When it comes to Joe Rogan, there tend to be three postures: love him, hate him, or haven’t heard of him. The best way I can summarize Joe Rogan is to say he is a modern entertainment Renaissance man. I remember Rogan as the host of Fear Factor back in the day, but that’s not how most people know him. Rogan is a stand-up comedian, an MMA announcer (and former fighter himself), actor, and host of the most popular podcast in the world, “The Joe Rogan Experience.”
That last bit of resume material is likely how history will remember Rogan—his podcast. It’s virtually impossible for someone to make the claim that they have “the most popular podcast in the world,” because of the myriad of metrics and platforms one would have to synthesize to make such a claim. But the title is Rogan’s if he ever wants to claim it. Earlier this year he signed an exclusivity deal with Spotify for a reported $100 million. That has never happened to a podcast before. In fact, nothing close to that has happened to a podcast before. Spotify’s stocked jumped so much following the news that it gained $1.7 billion in value.
But enough about big money and unprecedented deals. Why does Joe Rogan have the most popular podcast in the world? How is he able to regularly record two or three hour podcasts when a lot of people think 30 minutes is the “right length”? A significant reason for Rogan’s success is that he was early on the podcast game, relatively-speaking. He’s been podcasting multiple times a week since 2009. He’s nearing 1600 episodes. So, other than being first and creating tons of content, what makes his podcast so popular?
Here’s what it is, in my opinion:
Joe Rogan’s relentless curiosity makes him ask off-the-wall questions that refresh our view of familiar celebrities.
We’ll break that down in a minute. But I need to say first: I am a super casual Joe Rogan podcast listener. Basically, I skim his YouTube channel once a week to see if he’s talked to any celebrities I care about recently. Then I take about a week to listen to/watch a three-hour podcast with a familiar celebrity as I work, cook dinner, or walk around my neighborhood.
I think Joe Rogan says some wacky stuff. I think Joe Rogan buys into a lot of sketchy stuff. I rarely agree with Rogan’s worldview, political perspectives, or other such foundational principles of thought. I don’t write this to lift Rogan up as a role model or moral exemplar. I write this to appreciate his dominance at his craft. Every time I listen to Rogan I marvel at how good he is at disarming famous people and revealing a side of them that we rarely see.
So let’s break down what I think are the three major ingredients that make Rogan a master interviewer and podcast host.
1) Relentless Curiosity
This is perhaps the most important of the three ingredients. It is also the hardest to replicate. Rogan is into all kinds of stuff. He loves sports. He loves studying history. He is interested in hallucinogenic drugs and alcohol. He dabbles in matters of faith. This makes him a compelling interviewer because he can riff on such a wide array of topics.
One of the errors of many podcasts I’ve listened to, especially in the Christian space, is that the hosts don’t let their curiosity, if they have any, spill over into their conversation with their guests or co-hosts. The host-plus-guest, let-me-ask-you-some-boring-questions-about-your-book podcast model is so tired and overdone in the Christian space, and so many of the interviews I’ve heard are so sleepy. Without getting too ranty, I think this is mostly because too many Christian podcasters just take themselves too seriously.
Rogan is curious. He gets into all sorts of stuff. Done poorly this can seem erratic and make a podcast seem like it is aimless. Done well this makes a podcast appeal to a wide range of people.
2) Off-the-wall Questions
The other day I stumbled across Rogan’s recent interview with comedian Ron White. I remember White from the old Blue Collar Comedy Tour DVD of my youth and figured I’d watch some of the interview. It was a fascinating discussion, despite a good bit of it being pretty off-color and skippable. :-) Parts of the interview were brilliant, and the brilliance, in my view, was found in the off-the-wall questions Rogan asked of White because of Rogan’s relentless curiosity (see above). Let me set the scene.
So you have Joe Rogan and Ron White. They’re friends…you know, like celebrities are friends. But they’re both comedians, both have lived in L.A. for some time, and both love many of the same people/comedy clubs. So they aren’t strangers. The most typical (read “boring”) version of this conversation would look like Rogan asking White a bunch of cookie-cutter questions about his favorite bits ever, what projects he’s working on, etc. But that would be lame, and if Rogan asked those kinds of questions, he wouldn’t have the most popular podcast in the world.
