First the majority: the comedy cognoscenti aware of his outspoken reputation and keen to get a rare glimpse of this much-vaunted firebrand in the flesh. Secondly, a surprisingly large contingent of fans of Ultimate Fighting Championship, for which he provides commentary, unable to contain their excitement that he showed up with a cage fighter in tow and keen to yell out obscure references whenever the opportunity arose. Thirdly, a hell of a lot of morons hell-bent on continuing their own inane, yet high-volume, conversations, with the comedy providing only background noise – something to tune into only occasionally before returning to such crucial matters such as United’s recent league performance. This third, ignorant, group didn’t quite win the night, but it was close-run thing for a while.
Crammed into the firetrap venue, these various factions made for a strange atmosphere – a mixture of charged rowdiness, deference and indifference. But then, you get the idea that wherever he goes, Rogan is at the centre of something chaotic.
He’s certainly the type to attract an overzealous fan-base. Like his friend Doug Stanhope, he adopts an uncompromising attitude to comedy, preaching his accept-no-bullshit gospel then fostering the image of a rock-and-roll outsider with more than a little help from his devoted followers, often via the internet. Stances such as his recent principled campaign to name and shame joke thieves only help his credibility, if not his career.
His worldview is what you’d expect from an outlaw comic, with special scorn reserved for those with narrow minds who believe what they are told, whether it be by a priest or a Viagra salesman. The stance is familiar; If You Like Hicks or Kinison, you’ll like Joe Rogan. He may not be a legend like they are, or like Stanhope has the potential to be, but he is damn good.
It’s the performance that clinches it. Not only does he talk with conviction and passion, but he has a delivery like a chemistry experiment, always bubbling away, sometimes under control, sometimes violently, with the exhilarating chance of a dangerous explosion ever-present. He releases this energy in sharp, controlled bursts of angry characterisation, the build-up of emotion and argument packing power to the punchline.
It’s not all big-issue stuff, mind. Dumb movies – especially Brokeback Mountain, which he found hilarious – are equally likely to come into his sights. But whatever the topic, you can be sure he has a theory about it, which always adds depth to his rants. That, and the attitude he had in spades.
Tonight, that only deserted him when it came to the disruptive elements of the room, which he allowed to get the better of him rather too much. The gig eventually wobbled to the extent he was ultimately reduced to taking suggestions from the audience – which lead to those anoraky UFC digressions – rather than sticking strictly to the script of his Shiny Happy Jihad show. But the man does know how to turn the room around – it involves impersonating a celebrity being violated – so he got to close on the ovation he deserved. Let’s hope we see more of this fiercely funny comic on these shores.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Manchester, April 2007