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When I was in my early 30s I lived in Los Angeles and I did a lot of work for a now diminished or possibly dead entertainment publication. I had a bunch of editors there, all no-nonsense ladies doing a no-nonsense job. One day one of them called me up. “Can you go out to Malibu Friday and interview Joe Rogan, Phil Keoghan and Jeff Probst? You’ve never heard of any of them? Too funny! Well, have you heard of “Survivor?” That’s Jeff Probst. Phil Keoghan is the guy from “The Amazing Race.” Do you watch that? You don’t? It’s so good! FEAR FACTOR. FEAR FACTOR. Uhhhhh... It’s like — people eating spiders and jumping off stuff. I’m emailing you the press kit.”
My assignment was to briefly interview the hosts, who would be at the magazine photo shoot all morning, about their upcoming seasons. I would ask them things like “What are you looking forward to most? What do you eat to keep going on the set? What was the most challenging challenge and why did it challenge you?”
I would also take them through the Presidential Fitness Test — the test from elementary school gym where you do sit ups and push ups and pull ups and run one short distance and one longer one, basically to see if you’re a jock or a piece of dogshit. This had been my idea, in the sense that the editor said for the story we needed to have these hosts of competitive shows engage in some kind of competition themselves. After ruling out arm wrestling as too silly and “some kind of race” as sounding too much like “The Amazing Race,” I suggested the Presidential Fitness Test for its variety of exercises and relative simplicity. “Great,” my editor had said. “I’m throwing in an extra $200 because you solved my problem.”
Friday was hot, blue and breezy. I drove from my apartment near Silver Lake to a park in Malibu. Jeff Probst, sadly, would not actually be at the shoot. He’d already done the fitness exam with his assistant and sent the results on the honor system and we could do a phoner for the questions.
I recall a sort of a staging tent for the whole operation, where the photographers and assistants and the talent and I would keep our stuff and hang around while waiting for time with whoever we needed to complete our jobs. Slightly away from the tent was a little concrete public outdoor workout area, where Phil and Joe Rogan would be able to carry out the competition.
I met Phil Keoghan, who was lean, smiley, and exceedingly polite. I explained the Presidential Fitness Test to him because he is from Australia and he laughed. “Ah, that sounds like fun,” he said. (I think they’d already done the running part on their own? I can’t remember!)
Joe Rogan was there with a young woman. As I was waiting to meet Joe Rogan, and this wait became long and a bit dull, as it very often did on jobs like this, I introduced myself to her and we chatted idly. It was my understanding she hadn’t been in Los Angeles long. I said things like welcome, hope you like it, where do you live. She said something vague, I don’t remember what, and I said, oh, what neighborhood. She told me, and I said something like “Oh, yeah, that’s nice.” At this moment Joe Rogan appeared. “Do not talk to her!” Joe Rogan said to the woman, pointing at me. “Definitely do not tell her where we live!”
I think I said something like oh, Joe Rogan, we were just chatting, I won’t put her in the article, in fact, it was my job to NOT put stuff like that in articles, we weren’t really reporters, definitely not gossip reporters, I was just there to talk about the show. I was hoping this would put Joe Rogan at ease.
“This woman is not your friend,” Joe Rogan said, and the woman blinked. She did not seem particularly threatened by my knowing the general 30 square mile area where she lived with Joe Rogan, a person whose existence I myself had only learned of 72 hours ago. Before Joe Rogan left the conversation Joe Rogan leveled his gaze at me. Joe Rogan was wearing black workout clothes, and Joe Rogan was conventionally attractive, I guess, if you like a handsome face and a body that looks like it could tear you limb from limb, and really, who doesn’t. “I don’t want you talking to her,” Joe Rogan said.
I waited in silence. The woman just sat there. We didn’t look at each other.
I was soon rescued from this situation as it was time to talk to Phil Keoghan. He continued to be pleasant. We did the test, and I tallied his results. He was a great athlete, and I remember being impressed and glad that he was so accommodating and chill. He thanked me and said If I had any more questions I could call him or his publicist.
Now it was time for Joe Rogan. “Are you kidding?” Joe Rogan whined after our quick interview. “We’re really doing the Presidential Fitness Test, like you do in elementary school?”
I nodded and said something like, “Yeah, you know we just - do stuff like this at magazines!”
“This is SO stupid. Was this your idea?” Joe Rogan asked me.
I hesitated. I figured it was better that he thought I was bad than my editor. I said, “Yes, it was my idea.”
Joe Rogan snorted. “Well it’s really stupid,” Joe Rogan said. “This was really all you could think up?”
Between exercises Joe Rogan insulted me more about how this was just so ridiculous, how it was for kids. Joe Rogan kept wanting to know how many reps Keoghan and Probst had done of whatever exercise he was doing. “I can’t share the results with you until everyone is done,” I said.
Joe Rogan snorted again. “Give me a break!” Joe Rogan said. “What a joke!” Joe Rogan was especially displeased that Jeff Probst, who was in Fiji or something, was doing his test on the honor system and had sent in his results. He didn’t think it was fair. I said sometimes we had to do stuff like that at magazines. Joe Rogan shook his head in disgust and muttered under his breath as he grunted out his reps.
As Joe Rogan finished up it became clear to me that Joe Rogan had not won. I don’t remember who did. I just remember this feeling of elation as I counted out Joe Rogan’s pull ups or sit ups that one of the other two had beaten Joe Rogan. I can’t tell you which of them it was. I can’t tell you if Joe Rogan came in second or third, but I can tell you Joe Rogan did not win this competition.
Joe Rogan was not only mad, Joe Rogan was indignant. “That guy beat me?” Joe Rogan pouted. “That guy?” Joe Rogan didn’t buy this result. I don’t remember what else Joe Rogan said here, and I’m not going to make it up, but I know Joe Rogan was pissed and thought that he had somehow been scammed.
“Have a great season on Fear Factor,” I said, gathering up my stuff, happy to have made $1800 and suffered only a little bit. When he looked away, I smiled at the woman who came with him, very quickly so as not to be caught doing so. I can’t remember if she smiled back.