Anyone considering a visit to Cobb’s Comedy Club this weekend should know that any resemblance between the firmly in-control host of NBC’s gross-out reality series, “Fear Factor,” and the riotously opinionated rabble-rouser they see on stage is purely coincidental.
For the past six years, Joe Rogan has become known far and wide as the guy whose job it is to encourage contestants to “stuff more animal p—— in their mouth” — his description — and cheer along as attractive women in bikinis do weird things while hanging from helicopters or being dragged through manure by tractors. Between 1995 and 1999, the scrappy Newark, N.J.-born, Boston-raised Rogan played electrician Joe Garelli (“a very dumbed-down, censored version of me,” he suggests) on the NBC sitcom “NewsRadio.”
Those, however, were gigs Rogan took to “pay the bills and the mortgage.” For most of his 39 years on Earth, his primary pursuits have been standup comedy and martial arts, in-your-face disciplines in which Rogan has become extremely proficient.
Before taking the stage of the Comedy Store — a veritable shrine to the stand-up art, located in the heart of the Sunset Strip — Rogan recalled how these seemingly disparate passions would merge to create the foundation for an unexpectedly diverse career.
“When I was 13, my parents took me to see ‘Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip,’” Rogan said, mindful he soon would be standing on the same boards that Pryor had trod. “Here was this guy, on stage, just talking. But people all around me were rolling on the floor, laughing hysterically.
“He was making people laugh at his opinions, and it had a powerful impact on me. I’m not doing this for ego-gratification … I want to make people feel something … to change.”
Rogan, a self-described “bad kid,” found in full-contact tae kwon do a means to control his anger and re-channel his abundant energy into something creative and productive. After earning his black belt, Rogan became Massachusetts lightweight champion for four consecutive years, and, at 19, won the U.S. Open Tae Kwon Do Championship, going up against bigger and heavier fighters in other divisions.
At the encouragement of his teammates, Rogan took his locker-room comedy routines before paying customers during open-mike nights at local Boston nightclubs.
Fortuitously, Rogan was given the opportunity to shape a new routine in a Boston club on the same night as New York entertainment manager Jeff Sussman dropped in to check out local talent. Before long, Rogan found exposure on “The MTV Half Hour Comedy Hour” and the short-lived sitcom “Hardball.”
If all one knows about Rogan derives from seeing him on “NewsRadio” or “Fear Factor” — whose fate has yet to be determined by NBC — his aggressively delivered material might come as something as a shock. Some clubs have even taken the liberty of warning fans that it’s strictly intended for adult audiences, as if eating grubs and bathing in raw sewage somehow is kids’ stuff.
The influence of Pryor and Lenny Bruce on Rogan is apparent in the more topical aspects of his act. Unlike almost every other comedian on the Comedy Store stage last weekend, Rogan didn’t rely on sex, race and trash-talking to elicit laughs from the audience, although he didn’t completely ignore the naughty bits.
Rogan gave free rein to his feelings about political and moral hypocrisy, marijuana and other mind-expanding drugs, mankind’s place in the greater universe and society’s obsession with fame and celebrity.
As for “Fear Factor,” Rogan admitted that he never thought the gig would last as long as it has.
“I was fully prepared for it to be forced off the network after the first week,” said Rogan, who also is a regular announcer on the “Ultimate Fighting Championship” series. “Every morning, I’d look at the script and wonder, ‘They’re going to do this?’ Sometimes, the only way to make it through was to get stoned.”
But, he added, “That’s how people got to know to me. Now, I really want to show them what I do best.”