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Instead, Rogan spent three hours talking to White asking questions like, “Do you believe aliens are real? What percent probability would you say they’re real?” Rather than ask White a bunch of the same stock questions interviewers have probably asked White hundreds of times, he asked him if he believes aliens are real or if he’s getting enough vitamin D. Is that weird? Yes. But it’s also interesting! Who cares what Texas-born, tequila-loving comedian Ron White thinks about aliens? No one, before that podcast episode anyway. But it made for good conversation regardless, because no one had really ever talked to him about it before in a public setting like that.
Henry Ford, of Ford Motor Company, supposedly said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Ford likely never said this, as there is no proof he did, but it’s a good quote regardless. The point is this: sometimes audiences/customers don’t know what they want until it’s created. It seems nonsensical that a three-hour conversation between two comedians about a bunch of random topics—including aliens, the importance of vitamin D, and the climate—would garner over 3.4 million views on YouTube and probably as many podcast downloads. But it’s reality!
Rogan has recognized, whether intentionally or simply as a byproduct of his curiosity, that people don’t want to just hear comedians talk about comedy or MMA fighters talk about fighting or actors talk about their latest movies. People, podcast listeners in this case, want to get beyond the typical to something new. Which leads to the last ingredient in what I think makes Rogan such a master interviewer.
3) Refreshed View of Familiar Celebrities
A couple weeks ago I came across Rogan’s interview with magician/illusionist David Blaine. Magic and illusion tricks have always fascinated me. I remember owning a magic kit as a kid and trying to do tricks for friends and family. Blaine has done a number of wild stunts over the years, including most recently when he held onto a handful of balloons and floated 25,000 feet into the air before he let go and dove through the sky to the ground below. Blaine is a tough dude. He has put his body through a lot. And in most of his acts, he maintains an air of mystique and toughness. He seems like a hard-nosed dude you wouldn’t want to cross. He doesn’t seem goofy, lighthearted, or really “fun” if you just see his acts and stunts.
So when Rogan had him on his show back in August before his latest stunt, fans of Rogan and Blaine were shocked to see that Blaine is, in fact, goofy, lighthearted, and a genuinely silly guy. I, having long been an admirer of Blaine, was also shocked to see this side of him. Unlike his off-the-wall, random-topic interview with White, Rogan asked Blaine a lot of questions related to his work. But Rogan and Blaine had never met, so Rogan had all sorts of questions about how his work affects his personal life and health—questions beyond the “What’s your favorite trick?” like Blaine would be asked on a late-night network program.
The comments on the YouTube videos of well-known celebrities Rogan interviews are regularly filled with, “Wow! I’ve seen her movies, but I never knew she was so funny in real life,” or other such sentiments. Rogan brings a fresh light to familiar faces. I think of his interviews with Kevin Hart. I’ve seen some Kevin Hart movies and specials, but I wouldn’t consider myself a “fan,” per se. But when I watched the interviews Rogan did with Hart, I couldn’t help but be amazed at Hart’s dedication to his craft, his family, and his physical health. Rogan does a tremendous job humanizing people we often see as characters in Hollywood or other areas of public life.
I dunno! If you’re reading this and you host a podcast, learn from Joe Rogan! Ask more interesting questions of your guests. Take yourself less seriously. Don’t do mushrooms though.
If you’re reading this and you don’t host a podcast, but you create content in some other way, see what you can take from how Rogan does podcasts and apply it to social media or blogging efforts.
If you’re reading this and you don’t do any of that, go listen to an episode or two of The Joe Rogan experience. I recommend any of the Kevin Hart ones or the David Blaine one as a great place to start. The Elon Musk chats are also interesting. Do more than listen to the content of the conversation. Pay attention to how Rogan drives the conversation. Notice how he asks questions and what kinds of questions he asks.
Joe Rogan tends to polarize people, and I get it. I understand. But I think he’s one of the best interviewers on the planet, and I think many of us content creators could serve to learn from how he runs his show.
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