The first time I got to see Joe Rogan live was a top secret show at the ‘Underground Comedy Club” in Toronto a few years ago, when Joe happily came from a sold out theatre show for thousands to perform in a room full of stoners blowing mushroom clouds of pot smoke at Clandestine House Compassion Club.
“So this is the comedy club that is spoken about with hushed reverence by comics in L.A. You guys don’t know this, but this place is legendary. Comics whisper to each other ‘did you know there’s a place in Toronto where you can perform while you smoke weed on stage. Shhhhh.’ Jesus Christ the contact high in this place is ridiculous!’
It’s always been one of my favourite rooms in the city, with a warm audience ready and willing to embrace some different and controversial subject matter, and also… LAUGH! (Performing for stoners can often be like performing for a wall of wide eyes and open, quiet mouths.)
Coming from the big theatre, Joe hit the stage high energy and quickly realized he was in a room with 50 or so people and adjusted to the comfy, underground hang. It was one of my top nights as a comedy fan. (Owed entirely to the tireless Rob Mailloux – Go Support the Dark Comedy Festival in November!)
Anyways, fast forward to 2013 at JFL42. I’m simultaneously excited and crushed that I’ve been booked to perform at this year’s festival, an incredible honour. (Shameless Plug: Two more shows tonight!) But of course, my shows have to conflict with Bill Burr – the number one comic I want to see at the festival… and in the world. But then, a surprise email comes in on Thursday night.
Woohoo! Midnight show! I finish my late show at Yuk Yuk’s (which ended in a surreal, Bill Hicks back and forth between headliner Alan Park and a three-tour Afghanistan Vet on the middle east) and after talking to the vet for a good 20 minutes, I trudged off in the rain to Second City. The line-up was still stretching out down the block, so I hadn’t missed the start, and thankfully a friend was in line who I was ‘meeting’ there.
Up first Tom Segura. Mild mannered, low, quiet delivery, allowed this Joe Rogan Experience regular and host of the Your Moms House podcast to flex his impeccable joke writing… getting huge laughs from the most casual delivery.
Tom then brought up a guy I’ve become a massive fan of recently thanks to Joe Rogan’s podcast and subsequently his own terrific Bryan Callen Show. The crowd erupted, recognizing Bryan from his days at MadTV or in The Hangover (the guy next to me asking “Where do I know that guy from?”) His stand up is fun, and silly, and he has a great time on stage, getting big laughs. The one thing I’m still anxiously waiting to see is for more of his incredibly intelligent philosophies and perspective on bigger issues to work their way into his stand up. If you listen to the podcasts, Bryan was raised travelling the world, and by a father who has seen some shit, and imparted some serious knowledge on his boy. Listening to the father/son duo talk about politics is insightful and interesting as hell.
And then, headliner time. Joe wasted no time showing Toronto why he’s considered one of the top working comedians in the world. (For those of you who still think of him as ‘that Fear Factor guy’ – just take a listen to this, and join the cult.) Like a pro, Joe started out local, praising Toronto, while simultaneously blasting mayor Rob Ford. “Everywhere else on earth if you smoke crack, that’s a wrap. You’re finished. In Canada you guys are just like ‘hey now, tone that down eh.'” – paraphrased, I’m sure that’s not a direct quote. In signature Rogan fashion, he started blending Boston, dirty comedy with insightful, unique world views, such as trying to explain Kim Kardashian and OJ to aliens, and why it’s ridiculous to get upset at a comedians jokes. Without giving too much away, let’s just say last night proved that Joe Rogan is one of the very few comedians capable of constantly re-inventing himself, following the Carlin/CK gold standard of throwing out material and crafting a brand new hour in an incredibly short time frame.
But one more thing that has to be said about Joe’s comedy legacy that isn’t mentioned enough, is his tireless work promoting and nurturing other comedians. My uncle used to always say the sign of a great football coach is ‘Putting your players in a position to succeed.’ It’s said of great quarterbacks, and great sports players in general (Jordan, Bird, Magic) that they make the others around them better. They lift up their team. And no one in stand up comedy has brought that sports comradery mentality like Rogan. Stand-up is far too often an isolated, lonely sport, and somehow Rogan has made it a team sport. This was evident last night, as the show felt like exactly what it was… a bunch of pals having fun together. The same vibe that was cultured on the podcast, that has given viable careers and much bigger exposure to guys like Joey Diaz, Duncan Trussel, Ari Shaffir, Callen and Segura to name just a few. Under Rogan’s leadership, guidance, and selflessness, they continue pushing each other to get better and hone their craft. Each one’s success complimenting the others. It’s a rare thing to see in the comedy world, and the results are undeniable and worth taking note of. Comics working together are stronger and better for it. Something for all of us to remember.