Joe Rogan is a household name, even if you don’t quite remember what he’s famous for. Some people remember Joe Rogan from his time on NewsRadio. Others think of his stint as the original host of Fear Factor.
However, his acting career pales in comparison to his position as one of the most successful podcasters in recent history.
So, how did Joe Rogan go from supporting actor on a sitcom to the host of a wildly popular podcast? Certainly not from blending in with the rest of the crowd..
Facing Fear Comes Naturally to Joe Rogan
Joe Rogan helped people face their fears on Fear Factor, which is something that he strongly believes in. Early in his life, Joe overcame his own fears by taking up martial arts. He’s stated that he was “terrified of being a loser” growing up. Practicing martial arts was a natural fit.
It gave him confidence and showed him what he could accomplish when facing down his fears. Joe took up martial arts in his early teens while living outside of Boston in Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts.
However, Joe’s story really starts in Newark, New Jersey. Joseph James Rogan was born in 1967 in Newark. His parents divorced when he was five and his mother moved him to San Francisco two years later. They then moved to Gainesville, Florida before settling in Newton Upper Falls where Joe graduated from high school.
During his teen years, Joe excelled at martial arts. He took up Taekwondo at age 15 and won the US Open Championship taekwondo tournament in the lightweight division at age 19. Then went on to win the Massachusetts full-contact state championship for four consecutive years before becoming a taekwondo instructor. He even practiced amateur kickboxing for a while.
Competition eventually took its toll on Joe. He retired at the age of 21 after experiencing recurrent headaches. He was afraid that the fighting might eventually result in more severe injuries and called it quits.
Telling Jokes for a Living and Moving to NYC
What’s a fighter to do when he hangs up gloves? Go to college. Joe briefly attended the University of Massachusetts in Boston before dropping out. Around this time, he also started to hone his comedy skills.
Joe’s friends convinced him to try stand-up comedy. At the age of 21, Joe spent six months preparing his material and working on his comedic delivery. As with martial arts, Joe dedicated himself to training for his stand-up routine.
He performed his first comedy gig in 1988 during an open-mic event at a comedy club in Boston. The comedy wasn’t paying his bills, so Joe Rogan worked a variety of jobs. He spent time driving limousines, delivering newspapers, working on construction sites, and even working for a private investigator.
In 1990, Joe Rogan packed his bags and moved to New York City. He was committed to becoming a full-time comedian after recently obtaining a talent manager, Jeff Sussman. Sussman caught one of Joe’s acts and immediately recognized his talent.
Unfortunately, Joe still struggled to make a living. He stayed with his grandfather in nearby Newark for the first six months while performing stand-up in NYC. For the next four years, Joe Rogan ground it out in New York, working at various comedy clubs and developing his comedic style.
Moving to LA and Breaking into Showbiz
In 1994, it was time for Joe Rogan to take his act to Los Angeles. He relocated to LA and quickly landed his first national television spot on an MTV comedy show called Half-Hour Comedy Hour.
The appearance on the MTV show led to interest from various networks and Joe eventually accepted a deal with Disney. Less than a year after moving to LA, Joe Rogan had a major acting role on a short-lived sitcom called Hardball.
Joe filmed nine episodes but only seven episodes aired before Fox pulled the plug on the show. While the show didn’t last long, Joe had his first state of the hectic television filming schedule. He worked 12-hour days. Joe didn’t stop performing comedy. While working on the sitcom, he started performing at The Comedy Store in Hollywood and soon became a paid regular.
Gaining National Recognition on NewsRadio
After Hardball was canceled, Joe Rogan landed his next acting job. He was hired as Joe Garelli on NewsRadio. The NBC sitcom was widely praised by critics and television viewers, lasting for five seasons.
The show aired from 1995 to 1999 and helped Joe Rogan gain national exposure. Joe also played a role in shaping his character on the sitcom. He worked with the writers to develop Joe Garelli’s personality, which Rogan describes as a “dumbed-down, censored version” of himself.
As with his time on Hardball, Joe continued to perform stand-up while filming NewsRadio. In fact, he eventually grew tired of playing the same character every week and only stuck with the show for the paycheck.
Becoming a Color Commentator for the UFC
As with many business stories, Joe Rogan’s path to becoming a wildly successful podcaster includes a few twists and turns. While starring on NewsRadio, Joe took a job as backstage and post-fight interviewer for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Working for the UFC came naturally to Joe due to his love of martial arts. While he retired from competition in his early 20s and pursued a comedy career, he remained a diehard fan. His first gig with the UFC took place in Alabama in 1997. At the time, the UFC was still relatively unknown outside of the martial arts world.
The organization was underfunded, forced to hold most events in rural areas. After about two years of working for the UFC, around the time that NewsRadio ended its television run, Joe left his commentator job. He couldn’t cover the cost of travel based on the limited salary offered by the UFC.
1999 was a changing point in Joe Rogan’s life and career. NewsRadio and his job at the UFC recently ended. However, he quickly moved on to his next projects. He landed a three-album deal with Warner Bros. to produce comedy albums. He also began working on a pilot for a Fox sitcom called The Joe Rogan Show.
