Joe Rogan on UFC, Stand-Up: 'I'm Very Fortunate; It Keeps Life Interesting'

Joe Rogan is a man of many interests, and two of those interests will be on display Saturday night on Spike, when his new stand-up comedy special, Talking Monkeys in Space, debuts immediately after the Ultimate Fighter Finale, with Rogan, as usual on UFC shows, providing color commentary.

In an interview with FanHouse, Rogan talked about both the UFC show and the comedy show, why he'd choose stand-up over all his other professions if he had to pick one, and why he hopes to help the "casual drunken meatheads" understand the nuances of mixed martial arts. The full interview is below.

Michael David Smith: On Saturday night on Spike we're going to see two different sides of you: You'll be doing the color commentary for the Ultimate Fighter Finale, and then immediately after that is your comedy special, Talking Monkeys in Space. Have you always been someone with diverse interests, and when you were younger did you expect to have a career that would allow you to explore such diverse interests?
Joe Rogan: I never would have thought it would work out this way. When I started doing comedy there was no such thing as mixed martial arts, and I never had any aspirations whatsoever to be a sports broadcaster. Getting involved in the UFC was really just dumb luck on my part. I started out as a stand-up comedian, and then I went on to do other stuff like Fear Factor and NewsRadio. I didn't aspire to do any of those things, though. I only aspired to do stand-up comedy. I'm very fortunate. It keeps life interesting that I'm not doing the same thing all the time.

Spike TV: Watch Clip of Rogan's Comedy Special (NSFW)

Are you recognized most for your stand-up comedy, or for NewsRadio, or for Fear Factor, or UFC?
I think it's pretty equal. Probably fewer people know me as a comic than any of the other things, which is kind of ironic, considering that's what I've done the longest and that's what I'm best at. It used to be way more people knew me for Fear Fector, but now that the UFC has grown in popularity, that has changed. It really depends where I am. If I'm at the gym, more people know me from the UFC. If I'm at Chuck E Cheese, more people know me from Fear Factor.

Which do you personally have the greatest passion for?
If I had to choose one, and I couldn't do the others, I'd definitely take the comedy. I'll always be a fan of mixed martial arts, but I don't have to work in it to be a fan. If I had to choose just one, I'd definitely choose the comedy. I could be very happy just being a fan of mixed martial arts. I don't have to be a commentator.

During the Caol Uno vs. Spencer Fisher fight at UFC 99, you said, "For someone who really understands what these guys are doing, this is really interesting. For your casual drunken meathead, not so much." Do you view it as your job to take the casual drunken meatheads and turn them into people who really understand what the fighters are doing?
That's definitely part of my job. It's my job to explain what's happening, especially in the ground game, because that's the hardest to explain to a casual fan. A casual fan can tell what's happening when one guy is punching another guy. But it becomes more complicated on the ground, and sometimes when there's a tactical stale mate between two very skilled guys, people start booing. The most boring part of a fight like Uno vs. Fisher is way better than the most exciting baseball game.

It's amazing how much we know about martial arts that we didn't know before the UFC: For a long time people thought fighting was just punching and kicking.
Yeah. Back 20 years ago it was all based on Bruce Lee movies. People didn't even consider wrestling and boxing martial arts. People thought wrestling and boxing were sports, and that's different from martial arts. Now we realize that not only is wrestling a martial art, but it might be the best martial art.

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    France's Cheik Kongo (below) and Cain Valasquez of the US fight at the "Mixed Martial Arts" cage fighting event in the western German city of Cologne on June 13, 2009. The event is the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to take place in Germany. AFP PHOTO DDP / HENNING KAISER GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read HENNING KAISER/AFP/Getty Images)

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    France's Cheik Kongo (below) and Cain Valasquez of the US fight at the "Mixed Martial Arts" cage fighting event in the western German city of Cologne on June 13, 2009. The event is the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to take place in Germany. AFP PHOTO DDP / HENNING KAISER GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read HENNING KAISER/AFP/Getty Images)

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    France's Cheik Kongo (L) and Cain Valasquez of the US fight at the "Mixed Martial Arts" cage fighting event in the western German city of Cologne on June 13, 2009. The event is the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to take place in Germany. AFP PHOTO DDP / HENNING KAISER GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read HENNING KAISER/AFP/Getty Images)

