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Note: this post omits any private information, and I got the green light from Joe before publishing.
A couple weeks ago, I met up with Substack’s cofounders on a sweltering afternoon in Austin, where our CEO Chris Best would go on Joe Rogan’s podcast. I know this show holds a lot of mystique for comms people in particular, so I’m sharing the experience here.
At well over 11 million weekly listeners, the Joe Rogan Experience obviously has a huge audience. But we weren’t just going for numbers. We wanted to have Chris on JRE because it has a format that lends itself to deeper discussions, it has a host who’s curious and fair, and it seemed like it would be fun – and of course it would be amazing exposure for Substack. So I pitched Rogan a while ago, and when he suggested a date in August, we immediately said yes.
Here’s what it was like.
Joe books his guests himself. If he wants to chat with someone, he texts or emails them directly. Occasionally his buddy Matt helps reach out to people, but usually it’s just Joe on his phone, confirming guests and plugging tapings into the calendar.
JRE doesn’t optimize for hosting big names or boosting downloads, hence the rejection of Trump’s request to go on. Compared to other shows, there are not a lot of CEOs or businesspeople either. Instead, Joe hosts a lot of comedians, YouTubers, and people who are his friends – because, as he says, “It’s fun.”
Also unlike a typical show, there’s no producer going back and forth with you on topics, format, or anything else. Joe suggests a date, you agree and make travel plans, and then you show up at the address he gives you.
The building is intentionally nondescript. To prevent unrequited visits from fanatics, the outside of the studio is unmarked and the door is locked at all times. After we loiter around the entrance for a couple beats, one of Joe’s friendly and extremely fit security guys welcomes us and ushers us in.
I was expecting something like Hansel’s loft from Zoolander:
The reality isn’t too far off.
We walk through a foyer decorated with portraits of Cynthia Ann Parker and the iconic Texas Ranger Jack Hayes.
It leads to a big open space whose aesthetic could be described as “The Museum of Native American History, Asian Art, Pop Culture, Mugshots, and Hunting.” There are pictures of Pablo Escobar, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Anthony Bourdain, Conor McGregor, Hunter S. Thompson, and multiple Samurai.
In the center of the room is a huge taxidermied beast, posed in an attacking crouch. I debate asking if it’s a real animal, but to my relief, Hamish asks first. Turns out it’s a prop from An American Werewolf in Paris [note from Joe: the wolf is from an American Werewolf in London, not Paris. The Paris movie sucked!].
Joe then shows us around the building. There is a large pool room that also serves as an overflow room for all the art and decor and gifts that they haven’t put on display yet. There is a huge gym — probably bigger than a high school basketball gym — with advanced equipment and fighting gear. There is an indoor archery range that includes a Kevlar screen where you can project realistic videos of game animals to shoot with a real bow and arrow, then zoom in on your shots to analyze how you did.
It is the Buckingham Palace of man caves.
At a long desk in the big main room sits an attractive nurse. She offers us an enhancer of B12 or NAD+, through a shot or an IV.
I get a shot of NAD+, which is supposed to be good for energy and metabolism. NAD stands for Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide, and I don’t know what the + is. (Actually, I don’t know what any of it is, but the nurse said she takes it, and if you saw this woman, you too would ask for a shot of whatever she’s on.)
Later, just before taping, Joe goes over and gets his own jab of NAD+. His might be NAD+++ though, judging by the resulting energy levels, because he then proceeds to power through several hours of podcasting followed shortly afterwards by a standup show at a local bar.
Joe doesn’t really prepare.
During the show, he sometimes refers to a note with general topics on his phone, but there’s no extensive research or list of questions. He does spend a lot of time with guests before the show, which I’m sure helps make for a better podcast. Joe is a warm and humble guy with no airs despite having a weekly audience larger than the population of Belgium, and he’s good at putting people at ease. That’s it though.
It’s the secret sauce of JRE and what makes it so entertaining: the show is conversational Calvinball.
Accordingly, there’s not much you can do to prepare as a guest, beyond having a rough sense of a couple things you definitely want to cover.
Our prep regimen with Chris consisted of eating brunch, hanging out, and getting him a beer before the show. Scripted talking points are the death of joy, and they’re especially fatal in a setting like JRE where success requires keeping a listener interested for several hours. We agreed on a few things Chris wanted to discuss (like podcasting on Substack and our stance on moderation), and those did make it in.
I had asked our team: “What should Chris talk about on Rogan? Wrong answers accepted.” Responses included: how do we get Fear Factor on Substack as a video exclusive, Amber Heard, Joe’s Spotify deal, holding a silent pause for longer than 21 seconds, aliens, and “just do your Best” (the worst and wrongest answer of all).
Our general counsel Tim also proposed a Bingo card for the show, which got entries like: workout routines, New York Times, Chris being asked to smoke weed on air, Chesa Boudin, social media, “reptile brain,” and Chris moving to Austin. By my count, we checked around half the boxes.
The recording booth
The booth where they tape the episodes is a windowless grotto packed with paraphernalia. During taping, Joe’s producer Jamie Vernon is set up in the corner like a DJ, while Joe and Chris talk across from each other at a heavy table that looks like it could double as an air raid shelter.
The most eye-catching thing in the room, other than the big neon Joe Rogan Experience sign, is a clear case displaying a Beeple NFT, gifted by the artist. It depicts, I’m sorry to report, Elon Musk as a building-sized gigachad, wearing only white briefs, sporting an unforgivably prominent codpiece, walking a giant Doge on a leash. It’s unclear how anyone focuses on the conversation with this thing glowing three feet away.
While Joe and Chris are recording with Jamie, the rest of us are hanging out in the large front room with Joe’s guys, who are extremely nice and charming, even while giving off a vibe of belonging to some elite military unit.
The interview is streaming onto a TV screen out where we are, so we’re able to watch the show in real time. At one point, Joe asks Chris if Substack ever gets negative attention from the media. Everyone in the room bursts into laughter.
We’re there for several hours, so we make some trips to the kitchen for snacks. I get some hot chocolate, which, in this high-T environment, has hitherto been untouched. All the food, as far as I can tell, is some variety of jerky, representing every major flavor and half the mammals on this green earth. To paraphrase Rule 34: if it exists, Joe Rogan’s studio has jerky of it.
Joe and his team do minimal editing and publish podcast episodes very quickly, sometimes even same day. In our case, the actual interview took place on a Wednesday afternoon and was already published on Thursday morning by the time I got on my plane home.
Here’s the episode:
I was really pleased with how it turned out. Chris gave a great interview by being unscripted, authentic, and interesting. Rogan volunteered his appreciation for Substack, which was a highlight and was motivating for our team to hear.
In any setting, but especially on a big platform like this, we want to put the spotlight on writers, so it was a bonus that the conversation included Bill Bishop, Bari Weiss, Ethan Strauss, Matt Taibbi, Emily Oster, Gurwinder, Glenn Greenwald, and yes, Alex Berenson. We later heard from at least one of them that they got an uptick in subscriptions.
After the episode came out, we saw a bump in visits to substack.com, new publications created, and new reader signups. These metrics are the business goals around which our comms strategy is built, so that’s what ultimately made this a win from a strategic perspective.
Because JRE is unique in many ways, there are not a ton of comms lessons that would apply to other situations, but I thought it would be interesting to go behind the scenes of the world’s biggest podcast and hope you enjoyed it.
Tell me in the comments or over email: what do you think Rogan’s studio is missing? I’ll pick the best (reasonable) answer and send it to Joe as thanks for hosting us.
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