I recently listened to Ryan Holiday on Eric Weinstein’s podcast, and one of the topics was Joe Rogan and what makes his show so popular.
I have had my own show since 2015, and I’m always looking for ways to become a better interviewer. And anyone looking to do that should be required to study Joe.
There aren’t many types of media today that someone will listen to, without a break, for three whole hours. Joe is one of the only people who can pull it off. And if you go down the list looking for what makes it possible, it’s not the format. It’s not the tech. It’s not the guests.
It’s Joe. Clearly. But what specifically is he doing?
Here’s how I break it down.
1. He’s interested in so many things, and he’s relentless in his curiosity
The most personal is the most creative.
I heard that Scorcese quote from Bong Joon-ho when he accepted the Academy Award for Best Picture. It blew me away.
This is the most essential component of Joe’s success. He’s just interested in things. He cares. He finds the world fascinating, and infuriating, and hilarious. He’s all in.
He’s also a comic, and comics are ultimately trying to extract the most essential truth in a given situation. They’re perpetual seekers. And they’re always trying to summarize, distill, and turn truth into a nugget.
And you hear that in his comedy as well. I became a fan when I heard him do a bit about flying around the sun. It was then that I realized he was a humanist trapped in an MMA podcaster’s body.
The same thing that helps Joe find the center of a truth that leads to a joke, is also the thing that lets him talk to Malcolm Gladwell for three hours in a way that’s completely captivating.
2. He has strong opinions, loosely held
His other magic superpower is the ability to change his mind.
I think that as a rich, curious, happy comedian who can beat up 99.9% of people on the planet, he’s free to explore different ways of thinking. He has nothing to lose or gain by sticking to a single opinion, or by changing it.
He’s completely free, and for those that are paying attention, that’s refreshing.
I saw him recently talking to the epidemiologist, and he asked him about the sauna purification method. Where you basically go into a sauna—as hot as possible—and take deep breaths to kill the virus.
When the expert told him that was bullshit, Joe was annoyed and upset, but in a completely friendly and constructive way. He was like…”Damn, I really wanted that to be true.”
It takes a lot of wisdom to discard something you wish were true, and he has made a brand from that.
He’s a guy who could bring Hitler and Einstein on the same show, try to get them drunk, and to see they’re more similar than different. He’s already had Alex Jones and Bernie Sanders on, although not at the same time.
3. He genuinely likes people and wants to see them succeed
The other part of this, which goes in hand with being curious, is that he just likes people. You can tell that he gets off on seeing people thrive in their lives and their careers.
A lot of people will be surprised by that, since most don’t see people on the right that way. But that’s just it—he’s not on the right. He’s pretty much a down-the-line liberal. Or at least he would have been up until around five years ago.
It’s impossible to fake the enthusiasm he has for his guests and their work, and it’s especially hard for him to fake that for thousands of episodes over more than a decade.
4. He has the personality and training to call people on their bullshit
And finally, he’s not just some curious liberal who likes everyone and let’s them say whatever. He challenges people.
He tells them, with varying levels of control and respect, when he thinks they’re wrong or being deceptive. And he does it in a way that stays in line with his curiosity and pursuit of truth rather than out of pure dislike.
All these combine to form the Voltron of long-form interviewing.
- As a comic and thoughtful person, he’s relentlessly interested and curious.
- He has strong opinions, loosely held.
- He genuinely likes people.
- He has the personality to call people on their bullshit.
That’s why he’s the number one podcaster in the world right now.
Curiosity, kindness, and an open mind.
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