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    TOPSHOTS Germany's Peter Sobotta (L) and Britain's Paul Taylor fight at the "Mixed Martial Arts" cage fighting event in the western German city of Cologne on June 13, 2009. The event is the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to take place in Germany. AFP PHOTO DDP / HENNING KAISER GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read HENNING KAISER/AFP/Getty Images)

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    A ring girl announces the first round of the fight between Croatia's Mirko Cro Cop and Britain's Mustapha Al-Turk at the "Mixed Martial Arts" cage fighting event in the western German city of Cologne on June 13, 2009. The event is the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to take place in Germany. AFP PHOTO DDP / HENNING KAISER GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read HENNING KAISER/AFP/Getty Images)

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    France's Cheik Kongo receives medical treatment during his fight against Cain Valasquez of the US at the "Mixed Martial Arts" cage fighting event in the western German city of Cologne on June 13, 2009. The event is the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to take place in Germany. AFP PHOTO DDP / HENNING KAISER GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read HENNING KAISER/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Netherlands' Stefan Struwe (C) celebrates victory over Denis Stonic at the "Mixed Martial Arts" cage fighting event in the western German city of Cologne on June 13, 2009. The event is the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to take place in Germany. AFP PHOTO DDP / HENNING KAISER GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read HENNING KAISER/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Netherlands' Stefan Struwe (R) receives medical treatment during his fight against Denis Stonic at the "Mixed Martial Arts" cage fighting event in the western German city of Cologne on June 13, 2009. The event is the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to take place in Germany. AFP PHOTO DDP / HENNING KAISER GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read HENNING KAISER/AFP/Getty Images)

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    France's Cheik Kongo and Cain Valasquez of the US fight at the "Mixed Martial Arts" cage fighting event in the western German city of Cologne on June 13, 2009. The event is the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to take place in Germany. AFP PHOTO DDP / HENNING KAISER GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read HENNING KAISER/AFP/Getty Images)

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You mentioned boxing. A couple of years ago, you and Lou DiBella were on ESPN for what was set up as an "MMA vs. boxing" debate, even though you tried to stress that you enjoy both sports. Why do you think so many people like Lou DiBella view MMA and boxing as somehow competing with each other, rather than two sports that can appeal to the same fans?
For the same reason that some people support anything that's Republican or anything that's Democratic. People get on a side and stick with it. But Al Bernstein is a fan of mixed martial arts. So is Max Kellerman. They're phenomenal boxing commentators, but they appreciate MMA. A guy like Lou DiBella has made his entire career off boxing and made a lot of money off boxing, and when he's faced with the UFC he just goes with his dumb instinct to immediately criticize it.

How much freedom does the UFC give you to talk about other MMA promotions and other fighters? Before the Caol Uno fight you talked a lot about his opponents outside the UFC. Is that OK with the UFC?
They've never told me not to talk about other fighters outside the UFC. When they were negotiating the purchase of Pride, they'd tell me not to mention Pride by name, but I could still mention Pride fighters like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira or Fedor Emelianenko.

How much MMA do you watch outside of the UFC?
I watch everything. I watch as much MMA as humanly possible. All the WEC events, all the Strikeforce fights, I have HDNet and I watch K-1 kickboxing, Dream, Sengoku. I'm an MMA junkie I love the sport, and I love it whether it's a small show or amateur fights or a big event like the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I'm very fortunate that I'm a professional fan.

What are your thoughts on Saturday night's Ultimate Fighter Finale?
Well, I just love the fact that there was almost no MMA in the UK just a few years ago, and now we've got two UK fighters fighting for the lightweight title on The Ultimate Fighter. The UK has come a long way. Michael Bisping has done a great job coaching on the show, as has Dan Henderson, and I'm looking forward to seeing them fight at UFC 100. And there's a great card on top of that. I'm really looking forward to Diego Sanchez taking on Clay Guida. That's a really good fight.

Do you think the Sanchez-Guida winner is the No. 1 contender?
Well, that's not my position, but I also think you have to consider Gray Maynard in the mix. And Kenny Florian vs. B.J. Penn is a great fight for the lightweight title. I have no idea how that fight is going to turn out. There are a lot of good guys in the lightweight division. A lot of talent. Tyson Griffin, Frank Edgar, it's just awesome.

