What Happened When I Went on Joe Rogan's PodcastRoundup
tags: media, free speech, Joe Rogan
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the coauthor (with cartoonist Signe Wilkinson) of Free Speech and Why You Should Give a Damn, which was published last year by City of Light Press.
Last spring, I was invited to appear on Joe Rogan’s show. My first reaction was surprise: Why me? I’m not a comedian (like Rogan), or a martial-arts fighter (ditto), or a celebrity who likes to push the envelope (Elon Musk, Jordan Peterson). I am just a nerdy college professor who writes books that very few people choose to read. (My mom says they’re very good.)
But my latest book is about free speech. That’s a special concern of Joe Rogan, of course, who is known for saying outrageous things. Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Nils Lofgren recently pulled their music from Spotify to protest COVID-related misinformation on Rogan’s show. And last Saturday, as pressure on Spotify continued to mount, Rogan apologized for his use of the N-word in prior broadcasts and vowed never to say it again on the air. Many people are calling on Spotify to cancel Rogan’s show from the platform.
Rogan was already in hot water last spring, around the time when I got invited to the show, because he claimed that healthy young people didn’t need to get vaccinated against COVID-19. That seemed like a remarkably stupid thing to say, as Rogan himself has since acknowledged. And it also made me wonder if it was safe to go on his show.
“Just don’t stand too close to him,” said my wife, an infectious-disease physician. She knows what she’s talking about, unlike some of the quack doctors who have appeared recently on Rogan’s show to tout conspiracy theories about COVID-19.
Rogan tapes his show in a low-slung, nondescript building on the outskirts of Austin, Texas. The show doesn’t pay guests, but it did fly me down there. When I arrived, I was told that Rogan was caught in the city’s notorious traffic. “The Californians are clogging the roads,” one of his assistants groused. I pointed out that Rogan himself had recently moved to Austin from California. We both laughed.
Next I had to get a COVID-19 test from a nurse Rogan employs. I had promised myself I wouldn’t talk about COVID-19 while I was there, but there’s no way to avoid the topic when someone is swabbing your nose for it. I had recently received my second dose of vaccine, with no side effects, so I asked the nurse how she felt after getting the shot.
“Oh, I’m not vaccinated,” she replied, cheerily.
I knew that Rogan wasn’t, which is why my wife wanted me to keep my distance from him. But his nurse wasn’t vaccinated, either? Why not?
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