I am a new indoctrinate to the comedy of Joe Rogan. I have, of course, been familiar with him for some time, especially from his time on the ever-awesome sitcom Newsradio. I knew he was a stand-up comedian, but the closest I got to any of his act was seeing his evisceration of Carlos Mencia on YouYube. And for that, respect.
So, I approach his latest comedy special, Joe Rogan: Talking Monkeys in Space, with completely fresh ears. Can the Joe Rogan who made me laugh as an actor also make me laugh as a joke-telling philosopher?
Well, yes and no. While Rogan did get many guffaws out of me in Talking Monkeys, not all of his material hit the right note on my funnybone. Nor was it all designed to elicit giggles. Rogan is less of a set-up/punchline/laugh-type comic and more of a freight-training, free-wheeling...well, I don't want to say bullshitter, but along those lines. The comedy stage is Rogan's forum to get out his ideas, and most of the routines in Talking Monkeys in Space are rants and monologues, ranging from topics as silly as Dr. Phil and the TV commentator's view of male self-abuse to stuff as heavy as evolution, religion, and the capacity of the human brain for growth and change. Many of Rogan's vehicles of thought are fueled by marijuana, and it is a favorite topic of his. Like many a smoker, he is passionate about the drug's effects and uses and the regulation of it (and a lot of what he says makes sense). But as the comedian goes on, he also talks about changing technology and interpersonal interaction, and he reveals that his approach to life is one where he takes all comers, absorbing as much as possible, formatting it, and spitting it back out. His opinions and his style will not be to everyone's tastes, but I was pretty entertained for the 40 minutes or so that made up his main set.
Then the show takes a nosedive in its final 25 minutes as Rogan opens the floor up to his audience to ask questions. Though there is still comedy to be had, especially as some of his fans try a little too hard to impress their hero and fall on their vocabulary-challenged faces, most of the material ends up being about pot and/or Ultimate Fighting (Rogan is a commentator for the UFC). As neither a smoker nor a fight watcher, this got a little "inside baseball" for me, and I started to get fidgety. Given that the program is a scant 68 minutes long, I shouldn't be checking out when I'm only 2/3 in. That's not a lot of bang for the buck.
Still, based on the strengths of Joe Rogan: Talking Monkeys in Space, I'd watch another of his stand-up specials. I know there is an older DVD (Joe Rogan Live), and I am sure Rogan will have more specials in his future; I'd just rather it were all him and not so much his audience.
Neither the anamorphic widescreen image nor the 2.0 soundtrack are anything to crow about, either to complain or praise. It's a solid presentation, about as good as it needs to be, and probably looks stronger than it did on television. This is the uncensored version, so full of swears and no bleeping, and since the DVD box boasts that there is 25 minutes of unseen footage, I'm guessing that Comedy Central viewers were originally spared the Q&A.
Two featurettes, both in the 8 to 9-minute range, add a few more laughs and give us a glimpse of Joe Rogan's personality. "Talking Monkeys in Columbus" takes us off the stage to witness what Rogan does with his entourage when not performing, whereas "Behind the Scenes" shows some of the work that goes into visiting a city like Columbus, Ohio, and putting on a comedy show.
Joe Rogan: Talking Monkeys in Space is a solid stand-up effort that has an excellent main set but that over-packs the program with a far less amusing question-and-answer period with Rogan's audience, which mainly wants to talk about UFC and smoking dope. This is a comedown after Rogan's rapid-fire runthrough on his philosophy and perspective on life, which though not necessarily a laugh riot, is otherwise always interesting. A mixed-bag, but worth a Rent It.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.