The Sorrows of Young Joe Rogan
At war with the planets. At war with mankind. Should we laugh or cry?
There’s a rare and comfortable space and place that if you’re very lucky, you might find yourself in. It’s where and when your level of concern regarding how other people do things, or think about things, falls below your level of interest in how you do those things or think about them.
Generally understood as “not giving a shit.”
“I can’t tell if he really doesn’t give a shit or he’s just acting like he doesn’t give a shit,” a former boss who had fired me and then subsequently re-hired me said when I skipped past the pleading part of the negotiation phase in trying to get my job back and went straight to “next”. It’s not so much that I’m a hard case. It’s much more just that it’s aggressively necessary, thank punk rock for this, to be as you are as often as circumstance allows.
So when I do the calculation and figure out that if I am flying to Las Vegas to cover an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event, hotel destination and evening sleeping arrangements totally unclear, that it made sense to not have to lug a suitcase hither and yon through casino after casino. And when it’s discovered that the plane lands with barely enough time to make the first fight it’s decided: whatever I need I can carry in a Safeway grocery bag.
I can then throw out what I am finished with and, if need be, ditch the bag entirely, hands free to handle whatever fate throws my way.
It’s how I ended up on media row at the UFC, pressing flesh with names that even fans of the present day UFC would be hard put to place now. Moving to my seat, saying hello to all and sundry I find myself suddenly face to face with stand-up comic and, at this point, still not A-list, Joe Rogan.
And as he watches me approach I can see him working. He doesn’t know me, but knows the guys that seem to know me but it looks like he’s trying to decide whether or not he addresses the elephant in the room? If you’re Joe Rogan, I guess: yeah.
“You doing some shopping?” He nods at the brown paper bag, a smile slowly spreading on his face.
“Yeah,” I laugh. “I got some bananas in here. You want one?”
“Haha…no. That’s cool, bro.”
“I don’t have bananas in my bag, Joe.”
Then the unlikeliest of all possible outcomes: we have a 10-minute conversation wherein I extol the virtues of disposable luggage. And this is important: at his bidding. Which is to say, I’d have talked about anything, but in the face of his interest, grocery bags it would be. I, for a bit, wondered if it was the syndrome that Billy Bob Thornton explained to me, that made it hard for him to go grocery shopping. That is, that he just attached weirdly and when he was in, he was in.
But Joe was paying attention, to both the words and the generator of the words.
The fights later unfolded without incident and though Joe’s star subsequently rose over the years, when he hits the Bay Area he still trains with known associates and by all reports, was a solid guy.
So it was a skosh surprising when someone sent me a clip to a video marked “Joe Rogan vs. Feminist” (now, correctly listing her as Lydia Lunch). The set-up irked me from the outset. It stunk of Men’s Rights Activism (MRA). Cut from the same cloth as the urge to “own the libs,” a sticky kind of nah-nah-nah-nah-ism that tonally belongs to this age like no other.
Then the picture buzzed to life and it was Lydia Lunch, as “Feminist,” and Rogan as the avenging angel of? I guess “showing them bitches.”
The exchange starts normally enough and then Lydia does Lydia in a way that people who love Lydia, as I do, recognize as such. She, in my mind, goodnaturedly, pokes a little fun at him. Then you see it in his eyes: she hit. And he does what fighters sometimes do…he attacks.
“You’re an out of shape middle-aged woman…” Rogan digs in. Lydia for her part is a gamer and ups the ante a bit with a belittling touch, which Rogan registers. I hear rumors that as a kid Rogan was badly bullied, and you can kind of smell this on him. So his response to this is both surprising and totally unsurprising to anyone who has been badly bullied: a clear threat to escalate, physically if necessary. “Oh…I know you. Spooky, dark, ooooohhh….”
On the one hand he’s gotten so small I feel a borderline admiration that knowing cameras were there, that he still went there. “There” being “lost it” land. But I’m Team Lydia and the fact that she takes what for anyone else would have been killshots and just keeps on…keepin’ on? It’s her for the win.
And years later when I ask her about it, her response is “WHO? No idea what you’re talking about.” Which is, in its way, perfect.
But my mind returns to Rogan.
“You want to go see him?” A comedian friend of mine has tickets. Is it significant that he’s an immersive comic who dresses as a Nazi? I’m going to say, maybe.
…[W]hile the right people might be digging on fart jokes and horse dewormer, a much more reasonable question now would be, are those really the right people?
The venue in San Francisco is packed and our seats are great.
Is Rogan funny? This is the Rogan who turned a show done in his garage into $130 mil. This is Rogan who was getting high with Elon Musk. This is the Rogan who can do, apparently, whatever he wants, which doesn’t seem to include any “wrong”. So yeah, he’s funny.
But he’s supposed to be funny. So a better question is, maybe, how funny was he? And that’s harder to answer because there is, more than anything, a sense that there’s a war at the core of whoever it is that Joe Rogan is now.
He aims lows, he hits low. He aims high, he hits high. But it seems more than clear that it’s the high concepts that he wants to cater to. The low ones pay the bills though it’s unclear what bills need to be paid when you’re making over $130 mil a year.
The show ends without event and I don’t think of Rogan again until his predictable COVID takes. He clearly sided with the side that Trump invigorated, the side that wanted to question “conscensus” “medical” “realities” by putting all of that stuff in quotes.
Then he got COVID.
Then he talked about taking unapproved deworming drug ivermectin.
Then he claimed he was done with COVID. Cured, apparently.
You know I’ve been a man for the better part, make that the entirety, of my time on this planet. I make nowhere near $130 mil a year. And my grievances, insofar as they exist, seem to only involve not making $130 mil a year, political dupes of every political persuasion, and Jack Black.
Moreover, there are no videos of “Eugene Robinson vs Feminist”. I’ve also hunted but have managed to do so sans the whole hunter cult of macho bit. And mostly, and this is strange given the whole OXBOW pedigree, I rarely lose it. Which means I can’t figure out why Rogan, vis a vis his masculinity thing, is so…brittle. And after Steve Albini called out Rogan here, and his nut-jumping fans went nuts in response, I had the same questions about them.
Then I remember talking to a friend of mine who was a mountain ranger and he told me that mostly what happens when people die in avalanches is that when they get covered by snow, they can’t tell up from down. And so in their efforts to escape they dig down, deeper, instead of up, and out. Which is how they find them when they find them. Mostly, dead. Always upside down.
At this point in 2021 though, most people don’t know or remember who Lenny Bruce is, or was. At this point in 2041 the same might be said about Rogan. But no one in the creation side of the entertainment business really cares about “most people”. We care about the right people. And while the right people might be digging on fart jokes and horse dewormer, a much more reasonable question now would be, are those really the right people?
Does Joe know? Does he care to know? Can he know?
I don’t know. But, you know, I think I’m OK with not knowing.