Before he was narrating the action in the UFC, indulging his curiosity on his wildly popular podcast and investing in brain enhancement products, Joe Rogan was on a stage, telling jokes. The 49-year-old renaissance man first picked up a mic in 1988 at a Boston comedy club and now, 28 years later, stand-up is still the the most demanding, and satisfying, part of his career. “When it’s going well in comedy, I’m most in the zone doing comedy,” he tells Maxim.
This Friday, Netflix will release Rogan’s latest special, Triggered. If that title and Rogan’s history of criticizing political correctness has you expecting a 60 minute screed against safe spaces and microaggressions, you’re going to be disappointed. Rogan certainly takes his swipes—feminists, transgender people and Instagram models will find cause to take offense—but he also spends large chunks of time on dolphins, marijuana and Santa Claus, which aren’t triggering anyone.
As he prepares for his special to hit Netflix, Rogan joined Maxim for a conversation about oversensitivity, the challenges comedy presents and the biggest story in the UFC—Ronda Rousey’s return.
Why did you name this special Triggered?
I was just looking for a name honestly. With today’s ridiculously oversensitive PC climate, the use of “triggered” just makes me laugh a lot. People saying, “I’m triggered by this.” Or, “This is triggering me.” It’s the anthem of the oversensitive crowd.
I figured. But even with that title and your reputation as a critic of PC culture, I was expecting the special to be really controversial. There’s definitely some stuff in there to piss people off, but overall you’re not going for knockout blows here.
I definitely didn’t construct the set thinking, “I’m going to show these PC jerks.” I really think political correctness and oversensitivity is ultimately a good thing. I think human beings are becoming far more aware of their influence on each other. I think people are way more open minded and accepting of other people than they ever have before, but along the way you get a lot of posturing and virtue signaling and recreational outrage.
Political correctness, trigger warnings, safe spaces—I think what people are doing with that is attempting to censor and control behavior. It’s wanting people to fit into a very rigid and preconceived notion of behavior. There are a lot of people who are getting upset about ideas and they know it’s an awesome opportunity to virtue signal and to make sure their outrage is stronger than everyone else’s outrage. But ultimately, I think it’s all good. I do think our culture is coming to a more open minded and accepting place. It would be so much more disappointing if people were less sensitive and more accepting of bigotry.
At this stage in your career, with so much going on, where does comedy fit in among everything you’re doing?
As a discipline, which I think comedy is, you’re concocting ideas, you’re trying to figure out a way to make it the best it can be. It’s something that requires a massive amount of time. It requires a different type of attention. It requires the most focus while you’re in the middle of it. I think comedy is sort of a mass hypnosis. When it’s going really well, you’re taking people through a ride on your thought process and you have to be sort of smooth and seamless.
When Chris Rock is really killing, he gets on a rant like a preacher and you’re sort of following that rhythm that he’s in and you’re sucked into it. He’s thinking for you. You give up a certain amount of freedom and you let him carry the thoughts.
How does the challenge of comedy compare to everything else you do?
Podcasting is probably the least amount of work. It really is just a conversation. All you have to do is be curious. The UFC is probably the easiest thing. It’s just a bunch of things happening. I just have to know what I’m talking about.
Speaking of the UFC, I wanted to ask about an issue that combines two of your primary interests—the UFC and pot. You’ve said that more than half of the UFC smokes pot but has to stop for periods before fights in order to pass tests. Do you think fighters should be able to smoke wherever they want?
I think in an ideal world they would be allowed to smoke whenever they want. It’s an excellent way to manage pain and relax. It’s also excellent for creativity, which is a big part of fighting. You’re making decisions on the fly and you have to be creative.
It should be illegal to compete under the influence of marijuana, because it’s a drug. That seems very reasonable. But it’s gotten so ridiculous. After Nate Diaz fought Conor McGregor, he’s doing this press conference and starts smoking this CBD vape pain. There were all these questions about whether or not he could get in trouble. The fight was over! Any performance enhancing benefits, the fight’s over. What he’s doing is not even psychoactive. It’s CBD. You’re saying it’s bad for him? He just got hit in the head for five fucking rounds.
You’re also a big proponent of psychedelics. Do you think fighters would benefit from those at all?
I think the ego is one of the most detrimental aspects and in some ways the most motivational aspects of being a person and managing the ego is extremely difficult. It’s every hard for people to see themselves in an objective way. One of the best ways to do that is with psychedelics. Managing and controlling your ego is a critical part of being a fighter. If a fighter is delusional, that will come crashing down when they fight someone who is superior to them.
That’s what we saw with CM punk. We saw all this positive thinking based on delusion. It was not possible what he was attempting. Psychedelics allow you to see how much of what you’re attempting to do is foolish. This is not a knock on on him. I think in a lot of ways what he did was incredibly courageous. But I think it would have better served his health and the sport in general if he had started on an amateur level.
You’re talking ego here, which brings me to Ronda Rousey, who was beginning to become a villain by the time she lost to Holly Holm, in large part because of her ego. Do you think she will return at UFC 207 as a hero or a heel?
The door is open for either one. It really depends on how she approaches it. It depends on the press conferences, the way she communicates, the way she treats her opponent. She’s going to fight Amanda Nunes, who is a super dangerous opponent. She’s got vicious knockout power. She’s really fast. She hits really hard. She’s super aggressive. She’s a handful.
The way Ronda approaches this is going to really decide how the public accepts her or doesn’t. She could come out of this smelling like a rose or she could decide to fuck the world. She could double bird her way through this whole thing. People forget that she got booed really loudly after she beat Miesha Tate because she wouldn’t shake Miesha’s hand. People don’t like someone who is a poor winner.
There’s also a moment of respect that comes after the fight, right? Even McGregor and Diaz hugged after their second fight and then they were right back to hating each other.
When Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor hugged after that five round war, it felt right. And when they’re back to hating each other, a lot of that is just the show. That’s why that thing generated two point whatever million pay-per-view buys. There was so much drama. So much hype.