, and they go, 'Oh my god, this is terrible'—but the numbers start coming in, and the numbers are good, so what the fuck do you do? I don't envy them."
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But there's lots of stand-up fodder in societal stupidity, like "the fact that we're on a rock flying through the universe and nobody talks about it, but everybody wants to talk about Angelina Jolie and Britney Spears' babies and the fact that we're these weird fuckin' talking monkeys, and we live in this crazy society that has so much comedy in it. There's so much that's ridiculous about the way that we live. This is the most rich and bountiful time to be a stand-up comic. This is like being involved in the tech industry in the early '90s."
Joe Rogan performs at the House of Blues, 1530 Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583; www.hob.com. Thurs., Nov. 1, 8 p.m. $20.