Why Joe Rogan’s podcast is so popular

And what it says about us, and the future

John Steen
May 25, 2018 · 4 min read

The Joe Rogan Experience is consistently in the Top 10 podcasts in all categories on iTunes. Right now it’s ranked #4 — above The New York Times, HowStuffWorks and This American Life.

A couple years ago Joe estimated that he got around 30 million total downloads per month, and this has probably gone up.

And the thing is, Joe has a lot of competition.

Not only all the podcasts (most of which are more highly produced than his), but Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and the list goes on.

Yet somehow he persuades millions of people to listen to him simply chat with someone else for 2–3 hours with no set structure, canned questions or gimmicks.

Sure, he’s famous from his stand-up, television and the UFC, but tons of famous people have started podcasts that suck.

Why his?

I have a few ideas.

It feels natural

We like the fact that there’s no script. It’s refreshing. We can see right through scripts.

We also know when someone isn’t engaged with who they’re talking to. It’s really easy to pick up on who has a set list of questions they want to get through, and who is genuinely interested in a conversation.

You could picture the exact same conversations over a beer in small company. The imperfection is relatable and creates trust.

He talks about things we’re afraid to talk about

Joe and his guests question both sides of the hard issues of the day. Stuff we don’t want to talk about like race, religion, drugs, gender, health and mental illness.

Wait, don’t we talk about those things?

Not really. It’s more like talking at people about those things or reinforcing the beliefs of others who are like-minded. It’s really interesting to hear actual conversations about these things, often from both sides.

He challenges his guests

This is my favorite part. Joe doesn’t let people get away with saying unfounded, lofty, confusing or grandiose statements. He drills down and asks “Why do you think that?,” “Wait, what do you mean by that?” or asks about counter evidence.

This sidesteps the softball interview questions that leave us wanting clarification or follow-up. Often us the audience wonders why the host didn’t resolve the ambiguity of the guest. Joe forces people to be clear, and we love it.

It’s relevant and it’s not

The podcast hits the major points of interest that we’re all thinking about — North Korea, Trump, gender identity, the latest health research, etc., until he doesn’t.

And that’s when things get even more interesting. He turns us onto topics we didn’t even know we were interested in like psychedelics, grizzly bears and isolation tanks. We get sucked into another world and learn more about how others think, what we should be interested in and just weird stuff we’ve never thought about. It opens our minds. Which leads to the next point.

It’s open-minded

Joe has a remarkable ability to keep an open mind to differing points of view, often coming from guests that disagree with each other.

But even when it challenges his own beliefs, he asks questions, digs in — but listens. This is something we’re all looking for in a media world of echo chambers and shouting/shaming matches.

It makes us laugh

Life gets too damn serious. We need to laugh, and the show helps us poke fun at the world and ourselves about issues that could otherwise send us into a tailspin.

It makes us think

Joe has some really smart guests on the podcast talking about everything from health to history to humor, and we learn a lot in the process. Joe asks good questions. Questions we would want to ask. He kind of serves as our advocate in that sense.

And the way we’re learning is refreshing, as it’s mixed in relevantly with conversation that matters, with humor and with context.

What it says about us (and the future)

If I could sum up Joe’s podcast in one word it would be human. And at this point in time, we really are craving something human.

Many of us are lonely. Real, genuine and connective conversations like some of the ones on the podcast are hard to come by in real life, so we tune in.

There’s plenty of technology for us to sink our teeth into, but sometimes we want to listen to people talk. Because we identify, we feel connected and we realize that we’re not alone in our interests, questions and thoughts.

And to me, this is an interesting cue for what’s to come.

With the onslaught of AI, VR and automation ahead of us, I don’t think our desire for humanity is going away — I think it’s going to increase.

We still want someone asking “What the hell is going on here?”, and to know we’re not the only ones not wanting to simply get swept away in the ever changing tides of culture.

There can only be one Joe, but we can all be human. In fact, by the looks of Joe’s podcast, it can even pay to be human.

It’s scarce in a world of constant persuasion, tactics, masquerades and insecurity to have someone be real, vulnerable and genuine.

Going forward, there’s going to be an equal opportunity to make things faster, more efficient and more automated — and to make things more human, imperfect, artistic and connective.

These aren’t mutually exclusive, but we’d be severely amiss to neglect the latter.

Originally published at John’s blog.

John Steen

Written by

I talk about life, the future of work, health, creativity and making a difference.

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