This is going to be another one of those stories where we talk about something that many comedians have been discussing on social media. Maybe you’re a comedian and this interests you. Maybe you’re not a comedian but keep your finger on the pulse of comedy news. Maybe you’re an alpaca and your farmer is reading this to you.
Like the other stories I’ve written in this vein about people like Shane Gillis and Dave Chappelle, this is a story where I take a look at speech and consequences and the concept of a “cancel culture”, though the fact that I’ve put quotes around that term should tell you where I stand on it. There’s a lot of stuff you could also cover, from toxic fandom to how so many people are using a climate of fear for their own personal gain.
So, strap in, kids. Let’s talk about Joe Rogan.
I don’t know how you could have avoided the news about Joe Rogan this past week unless you were living in a cave, which sounds pretty nice considering the current state of the world. But, for the sake of playing catch-up for anyone who needs it, here is a brief primer:
Joe Rogan is an actor, television host, comedian, and MMA enthusiast, but all of those things pale in comparison to his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience. It’s the most popular podcast in the world and it’s not even close. Since 2009, millions of people have listened to Rogan chat with a variety of guests from all over the political and entertainment spectrum. In 2020, Spotify wanted to lock Rogan in and make him exclusive to their platform, and Joe said yes after receiving a contract worth, roughly, $100 million, which is not bad for the dude who used to host Fear Factor.
On January 30th, the guest for The Joe Rogan Experience was Dr. Robert W. Malone, and much like calling Rogan’s podcast “popular” would be an understatement, calling Malone a piece of shit doesn’t begin to come close in describing what a relentless tool and conman this dude is. Malone has been a favorite of the anti-vaccine crowd, specifically because he talked about how they were toxic and could kill you. Could he prove any of this? He could not. He claimed a high school football player died after taking the vaccine, and seemed unphased when it was pointed out that the student in question died in 2013. He links to studies after they have long been redacted. He loves claiming the FDA did not approve the COVID vaccines, which is a well known lie. Oh, and that student who died? Malone refused the wishes of the family of that poor teenager to stop using his name in his false COVID narratives.
Like I said, he’s a piece of shit, but it’s easy to understand why. When you visit his site, you’ll see that so much of it is devoted to helping the cause of… Dr. Robert W. Malone. It tells you how to hire him to speaking engagements or how to just plain ol’ give him money. Malone’s strategy seems to be telling people, “Hey, it’s important for you to hear what I have to say about COVID vaccines… if the price is right, baby!” Now, in order to get people to the website, you need attention. Interviews. Twitter clicks. Podcast appearances. And Malone can’t get those by being honest. He has to get them by being outrageous. And by lying.
A really fun example of this is from Malone’s appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience. The good doctor said that a side effect of COVID 19 and the fear it has generated was something he called “mass formation psychosis”, which was also something he claimed you saw examples of in Nazi Germany. Sounds spooky, right? I mean, “psychosis” is a scary word and add “mass” into that and that means it’s happening to a lot of people. Only problem with Malone’s claim: Mass formation psychosis? Not a thing. Not a real thing at all. Never mentioned in any medical journal or list of mental disorders. It’s just not real. He just made it up.
If you’re wondering why Joe Rogan had on Malone, it may be the fact that Malone loooooooooves ivermectin as a way to treat COVID. Dude cannot recommend it enough. And this is right in Rogan’s wheelhouse, as he admitted to taking the drug when he had COVID and then got furious at the media when people claimed he was taking horse de-wormer. In fairness to Rogan, there is a version of ivermectin which is made for human consumption, just as there is a version used in what is used to de-worm horses. Sadly, no one seemed to buy into my theory that Joe Rogan had both COVID and a real nasty case of horse worms.
It should be noted that this is not the first time The Joe Rogan Experience had on a doctor who was saying controversial (re: false) things about vaccines. In 2021, Rogan hosted Dr. Peter McCullough, another nutjob who is also just full of nonsense. McCullough is one of those dudes who has claimed the vaccines have killed tens of thousands of people (they haven’t) and that no one under 30 needs to be vaccinated (they do). McCullough also has given an interview to The New American, the magazine of the ultra-racist and anti-semetic John Birch Society, in case Rogan wants to know what kind of company his guests keep.
Anyways, this brings us to Neil Young.
Young sent a letter to Spotify asking that all of his music be removed because he was against the service platforming Rogan’s podcast and allowing such misinformation about COVID and vaccines to spread. From there, a tidal wave of activity happened: Rogan posted a video on Instagram claiming that guests like Malone & McCullough are credible (they aren’t) but also admitting that he could have done a much better job providing points from medical experts with differing views. Spotify added a “content warning” disclaimer to The Joe Rogan Experience, which Rogan said he agreed with. Not letting Young stand alone, his former bandmates David Crosby, Steven Stills and Graham Nash joined artists like Joni Mitchell in having their music removed from the service. Also removing her music was soul singer India Arie, who also posted a video clip of a montage of times Rogan has used a specific racial slur (YES, the one you’re thinking of) on his show. Finding the need to respond again, Rogan made a statement apologizing for all the times he said the word no white person should ever say, while explaining that he thought if he used it in proper context it would be acceptable, which he has now realized is wrong.
Sides have been chosen and lines have been drawn. And that pretty much takes us to where we are right now.
I think it’s important to ask: Is Joe Rogan a victim of cancel culture?