Is this the best time in the history of the sport to be an MMA fan?
It's the best time so far, but 10 years from now it's going to be even crazier. We're going to see kids coming up who learned MMA as a sport from childhood, instead of starting in one martial art, they'll be starting in MMA. And we're going to see top-shelf athletes enter MMA. We see it now with guys like Georges St. Pierre and Brock Lesnar, guys I'd call super athletes, but I think we'll see a bunch of those guys.

What is your opinion of the quality of the referees in MMA these days?
There are great referees and then there are not so great referees. We have problems sometimes with referees in states without as many shows, but then again there are great referees like Mark Matheny in Ohio who's a great referee. He's a local guy who lets the fighters fight and stops fights at the right time. But then there are other refs who talk to the fighters too much, who are too trigger happy. There are some good referees but then there are terrible calls like in EliteXC, when Roy Nelson had Andrei Arlovski in side control, and the ref stood them up. The only reason a ref should stand the guys up is if nothing is happening. And I wish that wasn't a rule. I think if a guy like a Sean Sherk or a Matt Hughes can hold you down, tough s**t. You have to survive until the round is over.

Do you want to see Big John McCarthy back in the Octagon?
I love Big John McCarthy. I think he's got personal issues with the UFC, and I'm not quite aware of what's going on, but I like Big John, and if he's not the best in the business he's one of the best in the business.

UFC fighters are tested for drugs. Do you think they should be?
Well, the UFC is one of the only sports that is regulated by the government. And the athletic commissions test for all kinds of things that aren't performance-enhancing, like marijuana. I think we as a society struggle with the idea of performance-enhancing substances, and what is fair and what is not fair. What steroids represent, what performance-enhancing substances represent, is manipulation of your biology. In the future, it's going to be far more complicated than that, when they get into nanotechnology, and when they get into human genome manipulation, and they figure out how to change the structure of your body. ... It's going to be a different situation when we develop literal super-humans. It sounds like science fiction now, but so were so many innovations that have come to fruition. It's very possible that in the future we're going to see some incredible s**t when it comes to sports science and human engineering, and I think what we're dealing with now is a small issue compared to that.

You talk in your comedy special about brain chemistry. Is your interest in brain chemistry related to your interest in drugs?
Definitely. I'm very interested in the way the human mind works, and the way people think. We think of drugs as something bad, something that can ruin your life, and that's true of some drugs. But people make these crazy blanket statements about all drugs, and not all drugs are the same. Some drugs are good for you. There are drugs that people have been taking for thousands of years in order to accelerate their evolution. Some things that are currently illegal in our country because of our archaic drug laws have been taken by people in other countries for thousands of years. And not only are these things important to their culture, but they're sacred, and they believe they help them achieve a higher plane of consciousness. And what separates us from animals is our ability to be conscious.

What was the process of writing this comedy show like for you, and is being a comedian more about the writing or the delivery?
It's both. You can't have writing without delivery, and you can't have delivery without writing. It's a very unique art form where the writer is also the performer. I write in front of my computer, and I also write while I'm up on stage. You have to have material that you've written and you have to be able to ad-lib. When a thought comes into your head, you have to be able to explore it.

You talk about some things in your act that push the envelope, and things that could be embarrassing. Is there anything that you see as off-limits?
What's off-limits to me is what's not funny, and what I see as mean-spirited or cruel or unnecessary. But for me, as long as in my mind it makes sense and is rational, then I don't think it's off-limits.

What else do you want people to know about what they're going to see about your two shows on Spike on Saturday night?
The Ultimate Fighter is going to be awesome. It's a great card, with the two Ultimate Fighter finale fights and then Kevin Burns vs. Chris Lytle, Nate Diaz vs. Joe Stevenson and, of course, Clay Guida vs. Diego Sanchez, I'm really looking forward to. As for my comedy show, I hope people enjoy it. And if you're the kind of person who gets easily offended, you're definitely going to be offended.

The Ultimate Fighter Finale airs Saturday at 9 PM on Spike, followed immediately by Joe Rogan's comedy special, Talking Monkeys in Space, at midnight.

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