Joe Rogan Brings the Deathsquad to Chicago

kyle-joe-rogan

“…’No fucking way,’ is the correct response.”

I’ve met Joe Rogan in Chicago three times, making more of an ass out of myself every time I shake his hand. Tonight, I wanted to say, “Thanks for being part of the inspiration to get me to write and work for what I want,” which is a fact and means a lot to me. Instead, I said “You’re an inspiration.” He looked at me as though worried I might Mark David Chapman him right there before smiling for my photo, and then I fucked right off. I suck so very hard.

The thing abut stand up comedy is that it means something different to every person that hears it. Every sentence can either be a gut laugh or hate speech depending on how you perceive it. Maybe that’s why Joe Rogan appears to be such a divisive persona to me and my friends. For me, seeing him perform yearly in Chicago has become a yearly festivity – I haven’t missed a show since 2010 when I first became aware of him via the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. I also have grown accustomed to going alone, as no one else I hang out with seems to like his stand up.

Rogan’s style of comedy is such that it sweeps at your philosophies relentlessly. There may be moments where there aren’t laughs. Instead, he engages in conversation before launching into a punchline for the first time in a minute. It requires patience and a willingness to hear someone out before casting judgement, which is becoming more and more something akin to a lost art.

This was the first time that I can think of that he has performed in Chicago without some type of snow storm chasing me away from the theater.

Starting off the night was Rogan’s best friend, Bryan Callen. You might recognize the name from MadTV or as a regular on the JRE podcast, but he was the biggest shocker of the night. I have known of Bryan for years from the podcast and have found him underwhelming at times. He always entertains, but can oftentimes fall victim of rambling from time to time. His debut comedy special/album, Man Class felt rather bland to me when it originally came out, as though he recorded it before knowing exactly how to handle his act.

Tonight, though, opening for one of the biggest headliners in the country, Callen couldn’t have better command of the stage. His extremely quick talk, eccentric movement and easy to follow stories decimated the crowd with some of the loudest laughter of the night. Not only had he fully understood how to showcase his act, he had perfected it. He casually paced the stage in a frantic pace of growling words, relating stories about being concerned about a sea cucumber his daughter was burying alive in the Tahiti sun while trying not to look like he was arguing with his wife for 10 perfect minutes.

The energy, nuance and pace reminded me of a young Dane Cook – at home on the theater and nothing short of a spectacle on stage. Whatever my thoughts on Man Class could have been, Callen is now on my list of the top comedy acts in the country. The fact that he isn’t a national star is utterly maddening.

Then came Joe Rogan, an icon in comedy unlike any other. Fans of most comics like Louis CK or Jim Norton come with a reverence for their style of comedy, which can easily be seen on Louie and the Opie Radio with Jim Norton (or Anthony Cumia Show depending on the episode) shows respectively. Joe Rogan is a different animal. The Joe Rogan Experience is a three hour podcast, broadcast three times a week. Nine hours a week, fans listen to him talk. The show sometimes covers comedy, but mostly philosophy and news with a variety of intelligent guests. Consequently, no one really seems prepared to hear him do stand up.

Most comedy, including Callen, attempts to cram as many jokes into a sentence or story with as few words as possible; something deliberate, calculated and bare bone that will allow the audience to follow easily without the distraction of ‘fatty’ description. Since his last special is only a few months old, it seems clear that he is toying with new material and enjoying the flow of seeing what works and how.

Rogan 5

Taken on a terrible camera so as not to disrupt the show. I am a nuisance…

The most interesting aspect of Rogan’s style that has only gotten more prominent over the last few years is how the audience is specifically his. He is building a new act (having recorded Rocky Mountain High last year) and the new material had a few kinks to work out. I’m not a comic critic by any means, but a big enough fan of the genre to recognize a bit of fat on a joke.

His fans, though, are so used to and in love with just listening to him talk about anything that a full minute can go by without a punchline. Meanwhile you can see his mind whirring away on how to follow down a train of thought. The most impressive quality about it is that the audience allows him the time necessary to walk those paths and remains utterly silent. They hang onto his every word like gospel.

The usual topics were covered (marijuana, jerking off, mentioning Brock Lesnar at least once), but there is a definite push back against the ‘PC’ agenda underlying his newest act. Every now and again, he would just say, “These are jokes, people” after talking about Bruce/Caitlin Jenner or Charlie Hebdo. There are killer jokes, and a killer underlying story about “Debbie’s parents” and the way that children learn and grow up by watching how ignorant their friends’ parents can be that defines this new hour in a way that none of his other specials has covered. It was cohesive and full, and I hope a good portion of it makes the next special. For being just months since the last one, the newer material is shaping up to be one of his best sets.

For being an act that is in the works, Rogan commanded the stage with the confidence of one of the few true veteran comics in the country. His storytelling was much looser than I’ve ever seen before, which felt more organic and fluid than I am used to. The crowd ate up every minute, the laughter growing with each mention of “Debbie’s parents.”

I can’t say that it was Rogan at his finest; it seemed like he was toying with bits and ideas and unsure of how exactly to top them off, but it was damn fun, regardless. My only criticism was that he finished with a 30 minute free-balling Q&A session once he’d run out of material. For all intents and purposes, this was awesome, but it did seem tacked on and the only part of the night that didn’t have an agenda.

Joe Rogan live is an experience anyone remotely interested in comedy should consider. He doesn’t sugar coat things and talks to you about topics on a level where you’re treated like an equal until you heckle. You might not like all of it (the guy next to me didn’t enjoy talking about God at all), but you’re in for a ride that guarantees to leave you at least pondering the subjects at hand and attempting to think in depth just a little bit. Not only that, but he brings people to perform that his fans love, i.e. Bryan Callen and Eddie Bravo hanging out in the lobby of the theater. If tonight was any indication, next year’s special is going to be a monster.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and will most likely make an ass out of himself again next year. Why do I insist on talking to my heroes like a douche? Booo. Boo Kyle, Boooo.

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