Not so long ago, Joe Rogan was talking people into eating bugs and jumping out of planes as the host of Fear Factor. Since then, he's returned to his stand-up comedy roots with the CD Shiny Happy Jihad (released April 10) and a new Showtime special airing tonight at 9 pm/ET. He's also been no stranger to confrontation — serving as a color commentator on Spike TV's broadcasts of UFC bouts and advocating a crackdown on comedians he believes plagiarize material. TVGuide.com spoke with the candid comic and, well, got an earful.
TVGuide.com: Your Joe Rogan: Live special starts off with a microbiological metaphor for Los Angeles, and you deal with existential issues throughout. It's not quite what you'd expect from a guy who hosted Fear Factor and The Man Show, and had a tour sponsored by Maxim.
Joe Rogan: I don't look at life like most people look at life, and I think people who do look at life the way I do tend to be fatalistic or cynical or the brooding, angry type. I look at all of the bizarre hypocrisies and contradictions with our species and culture, and I laugh. I mean, imagine if you were an alien and you came here to study people, and you saw Dancing with the Stars. It's people watching choreographed movements set to bad music, and it's incredibly popular. It's fascinating that people give a s--t.
TVGuide.com: Wouldn't aliens have found Fear Factor pretty ridiculous as well?
Rogan: Without a doubt. No one makes fun of Fear Factor more than I do. I used to make fun of it in my stand-up, while I was doing it. People would come see me do a show and go, "Is that really a good idea for you to do that?" I was like, "What? It's not hurting the ratings." It was a great job and paid well and I worked with a lot of cool people, but at the end of the day it was just a f--king stupid show.
TVGuide.com: Are you making a concerted effort to get people to view you as a comic rather than "that host guy"?
Rogan: It's not necessarily an effort to do that. They already know me as the host guy, so I just have to make the distinction. I spent a lot of time doing stuff that's not funny, like Fear Factor, so it's kind of confusing to people. I can't tell you how many people have come up to me after shows and said, "I had no idea you were funny."
TVGuide.com: One of the things you're involved in that's not comedic is Ultimate Fighting Championship. Why do you think the sport has recently experienced a rise in popularity?
Rogan: It's a matter of marketing and a determination not to quit. The company that bought it, Zuffa, was $44 million in the hole before they ever got it on television. They came close to selling it a couple times, but once they got it on Spike and had that Ultimate Fighter TV show, that launched it. If it wasn't for that show, it would never be where it's at right now.
TVGuide.com: I heard it rumored that you and Wesley Snipes were going to square off in a bout.
Rogan: It was supposed to happen. It was his idea, really, but I think Wesley is just desperate and was looking for any way to make some money. He was probably like, "I need money, might as well kick somebody's ass on TV."
TVGuide.com: Speaking of altercations, you and Carlos Mencia had an incident on stage back in February where you confronted him about plagiarizing material. You've also called out Dane Cook for the same offense. Why is the issue so important to you?
Rogan: Plagiarism is a huge issue in every other art form except for stand-up comedy, where for some reason [there aren't] the same legal ramifications. You have two separate camps when it comes to stand-up comedians. In one camp are people who are very good performers, who are energetic and very confident and have good timing. The other camp is the very good writer. Sometimes you get Dave Chappelle, who's a very good performer and writer, but sometimes you get Dane Cook, who's not a very good writer. His opinion seems to be a conglomeration of pop culture. When they're left to their own devices, guys like that have sort of mediocre material with great delivery. When they have unscrupulous morals and unscrupulous methods for coming up with material, then you get plagiarism.
TVGuide.com: Why have you taken it upon yourself to call them out?
Rogan: Because most comedians are afraid of conflict. Most comedians became comedians because they were bullied as children. The way they got people to like them was getting people to laugh at them. Now if a club owner isn't going to do anything about it and if Comedy Central or HBO isn't going to do anything about instances of plagiarism, then the comic has to do it by themselves. What are [the comics] going to do? Are they going to come up to Carlos Mencia and get in his face and possibly get physically hurt or get yelled at or get blackballed, because he will try to blackball you? If you call him a plagiarist, he will get you fired. He got me fired by my agency.
TVGuide.com: Your agency fired you because of Carlos Mencia?
Rogan: I got released from my agency because of Carlos Mencia. They called me up — and this is 100 percent true — and they wanted me to apologize to him. I'm like, "You want me to apologize for outing a criminal?" What they were saying was that if I didn't apologize, they would drop me.
TVGuide.com: Is that incident also what got you banned from the Comedy Store?
Rogan: Oh yeah, 100 percent. He told the Comedy Store he was being physically threatened by me. That's crazy. If you watch the video, I'm not threatening him. He's the one calling me a b-tch.
TVGuide.com: It sounds like you've had to deal with a lot of people who want you to back down.
Rogan: The only time I would ever back down is if I was wrong. And I wouldn't back down, I'd apologize. But if someone stole a car and someone said, "Hey, keep your mouth shut about that guy stealing a car," why would I do that?
TVGuide.com: Because it potentially could be detrimental to your career.
Rogan: There's no pressure. I got another agent in five minutes.
TVGuide.com: Well, there's also the fact that Mind of Mencia is on Comedy Central and that network is pretty much the only game in town for comics.
Rogan: Well, [my publicist] doesn't even want me talking about this anymore. He doesn't want me talking about this whole Mencia thing, because Comedy Central gets upset about it and they're the ones who put out my CD. [Laughs] But they've got a hard gig. Being funny and selling comedy and appeasing your advertisers is really tough.
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