How UFC commentator Joe Rogan became world’s highest-paid podcaster

Joe RoganJoe Rogan

Joe Rogan’s podcast made $30 million last year.

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images


Joe Rogan’s wildly popular podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” is moving exclusively to Spotify starting in September, the company announced Tuesday. 

The multiyear licensing agreement could be worth upwards of $100 million based on the podcast’s performance metrics and other factors, a source told The Wall Street Journal. Spotify declined to comment on the financial details of the deal.

“The Joe Rogan Experience” is downloaded almost 200 million times per month and brought in $30 million last year, making the comedian and UFC commentator the highest-paid podcaster of 2019, per Forbes. Rogan’s podcast guests have included Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, actor Robert Downey, Jr., and right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

After the news was announced, Spotify shares spiked by 11%. “The Joe Rogan Experience” has been the most-searched podcast on Spotify since at least early 2019 despite not yet being available on the platform, the company told Business Insider.

Rogan’s eclectic career has spanned various industries. He’s worked as a stand-up comedian, an actor, a UFC commentator, and a martial arts teacher.

He also has a penchant for controversy. Rogan has been criticized for hosting guests like alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones — who called the Sandy Hook mass shooting a hoax — on his podcast twice. He’s also been accused of making transphobic and racist comments. 

Rogan did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment for this story.

Here’s what we know about Rogan’s life, career, and new deal with Spotify.

It was in Massachusetts that Rogan first took up martial arts.

newton mass

Newton, Mass.

Getty Images/stresstensor


Rogan started practicing martial arts at age 13, which he said in a 2014 interview with SB Nation was “the best decision I ever made in my entire life.”

He added that martial arts “gave me not just confidence, but also a different perspective of myself and what I was capable of. I knew that I could do something I was terrified of and that was really difficult, and that I could excel at it. It was a big deal for me.”

Rogan hosted “Fear Factor,” the game show that challenged contestants to compete in physically and mentally challenging stunts, from 2001 to 2006.

joe rogan fear factor

Joe Rogan, right, on “Fear Factor” in 2005.

Trae Patton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank


He returned to host the seventh and final season of “Fear Factor” in 2011 when the show was briefly revived that year. (MTV revived the series again in 2017, with rapper Ludacris as the host.)

Rogan said that although he made “tons of money” from his TV career, it didn’t bring him as much satisfaction as stand-up comedy.

“… One of the things I realized while this was all going on is [TV is] not nearly as fun as the live standup comedy,” Rogan told the Globe and Mail in 2007. “Live standup comedy is always better, it’s more exciting, it’s more enjoyable when it’s done right. It’s definitely more entertaining.”

Rogan’s stand-up comedy career has continued to the present day.

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Rogan performs at a comedy club in Pasadena, California, in March 2019.

Michael S. Schwartz/Getty Images


He’s done stand-up comedy specials for both Netflix and Comedy Central and was slated to do several US shows in April, May, and June 2020, but they were rescheduled for the fall, according to his website.

Rogan has said he talks about “all sorts of things” in his comedy routines.

“I talk about drugs and life and sex, the mysteries of space, and the way we look at the world,” he said in a 2008 interview with the Boston Globe. 

Rogan’s interest in comedy began when his parents took him to see legendary comedian Richard Pryor when he was about 13 years old.

“I was looking around the theater at people falling out of their chairs, slapping the chairs in front of them, and I’m thinking, ‘How is this guy doing this? He’s just talking,'” he said in a 2006 interview with UFC. “… And that experience profoundly influenced me. That was the first exposure I ever had to standup comedy…”

Rogan launched his podcast in December 2009. Today, “The Joe Rogan Experience” consistently ranks at the top of Apple’s Top 100 Podcasts.

joe rogan podcast

Rogan started his podcast 11 years ago.

Vivian Zink/Syfy/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images


His YouTube channel has 8.44 million subscribers.

As Devin Gordon wrote for The Atlantic last year, Rogan is particularly appealing to many American men.

Rogan is “a tireless optimist, a grab-life-by-the-throat-and-bite-out-its-esophagus kind of guy, and many, many men respond to that,” Gordon wrote. “I respond to that. The competitive energy, the drive to succeed, the search for purpose, for self-respect. Get better every day. Master your domain.”

On his podcast, Rogan is known for putting his guests at ease and getting them to speak candidly.

Elon Musk on The Joe Rogan Experience

Elon Musk on Rogan’s podcast last year.

Joe Rogan Experience/YouTube


In September 2019, Rogan famously got Elon Musk to smoke a spliff — weed and tobacco mixed — with him, and the Tesla founder opened up about his childhood.

