Here's how comedian and UFC commentator Joe Rogan became the world's highest-paid podcaster

30 May

Business Insider

Katie Warren, May 22, 2020

Joe Rogan's wildly popular podcast, "The Joe Rogan Experience," is moving exclusively to Spotify starting in September, the company announced Tuesday.

The multiyear licensing agreement could be worth upwards of $100 million based on the podcast's performance metrics and other factors, a source told The Wall Street Journal. Spotify declined to comment on the financial details of the deal.

"The Joe Rogan Experience" is downloaded almost 200 million times per month and brought in $30 million last year, making the comedian and UFC commentator the highest-paid podcaster of 2019, per Forbes. Rogan's podcast guests have included Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, actor Robert Downey, Jr., and right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

After the news was announced, Spotify shares spiked by 11%. "The Joe Rogan Experience" has been the most-searched podcast on Spotify since at least early 2019 despite not yet being available on the platform, the company told Business Insider.

Rogan's eclectic career has spanned various industries. He's worked as a stand-up comedian, an actor, a UFC commentator, and a martial arts teacher.

He also has a penchant for controversy. Rogan has been criticized for hosting guests like alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones — who called the Sandy Hook mass shooting a hoax — on his podcast twice. He's also been accused of making transphobic and racist comments. 

Rogan did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment for this story.

Here's what we know about Rogan's life, career, and new deal with Spotify.

"The Joe Rogan Experience," which has been released on Rogan's YouTube channel for the nearly 11 years since its launch, will be available on Spotify and other platforms on September 1 and will move exclusively to Spotify later in the year, per the press release.

A Spotify spokesperson declined to comment on the financial details of the deal when reached by Business Insider, but a source told The Wall Street Journal that the multiyear licensing agreement was worth upwards of $100 million based on the podcast's performance metrics and other factors.

Rogan's podcast has been the most-searched podcast on Spotify since at least early 2019, despite not yet being available on the platform, the company told Business Insider. It will remain free to download on Spotify. 

In 2019, Rogan was the highest-paid podcaster in the world, per Forbes.

Over the years, Rogan has hosted high-profile CEOs, politicians, and actors, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, actor Robert Downey, Jr., comedian and actor Kevin Hart, and right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

On the day the Spotify deal was announced, Rogan wrote on Instagram that his podcast will remain free.

"... It will be the exact same show," he said. "It's just a licensing deal, so Spotify won't have any creative control over the show. They want me to just continue doing it the way I'm doing it right now."

Rogan's YouTube channel, where all 11 years of his podcast have been released, will no longer host full episodes starting in September, but short clips will still be uploaded to YouTube.

Originally from Newark, New Jersey, Rogan had a somewhat nomadic childhood.

His parents divorced when he was five, and he and his mother spent time in San Francisco and Florida before settling in Newton, Massachusetts.

Rogan started practicing martial arts at age 13, which he said in a 2014 interview with SB Nation was "the best decision I ever made in my entire life."

He added that martial arts "gave me not just confidence, but also a different perspective of myself and what I was capable of. I knew that I could do something I was terrified of and that was really difficult, and that I could excel at it. It was a big deal for me."

On the side, Rogan taught martial arts at Boston University, drove limousines, did some construction work, and even got a gig as a driver for a private investigator who'd gotten his license revoked after a DUI, Rogan said on his podcast.

Rogan moved to Los Angeles in 1994 and landed his first major acting role in the Fox sitcom "Hardball." He also starred in the NBC sitcom "NewsRadio" from 1995 to 1999.

He returned to host the seventh and final season of "Fear Factor" in 2011 when the show was briefly revived that year. (MTV revived the series again in 2017, with rapper Ludacris as the host.)

Rogan said that although he made "tons of money" from his TV career, it didn't bring him as much satisfaction as stand-up comedy.

"... One of the things I realized while this was all going on is [TV is] not nearly as fun as the live standup comedy," Rogan told the Globe and Mail in 2007. "Live standup comedy is always better, it's more exciting, it's more enjoyable when it's done right. It's definitely more entertaining."

He's done stand-up comedy specials for both Netflix and Comedy Central and was slated to do several US shows in April, May, and June 2020, but they were rescheduled for the fall, according to his website.

Rogan has said he talks about "all sorts of things" in his comedy routines.

"I talk about drugs and life and sex, the mysteries of space, and the way we look at the world," he said in a 2008 interview with the Boston Globe. 

Rogan's interest in comedy began when his parents took him to see legendary comedian Richard Pryor when he was about 13 years old.

"I was looking around the theater at people falling out of their chairs, slapping the chairs in front of them, and I'm thinking, 'How is this guy doing this? He's just talking,'" he said in a 2006 interview with UFC. "... And that experience profoundly influenced me. That was the first exposure I ever had to standup comedy..."

Rogan started working at the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) in the late 1990s, doing backstage and post-fight interviews for the martial arts promotion company. By 2002, he had started doing commentary.

Rogan has interviewed some of the biggest fighters in the industry and "played a major role in propelling the sport to where it stands today," Vinayak Manoj wrote for Essentially Sports.

"He's educated more people in mixed martial arts than anybody ever," UFC president Dana White told Rolling Stone magazine in 2015. "He's the best fight announcer who has ever called a fight in the history of fighting."

His YouTube channel has 8.44 million subscribers.

As Devin Gordon wrote for The Atlantic last year, Rogan is particularly appealing to many American men.

Rogan is "a tireless optimist, a grab-life-by-the-throat-and-bite-out-its-esophagus kind of guy, and many, many men respond to that," Gordon wrote. "I respond to that. The competitive energy, the drive to succeed, the search for purpose, for self-respect. Get better every day. Master your domain."

