A Cuppa Hot Joe
Joe Rogan Is Steamed By Practically Everything, and He Raves About It All in His Stand-Up Act
Joe Rogan is a ranter. Throw out any topic, from the origin of the pyramids in Egypt to the electoral process in today's United States, and he'll have an opinion on it. Not just a pat, culled-from-the-morning-talk-shows opinion, but one that he has spent some time considering. When delivered with Rogan's characteristic energy and passion, his opinions are often hysterically funny. The raw honesty and intensity of his performances place him among a rare breed of stand-ups like Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks, who weren't afraid to share their deepest, darkest thoughts with a roomful of strangers.
Unlike most comics, who get into stand-up in hopes of one day landing a sitcom deal, Rogan used his fame acquired on the hit show NewsRadio to broaden his audience in comedy clubs across the country. His first love has remained performing live, and make no mistake about it, you will not see the dumb but lovable electrician Joe Garelli when you come to the club. What you will see is a rabblerousing dynamo who freely speaks his mind, a refreshing change from the polished and scripted laugh-crafters who have made stand-up comedy the somewhat tired art that it is today. Rogan exudes a mad joy for life in all its insanity, depravity, and delicious dirt; if Henry Miller had done stand-up, it would have come out like Joe Rogan's act.
We recently caught up with Rogan at Kevin Booth's Sacred Cow Studios. Booth will be filming Rogan's shows this week at the Capitol City Comedy Club for a concert tape to be released later in the summer. (You can see clips of Rogan's comedy on www.sacredcowproductions.com, or order his album I'm Gonna Be Dead Someday from Rogan's own entertaining Web site, www.joerogan.net.)
Austin Chronicle: You seem like a guy with a lot on your mind. What's really bugging you at the moment?
Joe Rogan: There's always something bugging me at the moment because people are retarded. The most recent thing is that I read that Bush has edited all the movies they play on Air Force One to take out all the "Hollywood smut" scenes.
AC: Yeah. He's taking us back to Puritan times.
JR: Taking us back to church. You know, edit out anything that reminds you of real life. People actually having sex, screaming at each other, anything real. It's so funny that this guy's the president. Anyone in America can walk around and say, "I am smarter than the president of the United States," and be very confident about it.
AC: I'm glad to see another comic with a unique point of view. Your opinions are really yours and not tailored to please the peasants in the audience. What influences led you to develop that style?
JR: Any comic like myself owes everything he has to Lenny Bruce. He was the originator. The godfather of uncensored American stand-up is clearly Lenny Bruce. I mean, you're talking about a guy who was around in the Fifties, and he's doing jokes about how ridiculous it is to make homosexuality illegal. "Let me get this straight, man, you take people who are gay and you say, hey, that's not right. We're going to put you in jail ... where there are people who want to have sex with you."
Besides him, my two biggest influences are clearly Hicks and Kinison. The early Kinison, before he became a drugged-out waste product. And [Richard] Pryor. Those are my favorite guys, the real unedited stand-ups. They're not like Paul Reiser or Jerry Seinfeld: "Did you ever notice ... ?" Look, fucker, I notice shit every day, OK, it's not that interesting to me.
AC: Let me throw this one at you: What's the greater evil: big business or big government?
JR: Oh, clearly big government, because big government lies about how they're taking care of the American people when really they're being paid off by big businesses. Big businesses are very clear and obvious. What they do is try to make the most amount of money possible. OK, their products aren't really good for you, maybe the products suck, they don't work that well, but basically all they're trying to do is sell you something and make money. But the government is much more evil. They're saying, "Even though we're supposed to be taking care of you, you know, for the people, by the people, we're not. We're using you as little sheep, little drones. We're going to lie to you in any way possible, we're going to lie to you about the Kennedy assassination, whether or not we've ever seen UFOs, we're going to lie about where tax dollars go, we're going to lie to you about so many different things, and you're just going to accept the fact that the government is taking care of you and from there you're just going to give us your tax dollars and socialism falls into place because the more money you make, the more taxes you have to pay, and you can't complain about it because if you do you're un-American, we're going to go over and bomb foreign countries and we're going to say we're doing it because they're bad people, but really the reason we're going to do it is to protect our companies, like oil companies that donate lots of money to us." Clearly, big government is a really scary thing.
And people treat [politics] like sports teams. "Democrats are pussies, man! The Republicans are going to kick their asses!" They're not even thinking; all of a sudden they have this conglomeration of other people's opinions that they just adopt, and that's how everybody loves it. The government's happy, big business is happy, because either way they win. They would have won with Gore, they won with Clinton, and they're going to win with Bush. That's when it's evil, because it's not really a government.
AC: I was wondering if you'd have anything to say on that!
JR: The government in this country is a joke. What does the government do to protect you? Oh, they keep people from swearing on the radio. Oh, that's important, because shit! I don't hear fucking swearing every day in real life! Oh, bad words! The more walls come down, like bad words, ridiculous things like actually showing real people talking about real things on television, like sex, the more real life comes into the media, the less power the government has over people. Once these taboos are dropped, people start questioning other things, like why is pot still illegal in the year 2001?
Why do people think Touched by an Angel is interesting? I'll tell you: Because they're fucking drones. You work a 9-to-5 job, put in some overtime, whatever it is, and you're fucking tired. You come home, all you want to do is have a beer and watch TV and hope that everything's OK in the world. "Oh, old Bush, boy, he's doing good! He's fixing the North American Free Trade Agreement? Oh, good! Why are those idiots in Canada throwing rocks and bottles? Why are they protesting? What the hell's going on? Thank God that's not in America."
