Joe Rogan has made a very lucrative career in comedy and podcasting out of surfacing irrational cultural suspicions: that the moon landings might not have been real, that the World Trade Center’s Building 7 might have been downed by a controlled demolition, that woke liberals in the media and the tech industry might be conspiring to stifle the speech of the worst-faith pundits of our time. In recent months, he has used his wildly popular interview show, The Joe Rogan Experience, to surface illiterate observations on how otherwise healthy young people might not need to take the COVID-19 vaccines, and how vaccine passports and mandates might be bringing the United States “closer to dictatorship.”
Rogan might have a problem now.
Given everything he’s said, and given the millions of listeners he’s said it to, there’s a whiff of inevitability to be found in Rogan’s admission on Wednesday that he contracted COVID-19 after performing a bunch of stand-up shows in Florida last month—last month being one of the literal worst times to perform comedy shows in Florida since there was a Florida. Rogan, who has no problem sharing almost everything else he thinks and does, hasn’t said all year whether he’s been vaccinated, and in the video sharing his positive COVID result, he didn’t mention ever getting the jab. Instead, there was nothing but the same familiar frustration to be found in his explanation that one of the medicines he took to combat his infection was ivermectin, the horse dewormer that has gained credence in certain circles as a COVID-19 treatment explicitly because every credible medical authority that it has absolutely no value as a COVID-19 treatment. (Ivermectin also has other, non–horse-deworming applications, but many of the people who are using it as a back-door COVID treatment are seeking out the agricultural version of the drug.) Rogan said he also took monoclonal antibodies and other treatments that one generally would not need if one had been taking vaccination seriously.
The fact that the medical establishment is broadly united in its position that there’s no evidence ivermectin works to treat COVID is exactly why so many of the most gullible people in America believe it does work to treat COVID. And it’s largely because of people like Rogan that these people continue to think the best way to own the libs is to endanger their own health by taking bullshit remedies while scoffing at the real ones. To be fair, Rogan is not on the same place on the COVID-vaccine-misinformation spectrum as many avowed skeptics are. He has acknowledged that people who are vulnerable should get vaccinated, and he’s said that he does think, “for the most part, it’s safe to get vaccinated.” The wiggle room of “for the most part” is where Rogan makes his money.
Rogan, whom I assessed for Slate in 2019, is one of the world’s most popular, most prominent, and certainly one of its best compensated podcast hosts. In May 2020, the streaming service Spotify acquired The Joe Rogan Experience and licensed its archives for a sum reportedly in excess of $100 million. Rogan has used his new institutional platform the same way he used his old one: to talk ad nauseam about comedy, drugs, mixed martial arts, conspiracies, suppressive elites, and the perils of wokeism.
Since his days as a supporting player on the sitcom NewsRadio, Rogan has cultivated the persona of an extremely open-minded soul willing to entertain all sorts of theories regardless of their surface validity. In many ways, this trait can make his podcast a wide-ranging and entertaining listen. But listen long enough to Rogan and the shaggy dorm-room conspiracism eventually stops being funny. While he presents himself as heterodox and claims that he “goes left” on pretty much everything except guns, there’s actually a pretty narrow band of theories that Rogan is willing to entertain, and most of them can be construed to disparage the purported excesses of the P.C. left.
While listening to hundreds of hours of his show, I was struck that the way Rogan “just asks questions” is pretty darn similar to the ways the evening hosts on Fox News “just ask questions.” In both cases, the questions are generally framed not to draw out truth but to lead audiences toward predetermined conclusions—broadly, that elitist cultural and political authorities are untrustworthy precisely because they are elitist authorities. Indeed, Rogan’s shtick differs from the sorts of things you’d hear on Fox News only insofar as his persona is gentler and his shows last longer and are less overtly political. But Joe Rogan and Sean Hannity are peddling the same sorts of cultural resentments and suspicions to similar sorts of post-rational audiences, with the main difference being generational.
Another similarity between Joe Rogan and Fox News: Both have historically spent a lot of time advertising dubiously effective products and supplements. When I dove into Rogan’s podcast archives, I was surprised to see just how deeply enmeshed Rogan was in biohacking culture. He was always talking about some new regimen of supplements he was taking to increase brain function or improve fitness. (Not surprisingly, these sorts of products also paid to advertise on the show.) At any given moment, it’s fair to presume that Rogan is 50 percent supplement and 50 percent bullshit, and at times it can be difficult to distinguish one side from the other.
Rogan is an idiot—he will say as much about himself—but he is not stupid. He knows where his money comes from, and he knows that his popularity is derived from his continued willingness to say the things that the mainstream media won’t say, even if the reason why the mainstream media won’t say those things is because they are simply wrong. So just as it’s the most predictable thing in the world that Joe Rogan would come down with COVID, it’s also predictable that he’d take ivermectin as a response to COVID. It’s a perverse form of virtue signaling for dark-magical thinkers. There is no poetry to it, and there is certainly no justice. There is only a rich talking head who, in line with the prevailing trends of our awful era, will learn nothing from his COVID experience other than that which he already knew: There are no consequences for anything anymore, so you might as well get rich and stay that way by asking all the wrong questions.