CW: transphobic, homophobic, and racist language.
You may recall that Joe Rogan moved to Austin last summer, where he has since purchased a comedy club and declared his intention to create a comedy utopia in the city. You may also recall that The Creek and The Cave recently reopened in Austin after shutting down its New York City location early in the pandemic. Here's how all that’s going.
On May 24th, during one of Rogan's now-regular shows at The Creek, the podcaster delivered a set laden with homophobic and transphobic slurs while the cast of the next show, a popular Austin drag show called Sad Girls Only, was backstage.
“They were in the green room getting ready while able to hear his set, where he was actively using slurs like f—-t and tr––y," said Ky Krebs, an Austin comic who was told about the incident by one of the hosts of Sad Girls Only. Krebs' account was confirmed by a source working at the Creek that night, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation. The host told me she didn't want to comment on the incident beyond statements she’d already made online; her name is being withheld at her request to avoid the ire of Rogan's fans. Neither The Creek nor Rogan responded to my inquiries.
After the show, Rogan went to the green room, where Creek co-owner Rebecca Trent asked if the host wanted to take a picture with Rogan. According to Krebs, the host responded “Absolutely the fuck not,” and confronted Rogan over his set.
"Joe was saying ‘No, I want to have a real conversation,’ and was making these assertions that by using slurs like that in a comedy set, it ‘takes the sting out’ of them," Krebs said. In response, the host “laid into him and said, basically, if you haven't been the target of those words in the past, and those words haven't been used against you, or you haven't felt threatened by people who've used those words, it's not your job to worry about taking the sting out of them.”
The drag queen then spoke with Colton Dowling, an Austin comedian and one of The Creek’s co-owners, who expressed regret on behalf of the Creek. According to Krebs, she was not satisfied with Dowling's response. “[She] was like, 'You're obviously not making an actual or real effort to protect or be mindful of the performers that you're booking at your venue,’” he said. She decided that night to relocate future Sad Girls Only shows to another downtown Austin venue, Swan Dive, “and basically vowed to not do business” with The Creek again.
Rogan’s use of transphobic slurs at The Creek fits into a broader pattern of transphobic behavior. Last year he gave the author Abigail Shrier a (typically) uncritical platform to compare "transitioning among teenagers to historic adolescent phenomena such as eating disorders, self-harm, and… the occult," per Men's Health. “They have this agenda,” he said of LGBTQ+ activists, “and this agenda is very ideologically driven, that anyone who even thinks they might be trans should be trans, are trans, and the more trans people the better. The more kids that transition the better.”
While Rogan took flak for this episode from Spotify employees and the general public, he echoed these sentiments in a March 2021 episode with Jim Breuer, suggesting that people transition for clout. “People who were marginalized for being genuinely dumb people, if they transfer over and become another gender, then they get praised,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are idiots, but then they become trans, and now all of a sudden we think they’re amazing.”
In the days following the May 24th show, Krebs brought up the incident in a private Facebook group for Austin comedians. In contrast to his earlier apology to the host, Dowling stood by Rogan, writing: “when you sell as many tickets as Rogan does you have a lot of pull. We had almost 2M instances on our website. In about 4 hours. Yaaa well book him when he wants.”
Dowling appeared to argue that high-draw names like Rogan allow The Creek to provide a stage for lesser-known comics. “I'm happy to have an open stage that other creatives. (That sell very few tickets) a chance to perform,” he wrote (typos his). “When other clubs open back up I hope you remember who they booked. Or anny other club. Moontower has big jay. Paramount has big jay. You can take a high horse stance but I think it's one with little understanding.”
Dowling was referring to Big Jay Oakerson, member of the comedy group Legion of Skanks and friend of Dowling’s business partner, Rebecca Trent. Oakerson himself performed at The Creek the weekend after the May 24th incident, including at a Legion of Skanks recording on May 31st. That show’s guest was Tony Hinchcliffe, who made headlines in early May for calling Peng Dang, his opener in a show at Vulcan Gas Company, “a filthy fucking little c—k.” Hinchcliffe is one of several comics, including Tim Dillon, who followed Rogan from Los Angeles to Austin.
Early in the May 31st show, Luis Gomez joked to the audience that “the Nazi owners of The Creek aren’t allowing Tony Hinchcliffe to be on the show tonight.” As the crowd booed, Oakerson asked, “Do you think we should show them by doing whatever the fuck we want to do?” To cheers, Gomez added, “This is why Rebecca Trent is the most badass fucking comedy club owner.” Then Oakerson called up Hinchcliffe. “Tonight we get to bring you, everybody, the Chinese food hater, the legend, the First Amendment crusader… the chink in the armor, and the dent in the nip—I just had to get another one in there—everybody, how about you show your fucking love right now for Tony Hinchcliffe?”
The Creek had removed Hinchcliffe from several shows with Rogan in the immediate aftermath of the Vulcan Gas Company news cycle. On May 26th, Colton Dowling posted in the Austin comics’ Facebook group that “Tony isn’t allowed to perform at the creek for the foreseeable future." This ban did not last long: Social media posts show that Hinchcliffe was back at the Creek even before the Legion of Skanks recording, performing at a show there on May 30th.
Joe Rogan headlined at The Creek last night and will likely return soon. You can find Tony Hinchcliffe recording his podcast Kill Tony every Monday night at Vulcan Gas Company.
This post has been updated to remove the host of Sad Girls Only's name, at her request.
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Header image via Netflix.