Spotify Had Already Removed Joe Rogan Episode That Gave Proud Boys a Boost

From the very beginning of its partnership with Joe Rogan, Spotify flagged and removed several episodes with controversial figures like Gavin McInnes and Milo Yiannopoulous.
At the time of their $100 million deal,  Spotify declined to put several episodes of Joe Rogan's (R) ​podcast on their service.
At the time of their $100 million deal,  Spotify declined to put several episodes of Joe Rogan's (R) podcast on their service. Images by Getty. 

When Joe Rogan came to Spotify in May 2020 as the result of a $100 million deal, there were some notable gaps in his archive of about 1,700 podcast episodes. 

At that point, Rogan had long faced criticism for routinely exposing his millions-strong audience to his flirtatious conversations with right-wing firebrands. This was something that Spotify was evidently aware of too. Missing from his back catalog were episodes featuring the likes of anti-feminist activist Carl Benjamin, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulous—and Proud Boy founder Gavin McInnes. 


When McInnes went on Rogan’s podcast in February 2017, few had heard of the burgeoning, black-and-gold-clad street-fighting gang he’d formed only eight months earlier. “I started this gang called the Proud Boys,” McInnes told Rogan—and his millions of listeners. 

(Disclosure: Gavin McInnes was a co-founder of VICE in the mid-1990s. He left the company in 2008 and has had no involvement since then. He founded the Proud Boys in 2016.)  

Rogan—and Spotify—now find themselves under intense scrutiny, after the controversial podcaster was lambasted by medical professionals for, they said, platforming and enabling harmful anti-vax misinformation and conspiracy theories. 

Amid the outcry over Rogan’s promotion of anti-vax misinformation, legendary folk-rock musician Neil Young cut ties with Spotify altogether. Joni Mitchell followed, along with Young’s bandmates David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash. 

The fact that Spotify had, seemingly, already combed through The Joe Rogan Experience back catalog, which goes back to 2009, to weed out undesirable content years earlier has raised questions about what they were willing to overlook in order to seal the deal with Rogan. The podcaster touts himself as a free thinker, but his critics say that comes with little regard for public safety or potential harm caused by regularly granting dangerous ideas or personalities a long leash and a massive audience on his show. 


This week, musician India.Arie announced she was leaving Spotify, and reshared a compilation of videos originally assembled by a far-right watchdog “Patriot Takes” that showed Rogan repeatedly dropping the N-word while on air. 

In a letter to employees obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek condemned Rogan’s use of the N-word, and assured staff that Rogan had decided to remove multiple past episodes from Spotify. Ek added that although he recognizes Rogan’s words were harmful, he doesn’t believe that “silencing Joe is the answer.” (Rogan apologized, saying that the video “looks horrible, even to me.”) 

Spotify is now revisiting Rogan’s back catalog and pulling dozens of other episodes, including ones that feature prominent comedians, journalists, and other celebrities, such as Amy Schumer, Dan Savage, and Marc Maron. 

Among them is an episode featuring VICE co-founder Shane Smith from 2013. Later episodes featuring Smith remain on Spotify. 

Spotify has remained mum on the reasons it is pulling these episodes. 

The 2017 episode with McInnes, which never made it onto Spotify to begin with, served as a good reminder of how many commentators saw the Joe Rogan Experience as a tremendous opportunity. McInnes, on his own show, The Gavin McInnes Show, bragged about how his first appearance on Joe Rogan in 2015 boosted his profile. “You wouldn’t believe how much that one podcast changed my life,” said McInnes, in a clip surfaced by freelance journalist and far-right researcher Juliet Jeske. 


Before the 2017 episode, Rogan introduced McInnes as an “outrage peddler”, “a libertarian”, and a “smart and fun guy to hang out and talk to.” “He gets lumped in with that whole alt-right group, he has some interesting beliefs, some of which I agree with, some of which I don’t, but I think he’s an entertaining guy,” Rogan said. 

The two men covered—and laughed about—an array of sensitive topics in their two-hour conversation, including rape, abortion, and political violence. 

“You’re talking about the North versus the South. You’re talking about, you know, Protestants versus Catholics. You create this horrific environment where it’s almost impossible to avoid violence,” said Rogan, talking about growing polarization in the U.S.

“Well,” said McInnes. “So I’m done avoiding it. I’m taking the low road. I’m punching them in the face.” 

“So that’s what you’re doing with this outfit,” Rogan said, in reference to the Proud Boys. 

“Yes, that is really what I’m doing with this outfit,” said McInnes. 

McInnes also used his appearance on Rogan’s show to unveil the Proud Boys’ “degree” system, which they use to this day. 

“First degree, you declare yourself a Proud Boy. Second degree, we beat the shit out of you until you can name five breakfast cereals and you have to give up masturbating,” said McInnes. “Third degree, you still have to give up masturbating, but you have to get a tattoo. And then fourth degree, you get arrested or in a serious, violent fight for the cause.” 


“Really? So you’re promoting violence?” Rogan replied. “You should erase that part.” 

“Well, we don’t encourage it,” McInnes said. He went on to describe how members of his group had also scuffled with leftist counterprotesters in Berkeley ahead of a speaking appearance by alt-right commentator Yiannopoulos. “My guys, just 14 of them, walked into a mob of 200 people,” said McInnes. 

“Just to get their stripes?” asked Rogan. 

“No, they were doing it for fun,” said McInnes. 

He also referenced a brawl in New York City, when McInnes was due to speak at NYU at the invitation of College Republicans and got pepper-sprayed. “At the NYU thing, my guys were beating [counterprotesters] up,” said McInnes. 

The word “rape” is mentioned nearly 20 times in the episode. Rogan assures listeners that “this is in no way condoning rape or any form of sexual assault,” but, “that said, there are women who undeniably have rape fantasies.” The two men wonder if there were instances where they should have forced themselves on dates because that’s what they really wanted. “We’ve all had women where they’re like, ‘no,  no, no’ and then you stop, and then you find out the next day, like, ‘no, no, you were supposed to,” McInnes said, crediting the statement as a “Louis CK bit.” (They framed this back and forth as a conversation about sexual roleplaying.) 


McInnes says at one point that every time he speaks “to a Black guy about their first sexual experience, my hair is whitened.” “Why?” asks Rogan. 

“It's always like, Yeah, I fucked my cousin when I was 12,” McInnes said, as Rogan laughs. McInnes then goes on to describe an interaction with a comedian whom he described being “dark as a piece of coal.” 

They also talk about abortion, which again leads them back to the subject of rape: Rogan says he’s in favor of abortion for cases where women are raped. McInnes, who describes himself as “pro-life,” tells Rogan he “won’t play that game.”

“They’re talking exceptions, but I’m sick of freak exceptions defining policy,” said McInnes. “With abortion, I just want to get it away from 17 weeks… I want to get the whole argument down to eight weeks. Eight. That's my goal.” 

In later episodes, Rogan reflects on McInnes and the Proud Boys on his show, according to clips compiled by Jeske. In a 2019 conversation with comedian Annie Lederman, Rogan talks about how he was under fire for having him on and boosting their profile. 

“I had Gavin on before, before I even knew about the Proud Boys,” said Rogan, “I was critical, I was criticizing him. You can’t just claim you’re going to have violence with people; that’s so dumb. And then the Proud Boys shit with violence came after that, and people are blaming me for having him on.”

Lederman suggested it was unfair for Rogan to take a hit for platforming McInnes because it was important to understand different points of view. 

But Rogan disagreed. “A lot of these people do go on shows and try to reinvent themselves in disingenuous ways, and try to whitewash their past,” said Rogan. “The idea is you’re helping them recruit people.”