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Joe Rogan and Spotify know there's an audience for his racist, sexist garbage

Joe Rogan shouldn't have taken Spotify's offer if he wanted freedom from scrutiny.
Image: Joe Rogan
Joe Rogan in front of a packed house at the UFC 264 ceremonial weigh-in at T-Mobile Arena on July 9 in Las Vegas.Louis Grasse / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Joe Rogan’s wildly popular podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, is now an “experience” that comes with debate over the 54-year-old comedian’s past comments on a range of issues, including Covid-19 misinformation, his friendly banter with Proud Boys co-founder Gavin McInnes and his racist comments comparing a Black neighborhood to “Planet of the Apes.”

A horde of celebrities have weighed in. Some, such as musicians Neil Young and India Arie, have slammed Rogan, while comedians such as Jon Stewart and Whitney Cummings are calling for him to be shown leeway as a comedian.

Rogan is exactly who you think he is.

We can debate Rogan’s past remarks all day, but here’s the thing: Rogan is exactly who you think he is. He is the podcast host who has spewed racist comments, cried about white male victimhood and featured extreme-right guests who have a record of white nationalism and other forms of bigotry. Indeed, that’s precisely how Rogan cultivated his massive audience of primarily young, white men: with comments and commentary designed to entertain that very crowd. That rocketed him to the top of the podcast charts, which, in turn, led to a 2020 deal with Spotify reported to be worth $100 million.

Playing to his audience is why in a 2013 episode of his show Rogan shared a story about getting dropped off by a car service at a theater in a Black neighborhood to see “Planet of the Apes.” He said, “We walk into 'Planet of the Apes.' We walked into Africa, dude.” As the other comedians on Rogan’s show laughed, he continued, “We walked in the door, and there was no white people. … 'Planet of the Apes' didn’t take place in Africa.” Then, in a moment of self-awareness, he added, “That was a racist thing for me to say.”

Yes, it was. Rogan knew his story was racist, but he also knew his audience would laugh at him characterizing Black people as subhuman.

Rogan was brutally honest when, in an apology video he released Saturday, he said, “I was trying to make the story entertaining.” Rogan knows his audience. As a supercut video Arie released last week illustrated, over the years Rogan repeatedly used the N-word on his show. He knew his audience would enjoy it, and at the same time, he was tacitly giving permission to his fans to use the word — at least in private, speaking with other white people.

Playing to the baser instincts of his audience is why Rogan invited McInnes on his show — the same McInnes who, after a 2017 article I wrote detailing his history of racist and sexist remarks published, cited my Muslim faith as he called on the members of his Proud Boys to try to get me fired. McInnes boasted that his appearance on Rogan’s show helped boost his recruitment efforts for the Proud Boys. “You wouldn’t believe how much that changed my life — that one podcast,” he said.

In 2011, Rogan gleefully laughed when fellow comedian Joey Diaz described on the show how he had pressured approximately 20 aspiring female comedians to perform oral sex on him in order to get on stage in a comedy show he produced. When that clip resurfaced in 2020, Rogan retweeted Diaz’s slam of those attacking him.

More recently, there was the backlash over Rogan’s Covid misinformation, and in May he claimed that what he calls “woke” culture is getting so out of hand that “it’ll eventually get to straight white men are not allowed to talk.”

I get the desire by some comedians to defend another comedian under attack. In response to criticism of Rogan spreading Covid misinformation (but before his racist comments were being called out), Stewart called for the public to not censor or cancel Rogan, but to “engage.” On Sunday, Cummings tweeted, “Comedians did not sign up to be your hero. It’s our job to be irreverent and dangerous, to question authority and take you through a spooky mental haunted house so you can arrive at your own conclusions.”

Cummings is right about comedians not signing up to be “your hero,” but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be held accountable for racist or other dangerous comments. The truth is the more famous one is, the more scrutiny they get. If you want to spew racist and sexist garbage and Covid misinformation and don’t want public outrage, then don’t sign a $100 million deal. In other words, remain an unknown comedian if you don’t want to be held accountable. I’ve been a full-time comedian for nearly 15 years. I have heard comedians who aren’t well known tell horribly racist and sexist jokes, and their jokes will remain unknown — unless, that is, they later becomes famous.

In what counts as the best response to Rogan from a comedian, "The Daily Show" host Trevor Noah, referring to Rogan’s “Planet of the Apes” story, said during his Monday show that Rogan was “using racism to be entertaining.” Noah added: “I’m not saying you were trying to offend Black people, by the way, but you knew that offending Black people would get a laugh out of those white friends that you were with.” Noah also rejected the idea that a joke is the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card, explaining, “Someone can find it funny, but the laughs don’t mean that there’s no racism.”

Spotify made Rogan the $100 million man because it loves the audience he brings to the platform.

The truth is that Spotify — whose CEO has defended Rogan’s right to speak his mind even as he says Rogan's comments “do not represent the values of this company" — made Rogan the $100 million man because it loves the audience he brings to the platform. Spotify didn’t care how Rogan cultivated that audience until he became a PR problem.

As Noah stated on his show, Spotify should be honest and say, "We do not believe in silencing Joe Rogan because he makes us money, but if at some point he ends up costing us money, then we will drop him — because money."

At the end of the day, the focus belongs on Rogan and his choices. While those choices helped him build a massive audience, they are the same choices that are prompting the public’s disgust. While I don’t think Rogan will be “canceled” for his choices — and I am not advocating that he be — I support other artists’ right to decided if they want to be on the same platform owned by the company that funds Rogan. Those who are disgusted by him — myself included — will never listen, and those who love him will. The suggestion, however, that since Rogan is a comedian he should not be held accountable is the worst joke I’ve ever heard.