No. He is not.
There are two reasons that Rogan cannot claim some victim status at the hands of a woke mob. One is more theoretical, so let’s start with the obvious one: Neil Young never asked for Rogan to be removed from Spotify. He just didn’t do that. Not one time. Never happened. At all.
Now, you may see people saying they did, but those people are either lying or wrong. One of the reasons they could be wrong is because in his first public letter to his fan base, Young wrote, “Spotify can have Rogan or Young. Not both.” And I totally get how this reads like an ultimatum. So, if that was all you read, it would be easy to think that Young is telling Spotify, “Hey, it’s Joe or me.” But that’s leaving out context, so I would like to provide you with the whole paragraph.
Please immediately inform Spotify that I am actively cancelling all my music availability on Spotify as soon as possible. I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform. They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.
You see how Neil is demanding Spotify take his music off their service? He does it twice in that paragraph, and does it more earlier (and later) in the full letter. This isn’t Young saying, “You better take off Joe Rogan.” He’s saying, “If you have Rogan, I don’t want to be part of this.” There is no ultimatum. Young, a musician who has spent his career doing the right thing- sometimes at the expense of his own popularity- didn’t want the decision in Spotify’s hands; he wanted to be the one who made the call himself. I would also point out that Young has taken this statement off of his website, probably because he knew it would be taken out of context by bad-faith actors. Gee, isn’t it surprising that it happened?
But this takes us to the question about “being cancelled” in theory. It’s time we ask, “Is cancel culture a problem in our society?”
It is not. Because it does not exist.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t a consequence culture. Yes, sometimes people have to face bad news when they say or do stupid things. This is just how the world works. However, more often than not, it seems like when you’re famous, the consequences are never that bad.
Let’s say Spotify decided they were going to drop Joe Rogan immediately. Let’s imagine what that would look like: Rogan would still have the money from his contract, so he’s richer than King Midas. Out of his Spotify deal, he is now allowed to be back on all other platforms and can make the insane amount of ad revenue he was pulling down pre-Spotify. And any comedy club or theater would be thrilled to have Joe headline.
And it’s not just Rogan. Let’s take a quick peek at three other comedians who many claimed were a victim to the dangerous cancel culture: Louis CK used his power and influence to pleasure himself in front of his female peers, then had his manager threaten them to keep quiet. He is currently headlining clubs and theaters. Dave Chappelle was caught in a controversy when his latest Netflix special contained transphobic comments. He remains one of the most popular names in comedy and his special remains up. Shane Gillis was fired from SNL for making homophobic and anti-Asian remarks. He is headlining clubs and recently made an appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience.
Getting cancelled doesn’t seem that bad at all. And that’s the problem.
What you see this turning into is comedians doing whatever they can in the hopes that they can tell Daddy Rogan that they also got cancelled by the big, bad boogeyman of a PC mob. So, instead of writing good jokes or interesting premises, they’ll just try and be as directly offensive as humanly possible under the guise of “pushing boundaries”. You’ll see more specials with titles like Safe Spaces and Triggered and more tours labeled to defend free speech as they take on sensitive snowflakes, which wouldn’t seem that hard as they are both snowflakes AND sensitive. It kind of seems like an easy target.
And, of course, that’s exactly the point.
People have debated on Neil Young’s motives for coming forward, because it seems impossible to some that he would just be trying to do the right thing.
Some people believe Neil is doing this for the publicity, but that’s dumb. Young knows that his most popular days are decades behind him, and that this isn’t going to make him any new fans. Even people who dislike Rogan aren’t rushing out to buy Harvest Moon on vinyl, which is a shame because it is a gorgeous record. People have also claimed that Young’s decision to make a public statement is also a sign that he wants the public spectacle, but let’s be honest: this was going to be a story whether Young made his decision public or not. Choosing to come out ahead of it just means you’re not talking to a Rolling Stone reporter when they notice his music is off Spotify.
It took some clever reporters doing some digging, but there may be a very good reason Young is taking this stance: as a boy, Neil had polio. He had it pretty bad. So maybe he sees the parallels between that and COVID and maybe he gets angry when conmen are trying to hurt society in order to help themselves. Honestly, it seems like a very Neil Young thing to do.
If I were Joe Rogan, there’s a lot I would have done differently in these last few months. I would have never have had those lying scumbags on my show. I would have tried to use my platform for a force of good. I would have found longtime guest (and alleged friend) Alex Jones and hit him with a tire iron.
But one thing that seemed pretty spot on was his apology after the video appeared.
Well, it’s mostly spot on. Rogan begins his apology by saying that these were clips that were taken from almost two decades of shows and strung together. I get what he’s trying to say: these are his worst show moments edited together. But all it really sounds like is that Joe was ok with using that word for a while.
Unlike Shane Gillis (who gave a “sorry if you’re offended” apology) and Chappelle (who gave no apology), Rogan’s apology appears to be very sincere. He explained his thought process behind his actions then explained that he now understands that he was wrong and will try better. His apology doesn’t portray him in a particularly good light, but that’s what a good apology is; admitting you’re wrong and that you’re trying to learn.
I’ll be the first to say that I’m coming to this from my perspective as a white dude, and if others found his apology lacking or without heart, I would want to listen to their opinions. However, to me, it seems like Joe is trying to learn from the Rogan Experience. Maybe that’s all we can ask of him.