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encounter

Investigating Big Foot With Pot-Evangelizing Fear Factor Host Joe Rogan

Photo: Tom Bear

Joe Rogan arrives on the fourth floor of NYU’s anthropology department in Greenwich Village still clinging to the possibility that Bigfoot isn’t total bullshit. “I don’t believe,” Rogan says, “but I don’t not believe, you know? There’s enough weird people that have muddied the issue that it seems like fuckery, but then Jane Goodall says she’s absolutely convinced, and then when you go [to the Pacific Northwest] and there’s so much uncharted land up there, it’s impossible to see it all. And then Native Americans have 100 different names for this thing, and they’re uniform in their descriptions—it’s always a large, tall ape.”

Rogan, a former martial artist and current Ultimate Fighting Championship color guy, is a compact, muscular, hairless-pated hominid deeply attuned to his inner monkey. Having emerged from sitcom acting (Hardball, NewsRadio) and reality-TV hosting (seven seasons of Fear Factor), Rogan now hosts a twice-weekly three-hour talk show, The Joe Rogan Experience, where he frequently evangelizes about pot and psychedelics and the Altered States–style isolation tank he keeps in the basement of his home north of Los Angeles. This month on Syfy, he’s launching Joe Rogan Questions Everything, an unscripted X-Files in which he’ll alternately channel Mulder and Scully as he investigates topics ranging from black-helicopter crazy (chem trails) to actual, secret government-research programs (weaponized weather, remote viewing).

He’s in New York for a conference on transhumanism, and while here, he’s getting in an interview for the TV show with Todd Disotell, a fiftyish biological anthropologist with a Mohawk, an impressive collection of aged whiskey, and an office door crowded with stickers that say things like HONK! IF YOU UNDERSTAND PUNCTUATED EQUILIBRIUM. Disotell has become a go-to talking head for TV producers looking to inject some reality into the Bigfoot “debate.”

Rogan had told me earlier, “I’m trying to go into it with a completely open mind, talk to the believers, kooks, scientists.” A cynic could say that being open-minded about Bigfoot just means you haven’t taken fifteen minutes to read a Wikipedia page thoroughly debunking it. Rogan, 45, is a guy who knows what TV needs—suspense until the very end—but he also comes by his interests honestly. He has long read books and watched documentaries about “stupid shit … weird fringe topics … I have a deep curiosity for things that haven’t been solved yet.” He knows Disotell is going to provide the rigorous, scientific case against Bigfoot; still, Rogan clearly likes the idea of Bigfoot and seems to enjoy having a platform that allows him to get to the bottom of all the mysteries that tantalized him growing up, even if they turn out to be fuckery.

His producers had sent Disotell some alleged Bigfoot scat and hair samples, collected by Bigfoot hunters, to analyze in advance of today’s interview, and after comparing molecular-themed tattoos—­Disotell’s, on his upper back, illustrates the chemical structure of three of his favorite stimulants: alcohol, caffeine, and capsaicin; Rogan’s, on his left bicep, depicts DMT, a.k.a. dimethyltryptamine, part of the shamanic brew ayahuasca—Rogan proceeds to lay out the various arcane arguments in defense of Bigfoot, which Disotell then knocks down one by one. The Swiss wildlife photographer who claimed to have taken pictures of a previously unknown species of ape? Disotell’s a DNA man, not a photo appraiser. What about the uniformity of sightings? Like angels and alien abductions, “it’s a meme, literally.” What about Melba Ketchum—a Texas Bigfoot-ologist who reported that highly sophisticated analyses of a sample had isolated Bigfoot DNA? The non-peer-reviewed journal it was published in was registered with GoDaddy a week before the article was published, and “the way they analyze, interpret that data is … I want to be polite, I don’t want to say crazy, it’s … heterodox.”

“What is heterodox?” Rogan asks.

“It’s crazy,” Disotell says.

Ohhh,” Rogan moans to the camera. “Todd Disotell, Bigfoot party pooper, just trashed the whole Bigfoot party. So there’s zero evidence; all the evidence sucks; it’s all crazy and unscientific.” Rogan seems resigned, albeit crestfallen. Afterward, over a lunch of fish and chips at Murphy & ­Gonzalez across the street, Rogan acknowledges: “You can’t fuck with science. What he said was pretty irrefutable. There’s a lot of fuckery, lots of muddy thinking.” But then he says to Disotell: “You didn’t disprove Bigfoot, you just disproved the evidence.”

Having now interviewed a lot of Believers—not all of them total kooks—Rogan’s most persuasive finding has less to do with the mysteries of fringe phenomena than with the central role of whimsical longing in the human psyche. “All these people searching for mysteries … They’re all unfuckable white dudes. You don’t find a single black guy looking for Bigfoot. Zero,” he says. “A lot of these guys are in their forties,” Rogan continues, “and they openly talk about how this is part of their midlife crisis. One guy, Steve, a very, very nice guy, his take on it was, ‘Hey, man, even if there’s no Bigfoot, at least I’m out here camping, I’m enjoying myself, I’m having a good time.’ ”      

*This article originally appears in the July 22, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.

Photos: Tom Bear/© 2012 Tom Bear Photography; Tom Bear/© 2012 Tom Bear Photography