AC: Can you comment on the schizophrenic nature of television programming, for example, the way network executives are totally paranoid about offensive language and graphic content while at the same time they're finding stupid excuses for your character on NewsRadio to take his shirt off?
JR: That's just for ratings. It's all ratings, they're just trying to make money. Everybody's wondering how all these Survivor-type shows are on the air, why are all these horrible reality shows happening? They're happening because they make assloads of money. Look at Survivor. Like 30 million people watch it every week. People are glued to their TVs; they can't get away from it.
I have a theory about all of it. I think the Internet has caused this turn in peoples' lives. It's like the last pirate radio. Any asshole can put up a Web site, and then you're literally broadcasting to the whole world. When you have this unedited, unrestricted forum, you have the Internet. What is that? It's sex, it's porn, and fucked-up shit, and the news, occasionally. That's what human beings are. More and more people are getting accustomed to seeing unedited content in their homes. It's very difficult to see some Japanese girl eating shit and then take Dharma and Greg seriously.
AC: Speaking of sitcoms, who was the funniest actor on NewsRadio?
JR: Phil Hartman was brilliant, and Dave Foley is a really funny guy. Phil Hartman was actually even funnier offstage than he was onstage because he would say nasty things. Dave Foley's very funny, very witty guy, very quick. And Andy Dick is funny for all the wrong reasons. Like, he had no idea who Bob Dole was when he was running for president, he doesn't know who Al Gore is -- he's funny in that way, and then he's funny because he'll like whip his cock out and chase you with it. He's a mess.
AC: If you could smash one comic's head with an oversized sledgehammer, who would it be?
JR: I think I've got to go with Denis Leary, but I wouldn't want to use a sledgehammer, I think I'd want to use my hands. At least he's not doing stand-up anymore. There's a lot of bad comics out there, but there's a big fucking difference between someone who's just bad or stupid or boring and someone who's a fucking thief. A joke thief -- these guys are the bane of comedy. They are the most evil motherfuckers. Because a comic's jokes, a comic's material, that's his thoughts, his view of the world, it's like a piece of your soul. Your thoughts on anything in life, whether it's racism or relationships or politics, whatever, that's you. That's how you think about things and that's the material that you created because of your perceptions. For someone to come along and just suck that in and take it, then spew it back out at the audience and pretend to be brilliant and original, that's fucking evil.
AC: This goes all the way back to Lenny Bruce: What's the special bond between comics and strippers?
JR: I have a big bond with strippers. The main thing is that we're both on the fringes of society. Especially comics like me. I don't think Carrot Top and strippers get along that well. Like, I live in a real hoity-toity community, I mean, you have to go through a gate to get into my town. Seriously. My neighbors hate me. I've got, like, three pit bulls, I come home at four in the morning with Rage Against the Machine blaring on my stereo, I don't necessarily fit in. My 60-year-old neighbor who's a part-owner of some vineyard -- he's actually planting vines in his front lawn -- if I gave him a copy of my CD, he'd fucking have a heart attack and die. I think that would probably be the same thing if a successful stripper moved into this neighborhood. "What do you do for a living?" "Oh, I show my titties, do lap dances, and stuff." There would probably be the same kind of reaction. So in one sense we're on the fringes, but in another sense we all work at night, we all work in clubs, we all have most of the day to do whatever we want. There's a certain sensibility that happens when someone has a nighttime performance job. They have a different way of looking at things than a person who has to bust their ass at work all day. The problem with the stripper thing is they're usually fucked up in the head, molested by an uncle or something. I do a joke about "behind every porn star there's a creepy uncle." It's true. I met a bunch of porn stars; the best way to stop watching porn is to meet a bunch of porn stars. "Oh, I thought you were just a hot chick who loves sex; you're a fucking mess!" They are all a mess. So there's that, and you know, guys like pussy.
AC: The last thing I wanted to ask you about was that I read that clubs often have to put a label, like a disclaimer, on your show to let people know what to expect. Was there a particular incident where someone came to the show expecting to see "Handyman Joe" and were surprised by what they got?
JR: Part of the reason for the warning is that people do come to the show expecting to see the guy from NewsRadio, to see a TV-friendly act. The second part of the warning is that some people are just easily offended and I don't want them to be there. I don't want to offend anybody. If that's the way you are, and you're happy with the way you are, you're offended by the bad words and people talking about real things like sex, that's fine, don't come. I just want people to know what they're in for. If you're not ready to have a good time and listen to what I have to say, then I don't want you to come. There's always Sinbad coming to town next week. I call his stand-up "big head McDonald's" comedy. He's always got to bring up McDonald's, and the fact that someone's got a big head. "You evah go to Mack-donald's and the man behind the countah have a big head? Whassup w'dat?" That's what he does. I used to do a bit about the "Sinbad See 'n' Say," where you could point to anything and make it a Sinbad bit. Like shoelaces, "You evah tie yo shoes, then you look down and yo shoes untied? Whassup w'dat? Crazy man!"
JR: To some people he is. That's what's scary.
Joe Rogan appears May 3-6 at the Capitol City Comedy Club, 8120 Research. Call 467-2333 for information.