In September 2019, Rogan famously got Elon Musk to smoke a spliff — weed and tobacco mixed — with him, and the Tesla founder opened up about his childhood.

According to Gordon of the Atlantic, Rogan is adept at captivating audiences because he is patient enough "to let his interviews be an experience rather than an inquisition. And, go figure, his approach has the virtue of putting his subjects at ease and letting the conversation go to poignant places ..."

In one of his podcast episodes in 2013, Rogan talked about going to see one of the "Planet of the Apes" movies and described the neighborhood he saw the movie in itself as "Planet of the Apes."

"We walked into 'Planet of the Apes,'" Rogan said. "We walked into Africa. We walked in the door, and there was no white people. There was no white people."

He later said on his podcast that it was a "racist thing for me to say," but added, "It wasn't a negative experience," per The New York Times.

On his podcast in 2013, Rogan referred to mixed martial artist Fallon Fox, a transgender woman, as a "a f--king man."

Rogan has also gotten blowback for hosting his longtime friend Alex Jones — the right-wing conspiracy theorist and InfoWars host who called the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting that killed 20 first-graders a hoax — on his podcast twice, once in 2017 and again in 2019

While Rogan and Jones reportedly had a falling out about Jones' Sandy Hook claims, the pair later made up, culminating in Jones' second appearance on the podcast. Jones later acknowledged that the killings occurred.

A Spotify spokesperson declined to comment on Rogan's controversies but noted that all music and podcasts on Spotify are subject to their content guidelines.

In early April, UFC president Dana White said he had secured a private island at an undisclosed location for the upcoming UFC 249 event on April 18, which had originally been slated to be in New York City but had to move due to the pandemic.

"I won't be able to get international fighters, all of them, into the US, so I have a private island," White told TMZ Sports, per CNN. "I'm going to start flying them all into the private island and doing international fights from there."

On his podcast, Rogan distanced himself from the plan, per the Telegraph.

"I guess someone's gonna commentate," Rogan said. "It's not gonna be me."

White's private island plans didn't work out anyway. The UFC 249 was postponed to May 9 and took place at the empty VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, after the UFC formulated a safety plan that included COVID-19 antibody blood tests and no face-to-face interviews.

At the event, Rogan interviewed fighters face-to-face and shook their hands as usual, without maintaining social distancing or wearing a mask, The New York Times reported.

According to Rogan, Snipes was looking for a "quick payday" to pay off his IRS debt.

"I think when he researched it and found out I'd been doing martial arts my whole life, he realized I was going to choke the sh-t out of him," Rogan later told Men's Journal. "If I'd fought Wesley Snipes, I was 99.9% convinced all I had to do was grab that guy and choke the f--king life out of him."

Rogan said he's been asked why he doesn't fight professionally instead of only commentating.

"And I say, 'Why — so I can get my ass kicked?'" he told Men's Journal.

He trains with legendary Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructors Jean-Jacques Machado and Eddie Bravo in Los Angeles, per Men's Journal.

Apart from martial arts, Rogan trains mainly with kettlebells in routines adapted from the teachings of "kettlebell gurus" Mark Cheng and Steve Maxwell, he told Men's Journal. He often spars with friends in the Octagon ring in his garage.

Rogan has said he prefers doing fewer repetitions more often versus going to failure, or pushing your muscles until they temporarily give out.

"I don't believe in going to failure," he said on his podcast. "What I think you're best off doing is less repetitions but more often ... And you'll get stronger quicker."

Rogan's website describes him as a "psychedelic adventurer."

Rogan starts his days with a Vitamix smoothie of kale, spinach, celery, ginger, garlic, apple, and coconut oil, he told Rolling Stone in 2015.

In January 2020, Rogan announced he would be starting a carnivore diet, eating nothing but meat and eggs for the month. Less than halfway through the month, he wrote on Instagram that he noticed a boost in his energy levels, but the diet also gave him severe diarrhea.

Rogan is a proponent of nootropic supplements, which are said to enhance cognitive function. But scientists say there's "no strong evidence" they work as intended, per WebMD.

The podcaster is also a self-professed fan of DMT, an illegal hallucinogenic drug with effects similar to LSD and magic mushrooms. In his Rolling Stone interview, Rogan said his experiences with DMT were difficult to put into words.

"It's a f--king billion roller coasters, plus aliens," he told the magazine. "It is whatever it is. I don't know what it is. A chemical gateway to another dimension? A portal of souls you can tap into? I don't see any negative to it."

Rogan also told Rolling Stone that he floats in a sensory deprivation tank in his basement a few times a week.

In a podcast episode with conservative New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss on January 21, Weiss asked Rogan who he planned to vote for in the presidential primary.

"I think I'll probably vote for Bernie ..." Rogan said. "He's been insanely consistent his entire life. He's basically been saying the same thing, been for the same thing his whole life. And that in and of itself is a very powerful structure to operate from."

Sanders had previously been a guest on the Joe Rogan Experience in August 2019.

Rogan has also said on his podcast that he would rather vote for Donald Trump than Joe Biden because he believes Biden is struggling with dementia. He added that "it's not an endorsement of Trump."

Ditzel is a model-turned-producer, MarketWatch reported.

The couple reportedly lives in Bell Canyon, Los Angeles, in a home Rogan bought for $5 million in 2018.

Rogan's golden retriever, Marshall Mae Rogan, has more than 633,000 Instagram followers and has snuggled with Robert Downey, Jr.

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