Becoming a Television Fixture and Fear Factor Host
Joe Rogan focused on his comedy albums and potential sitcom for the next two years. However, the television show idea came to an end when he accepted an offer to host Fear Factor for NBC. Joe didn’t initially think that NBC would pick up the competition series due to the subject matter. However, Fear Factor became a hit and Joe Rogan gained more recognition.
His time on Fear Factor led to several other television appearances in the early 2000s, including guest spots on Just Shoot Me. Along with Doug Stanhope, Joe took over hosting duties on The Man Show for Comedy Central after Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel left.
The Man Show lasted for another season and Fear Factor ran until 2006, but Joe wasn’t out of work.
Returning to the UFC for Free Event Tickets
Back in 2001, Joe Rogan was a regular at UFC events. He soon became friends with the new president of the UFC, Dana White. Dana White offered Joe a job as a color commentator but he wasn’t initially interested in working at the UFC again. He just wanted to enjoy the fights as a spectator.
Things changed when Dan White convinced Joe Rogan to work a few gigs for free in exchange for tickets to upcoming events. After working about 15 gigs as a color commentator for free, Joe Rogan officially started working for the UFC again in 2002. He worked alongside Mike Goldberg for UFC events until 2016.
Creating a Web Series and Writing a Blog
Podcasting wasn’t Joe Rogan’s first foray into the digital world. He had owned his own website for several years where he would regularly release new material to the public. After Fear Factor ended, Joe hired two people to film him and his friends as they toured the country performing stand-up comedy. He’d release the videos as a web series on his website.
He was also a frequent blogger. He’d use his blog and website to test out new material and discuss a wide range of topics, much as with his podcast. Around this time, Joe Rogan had also attempted to start his own radio show.
He wanted a free-ranging show where he could talk about a variety of issues but the plans fell through. Luckily, there was another platform available where Joe could discuss any topic that he wanted.
Becoming the World’s Biggest Podcaster
2009 was another milestone year in Joe Rogan’s life. He was still working at the UFC as a color commentator and performing stand-up regularly. During his busy schedule, he somehow found the time to get married and launch a podcast with his friend. Along with fellow comedian Brian Redban, Joe Rogan filmed his first podcast on Christmas Eve 2009.
The initial podcast was a weekly live stream on Ustream. Rogan and his friend would sit in front of their laptops and talk about whatever popped into their heads.
By August 2010, Joe had rebranded the podcast as “The Joe Rogan Experience.” It quickly entered the top 100 podcasts list on iTunes and was picked up by SiriusXM Radio the following year.
By July 2015, Joe’s podcast was being downloaded over 11 million times per month. In October of 2015, the podcast reached 16 million monthly downloads, making it one of the most popular podcasts at the time. Around this time Joe Rogan started gaining media exposure related to his podcast. The variety of guests and topics discussed resonated with listeners.
In May 2020, Joe Rogan announced that he had recently signed an exclusive deal with Spotify worth about $100 million. As part of the deal, Joe will bring The Joe Rogan Experience to Spotify for exclusive streaming from September 2020 to January 2021.
What Makes Joe’s Podcast Stand Out?
The Joe Rogan Experience is one of the thousands of active podcasts that listeners can enjoy. What makes Joe’s podcast so popular? As with other entrepreneurs, Joe Rogan devotes a tremendous amount of time to his projects. However, there is always a little bit of luck involved in a successful endeavor.
When it comes to The Joe Rogan Experience, the timing was a big factor. The podcast started in 2010 as podcasts were first starting to reach the mainstream public. At the same time, the UFC was exploding. The late 2000s and early 2010s saw the rise of the UFC. About 1.25 million fans paid for the pay-per-view UFC 116 event during the summer of 2010.
While the podcast likely benefited from his growing reputation, most of the credit goes to Joe’s personality and the format of his podcast. Joe and his guests discuss everything from politics and current events to philosophy, drug legalization, comedy, and hobbies. He also regularly debunks myths while promoting various fringe theories.
Joe openly discusses controversial topics while assuming the role of your average guy. His ability to explain complex issues with common language makes his podcast accessible to a wide audience. He also remains relatively neutral when it comes to politics. While he promotes many liberal causes, he also frequently takes shots at both sides of the political aisle.
Dedication & Perseverance Pays Off
The Joe Rogan Experience goes against many of the things that successful podcasters practice. For example, podcasters often recommend keeping your podcasts short. It also helps to join a network where you can gain free exposure. After gaining some listeners, you start monetizing your podcast.
Joe Rogan didn’t do any of those things. He launched his podcast with minimal support and no network. He didn’t spend money on advertising or marketing. He quietly released his podcast and organically grew his fanbase through word of mouth. Of course, it helps to have famous friends that you can invite on your podcast.
The bottom line is that he released a quality product. That is what almost every success story comes down to. Joe Rogan built a podcast empire by releasing something that people like and want more of.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.