According to Gordon of the Atlantic, Rogan is adept at captivating audiences because he is patient enough “to let his interviews be an experience rather than an inquisition. And, go figure, his approach has the virtue of putting his subjects at ease and letting the conversation go to poignant places …”

Last month, Rogan made it clear he was not part of a plan by the UFC president to rent out a private island for UFC fights during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Henry Cejudo and Joe Rogan at UFC 249 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on May 9, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida

Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images


In early April, UFC president Dana White said he had secured a private island at an undisclosed location for the upcoming UFC 249 event on April 18, which had originally been slated to be in New York City but had to move due to the pandemic.

“I won’t be able to get international fighters, all of them, into the US, so I have a private island,” White told TMZ Sports, per CNN. “I’m going to start flying them all into the private island and doing international fights from there.”

On his podcast, Rogan distanced himself from the plan, per the Telegraph.

“I guess someone’s gonna commentate,” Rogan said. “It’s not gonna be me.”

White’s private island plans didn’t work out anyway. The UFC 249 was postponed to May 9 and took place at the empty VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, after the UFC formulated a safety plan that included COVID-19 antibody blood tests and no face-to-face interviews.

At the event, Rogan interviewed fighters face-to-face and shook their hands as usual, without maintaining social distancing or wearing a mask, The New York Times reported.

Rogan says he was once challenged to a cage fight to be aired on TV with actor and martial artist Wesley Snipes, known for his role in the “Blade” film trilogy.

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Rogan at the UFC 247 ceremonial weigh-in at Toyota Center on February 7, 2020 in Houston.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images


According to Rogan, Snipes was looking for a “quick payday” to pay off his IRS debt.

“I think when he researched it and found out I’d been doing martial arts my whole life, he realized I was going to choke the sh-t out of him,” Rogan later told Men’s Journal. “If I’d fought Wesley Snipes, I was 99.9% convinced all I had to do was grab that guy and choke the f–king life out of him.”

Rogan said he’s been asked why he doesn’t fight professionally instead of only commentating.

“And I say, ‘Why — so I can get my ass kicked?'” he told Men’s Journal.

Despite not fighting professionally, Rogan maintains an intense training regimen.

He trains with legendary Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructors Jean-Jacques Machado and Eddie Bravo in Los Angeles, per Men’s Journal.

Apart from martial arts, Rogan trains mainly with kettlebells in routines adapted from the teachings of “kettlebell gurus” Mark Cheng and Steve Maxwell, he told Men’s Journal. He often spars with friends in the Octagon ring in his garage.

Rogan has said he prefers doing fewer repetitions more often versus going to failure, or pushing your muscles until they temporarily give out.

“I don’t believe in going to failure,” he said on his podcast. “What I think you’re best off doing is less repetitions but more often … And you’ll get stronger quicker.”

In addition to his workout regiment, Rogan is known for his unconventional diet and enthusiasm for cognitive-enhancing supplements and psychedelic drugs.

A post shared by Joe Rogan (@joerogan)

Rogan’s website describes him as a “psychedelic adventurer.”

Rogan starts his days with a Vitamix smoothie of kale, spinach, celery, ginger, garlic, apple, and coconut oil, he told Rolling Stone in 2015.

In January 2020, Rogan announced he would be starting a carnivore diet, eating nothing but meat and eggs for the month. Less than halfway through the month, he wrote on Instagram that he noticed a boost in his energy levels, but the diet also gave him severe diarrhea.

Rogan is a proponent of nootropic supplements, which are said to enhance cognitive function. But scientists say there’s “no strong evidence” they work as intended, per WebMD.

The podcaster is also a self-professed fan of DMT, an illegal hallucinogenic drug with effects similar to LSD and magic mushrooms. In his Rolling Stone interview, Rogan said his experiences with DMT were difficult to put into words.

“It’s a f–king billion roller coasters, plus aliens,” he told the magazine. “It is whatever it is. I don’t know what it is. A chemical gateway to another dimension? A portal of souls you can tap into? I don’t see any negative to it.”

Rogan also told Rolling Stone that he floats in a sensory deprivation tank in his basement a few times a week.

Rogan, who has said he’s not affiliated with any political party, endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders for president in January 2020.

Bernie Sanders

Rogan said earlier this year that he would probably vote for Bernie Sanders.

Preston Ehrler/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images


In a podcast episode with conservative New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss on January 21, Weiss asked Rogan who he planned to vote for in the presidential primary.

“I think I’ll probably vote for Bernie …” Rogan said. “He’s been insanely consistent his entire life. He’s basically been saying the same thing, been for the same thing his whole life. And that in and of itself is a very powerful structure to operate from.”

Sanders had previously been a guest on the Joe Rogan Experience in August 2019.

Rogan has also said on his podcast that he would rather vote for Donald Trump than Joe Biden because he believes Biden is struggling with dementia. He added that “it’s not an endorsement of Trump.”

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