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#5 Gavin McInnes

Gavin McInnes is a professional troll. Rooted in punk rock and co-founder of VICE, Gavin now fully embraces the ideology of the alt-right. That is: he likes to stir the shit. The alt-right has turned trolling into a form of patriotism – an apt description of the Trump Doctrine. Their ideology, as it were, is based on smug humor and purposely provocative nationalism. I suppose it works as a form of transgressive humor, but as a political movement it feels decidedly regressive. Shaking their fists at immigrants and feminists, they’re really just throwing stones at the world moving past them. It may draw some attention for a political cycle, but it’s not practical or profound in any way.

Mr McInnes loves Trump, hates immigrants, claims to be a member of the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Church. He’s hard to take seriously, but maybe that’s the point. He’s more of comedian than a political pundit, and like Sam Kinison or Andrew Dice Clay, his outrageous rants will stumble on to a salient point now and then. But we also have to endure some really stupid stuff: women are happier as housewives, gays don’t really want to get married, fracking is awesome, the church was right to persecute Galileo, monkeys typing Shakespeare in infinity is a proof of the existence of god, etc. Gavin is a silly man. Rogan questions and challenges every statement in this interview, and we get the sense that he starts to lose patience by the end. He can appreciate a good troll, but he will not be trolled. And as the shtick starts to unravel we see a better picture of what’s really going on. Gavin seems to be going through some kind of midlife crisis, an aging self-hating hipster. He’s still punk rock but now he’s rebelling against the supposed pervasiveness of liberal dogma. It would be more effective if he didn’t feel the need to embrace every right wing stereotype in the process, but again maybe that’s the bit – ‘the punk rock right wing guy.’ Funny Joe Rogan quote of the show: “Moses was on psychedelic drugs and the burning bush represented DMT.”

#4 Stephan Molyneux

Another troll gets his comeuppance. Where Gavin’s offensive trolling can actually be funny, Molyneux’s is dogmatic and even dangerous. He’s gained some fame for political rant videos rooted in his caustic right wing/anarcho capitalist beliefs. He is a skilled rhetorician with an academic background, so his dialectic style is formal and his arguments well sourced. But he operates in a vacuum. An unchallenged intellectual can degenerate into a stale narcissist. His video rants are the equivalent of bad talk radio, where the opinion is narrow and the arguments rarely constructive. Whether or not you agree with him, one thing is for sure: Molyneux will feel superior either way.

But Rogan has done his homework for this interview. He confronts him with a video clip in which Molyneux urges his audience to cut off friends or family if they didn’t agree with these extreme political beliefs. Extreme? Yeah, to say the least. The clip amounts to him saying, “renounce the state or we’re not friends anymore!” He sees ‘the state’ as a gun, as he breaks down any law to a form of extreme violence to fit his argument. This is absurdly reductive. He talks about the ‘evils of the state’ like a 12 year old who’s just half-listened to Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables for the first time. What’s sad is that Molyneux has a sharp mind and some good moral points: he claims to abhor the concept of war and any kind physical punishment of children. But he’s been spinning in his own head for so long that his morality has been twisted by his own need to win every argument. Molyneux is what happens when we lose ourselves in our beliefs, when ego gets in the way and learning plateaus. Spoiler: he too is supporting Trump. Rogan suffers him in this interview, but it’s unlikely he’ll be back. A funny postscript and perhaps a better summation of Molyneux is here.

#3 Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Joe Rogan is closet conspiracy theorist. His politics can probably be defined as ‘the intellectual stoner.’ Nothing wrong with that – he’s also open-minded enough to listen to dissent and change his mind. This episode opens with an extended discussion on moon landing conspiracies. This might seem like a tired subject, but Tyson answers every question with patience and scientific authority. And it’s actually a dream scenario for anyone who might have ever harbored a doubt about the moon stuff, as we get to hear an expert dismantle every theory. There are some oddities that give credence to moon conspiracies, but as usual we have to look at the bigger picture – gobbling up facts in support of an erroneous theory is simply a waste of time. The most egregious moon landing theory for me has always been the supposed involvement of Stanley Kubrick, as if his aesthetic of artistic perfection would ever produce something as crude as the grainy moon landing footage. (Not to mention his own views of ‘the state,’ which are considerably more sophisticated than Mr Molyneux’s.) Just stop with the moon landing stuff and go watch 2001 again – it’s better for your spirit.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a fascinating speaker on what for me is an impenetrable subject: science. He has a teacher’s gift to give life to the seemingly mundane, to extract the most interesting facts and insights from years of study. This is his only JRE appearance but you can find his speeches, podcasts, and writings all over. His best quote: “America knows how to blow things up but we’re not so good at picking up the pieces.”

#2 Jim Norton

Lil’ Jimmy is one of my favorite comedians, not for his stand up so much as radio work on Opie & Anthony. He has a unique, irreverent, sometimes brutal sense of humor. The way a painter might work in still life or covered bridges, Jimmy works with tranny and child molestation jokes. But he’s a thoughtful guy, with opinions on society and politics without regard for liberal or conservative borders. Like George Carlin, his comic ethos focuses his politics on language and censorship. In that sense, he can be ponderous – he likes to complain a lot. But that’s okay, because when he’s being funny, there’s nobody better or quicker or weirder. The best bit in this episode is his explanation of the origin of his characters: witless ‘comedian’ Chip Chipperson, child molester Uncle Paul, old dry teeth Edgar, etc. We learn there are lots more characters and they all have relationships, and that Jimmy annoyed his girlfriend in real life with these voices and may have ruined other relationships in the process. Basically, he’s turned schizophrenia into a successful comedy career. He’s also keenly self-aware – as a long time recovering addict, he’s embraced the rules of recovery to the point where he’s found a balance between weirdness and maturity. At least, sometimes.

#1 Doug Stanhope, Joey Diaz

The all-time best episode of JRE. Doug is on mushrooms, they all get high, Doug loses his shit. Rogan takes on the role of psychedelic counselor, the ‘you’re gonna be alright man’ guy. This, while passing him a joint of some insane Cali weed. This episode is the peak of the Joe Rogan Experience, pun intended.

Joey Diaz is the greatest JRE guest of all time. He rambles with street wisdom and endless stories of crime and debauchery. Fearlessly funny. He can pepper any conversation with some tale of a robbery gone wrong, analyze politics from the angle of con man. Any episode with Diaz is a great listen, and he also hosts his own podcast at The Church Of What’s Happening Now.

Doug Stanhope is the most vital stand up comedian working today. His style draws from George Carlin and Bill Hicks, but his voice is wholly original. It took me a while to come around on the genius of Doug Stanhope – it seemed that he’d cultivated a persona of a wizened post-frat guy, with his drunken philosophy rants to a loyal core audience. This is wrong: Stanhope is a genuine artist. He dropped out of pop culture/Hollywood to move to a small art town in Arizona; he truly lives the independent principles most just preach about. And the thing is, it’s making his comedy even sharper. Carlin was 55 when he did his 1992 special at the Paramount in NY which many believe to be his peak; he did some of his wildest, funniest work in his 60s. This bit from his 2012 special is my favorite – what’s the greatest possible closer for an act?