Joe Rogan
Joe Rogan. Photograph: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Joe Rogan has been around for a minute or two. Twenty years ago, he hosted NBC’s widely popular reality Fear Factor. In the ’90s, he was a commentator of the UFC. Dana White, who he bears an uncanny resemblance to, once called him the best fight-announcer who has ever called a fight in the history of fighting.

And today, the 54-year old is a media powerhouse, renowned for hosting of the world’s most popular podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience – a show he established in 2009 and which Spotify acquired the rights to in 2020 for a record $100 million dollar deal.

There’s no denying that Rogan is one of the most powerful figures in American media, despite being so in an unconventional way; he doesn’t own newspapers, nor does he own magazines, but what he can claim is an audience of 11 million viewers per show on average with a number one rated podcast on Spotify in over 90 countries. An impressive statistic to say the least.

The Joe Rogan Experience
The Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. (Photo Illustration by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

The Joe Rogan Experience, the ship which he helms, generates an exorbitant amount of wealth and power and forms a larger conversation within today’s cultural zeitgeist. His weekly show brings on guests which would otherwise be impossible to secure (à la Elon Musk, which has been viewed on Youtube 25 million times) with a mix of comedy, politics, media criticism, interviews and other random topics taking up the show’s weekly schedule.

It’s more than just his ability to interview captains of industry, though. It’s his whole persona. It’s how he comports himself. He’s this larger-than-life personality with tireless optimism which is, to many, enticing. The focus on finding your purpose in life, the drive to succeed, his competitive energy, the notion of mastering your mind; it’s all compelling stuff, and it brings listeners back each and every week.

Writer Devin Gordon wrote in the 2019 article titled, ‘Why is Joe Rogan So Popular’, “he [Joe Rogan] understands men in America better than most people do.” And that’s what he capitalises on.

His guest list is also incredibly broad. If you want to learn about martial arts or what it’s like to journey to space or how to tackle infectious disease, listen to The Joe Rogan Experience – there’s universal appeal. As a host, he also knows how to carry a conversation well, with some episodes lasting hours.

There’s no denying the community and success he has built over his 13-year tenure with The Joe Rogan Experience. What started off as a basement podcast with mates has now turned into a tech-wielding, money-yielding machine that is celebrated globally – those who villainise Rogan perhaps haven’t really grasped the depth of the community he has built.

And men can’t get enough.

The fact is that the average age of Rogan’s listeners is 24, mostly white male and at an age that can be extremely impressionable. And Rogan’s dedicated listeners eat up everything he has to say.

But there is a controversial side to Joe Rogan. He can sometimes, for better or for worse, fence-sit on some important conversations that should, perhaps, be challenged. His compliance to certain remarks made by otherwise controversial guests has also left him in hot water many a time, and leaves his pundits to question what exactly his overall objective might be.

Recently labelled as a dangerous media commentator of the spread of misinformation by a panel of 270 medical experts, Rogan is being held accountable for his polarising views and opinions – coupled with the guests he brings onto his show – relating to Covid-19 and certain conspiracy theories.

“Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Joe Rogan has repeatedly spread misleading and false claims on his podcast, provoking distrust in science and medicine,” wrote experts from the US, Canada, Britain and Australia.

“He has discouraged vaccination in young people and children, incorrectly claimed that mRNA vaccines are ‘gene therapy’, promoted off-label use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 (contrary to FDA warnings), and spread a number of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.”

The idea that Rogan will accrue millions of followers and tens of millions of downloads each and every month, coupled with the anti-science, anti-vaccine rhetoric across such a large and influential platform poses an enormous issue – and threat – to public health.

Such controversies include his conversation with Dr. Peter McCullough and his conversation with Dr. Robert Malone, both of which have since been removed from Spotify.

“In episode #1757, Rogan hosted Dr. Robert Malone, who was suspended from Twitter for spreading misinformation about COVID-19,” says the panel of medical experts.

“Dr. Malone used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have “hypnotised” the public.”

The backlash of this controversy has left the world divided on how they feel about Joe Rogan. His legion of #stans will forever stand by him. Others, like rock veteran Neil Young, have made acts of defiance, removing his entire catalogue of music from Spotify as a rally against Rogan’s negligence regarding COVID-19 misinformation. Musicians Joni Mitchell, David Crosby and Graham Nash followed suit.

While somewhat a demigod of podcasting, there are still limits, even for Joe Rogan. Spotify quietly pulled over 100 episodes of his podcast, which included episodes that constituted Covid misinformation, as well as controversial episodes involving renowned far-right pundits or conspiracy theorists, like Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, Michael Malice, Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos.

Although the removal of 113 episodes wasn’t a direct result of the accusations of his podcast spreading Covid misinformation, instead it is most likely linked to the backlash Rogan is currently facing over his past use of racial slurs on the podcast.

In a new 6-minute Instagram video, Rogan apologised for using the N-word, in which he claimed the clips of the compilation video were “taken out of context of twelve years of conversations on my podcast”.

“I know to most people, there’s no context in which a white person is ever allowed to say that word and I agree with that now,” he said.

“I would never want to offend someone for entertainment for something as stupid as racism. If anything, perhaps this can be a teachable moment for anyone who doesn’t realise how offensive that word can be coming out of a white person’s mouth. My sincerest apologies, it makes me sick just watching that video.”

Of course, Rogan is out of line in these instances, there’s no denying that. On the topic of the Coronavirus alone, the virus is still killing more than 2,500 Americans a day despite having first access to the best vaccines in the world. It’s very plausible to suggest that Rogan’s remarks, and those of his guests’, could seriously hinder the efforts of people getting vaccinated.

“If you’re a healthy person, and you’re exercising all the time, and you’re young, and you’re eating well, like, I don’t think you need to worry about this,” Rogan said in a past episode of The Joe Rogan Experience.

Since the allegations were first sparked in January by the panel of medical experts who called to shut Rogan down, a consumer poll (via Variety) from Forrester Research has found that 19 per cent of Spotify’s service customers have since cancelled their subscriptions, or plan to in the near future. Another 18.5 per cent said they would consider cancelling if more music was removed from the platform.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek recently addressed the Joe Rogan controversy via The New York Times, saying “I think the important part here is that we don’t change our policies based on one creator. And while Joe has a massive audience, he also has to abide by those policies.”

In response to the allegations, Rogan vows to ‘balance things out’, which he stated in a video addressing the controversy behind his podcast which was labelled a ‘source of dangerous misinformation, specifically relating to two episodes with the aforementioned doctors.

“Both of these people [Dr. Peter McCuller, Dr. Robert Malone] are highly credentialed, highly intelligent and they have an opinion that is different to the mainstream narrative – I wanted to hear what their opinions are,” Rogan said.

“My pledge to you is that I will do my best to try and balance out these more controversial viewpoints with the people’s perspectives so that we can maybe find a better point of view. I don’t want to just show the contrary opinion to what the narrative is; I want to show all kinds of opinions.”

Rogan went on to say that he believes a disclaimer is needed at the beginning of potentially controversial podcast episodes.

Joe Rogan is a smart guy; he knows that with that level of influence comes a level of responsibility. Aiding and abetting the spread of Covid misinformation is just plain negligent, whichever way you decide to look at it.

But how – and when – is Joe Rogan able to change the way in which he conducts his business; the business that brings him millions of dollars and a great deal of success?

Love him or hate him, there’s no in-between. But hero or villain… that’s for you to decide.