The First Joe Rogan Podcast
On Christmas Eve 2009 Joe Rogan sat down in front of a webcam and riffed. Fake snowflakes fell from the screen, adding a touch of seasonal absurdity to an unvarnished first live episode. Rogan had profile as a comedian and MMA presenter yet at its peak only a handful of people watched. It is a cautionary tale for anyone beginning. Prepare to start small.
Fast forward 10 years and $100 million later Rogan is the living embodiment of the democratisation of new media. Actor, presenter and comedian, it is hard to categorise him beyond being an artist helping other people tell their stories.
What's striking about the show is its authenticity. Sure they might drink or smoke sometimes, but beyond that there is a tangible sense of empathy with the guests. An empathy that is only forged from understanding oneself. There is something powerful about someone being unashamedly themselves. This in turn allows his guests to open up live on air. It’s a friendly platform which the host takes very seriously.
Rogan realised early on that guests were the key to maintaining momentum for the longer shows. Initially he dipped into the LA comedy circuit putting on his friends from his own world.
Some like Joey Diaz and Brendan Schuab have gone on to launch their own shows. Schuab, a former MMA fighter, was on the receiving end of Rogan's empathetic realism when his career was dissected live on air with some dynamic feedback. It's one of the most fascinating moments of entire 1500+ shows when Rogan, an MMA enthusiast, told his friend to retire.
Such unvarnished conversation is why people love the show. TV just can't compete with that.
People sense truth. Combine this brutal realism with intellectual guests packaged in a way people can easily consume and you have a winning formula.
Surviving in a New Era
When Rogan started the podcast, the most common criticism was that long-form content would never work. No presenter, no matter how good, could consistently make a two hour show go the distance.
Rogan's mix of talent and work ethic has defined the genre. He combined all his strengths and built a product that created value for millions, for free. He is entitled to a pay-day, but the interesting stuff will always come from the fringes.
We are living in a golden age of content. The challenge Joe Rogan now faces is maintaining the quality of content with a corporate patron in Spotify. It doesn't pay to be real, and fans of the podcast will be watching closely to see if self-censoring becomes de riguer. Everything has a price, and price tags comes with conditions, be they spoken or implied.