If you can, please also help keep this newsletter going by upgrading your subscription here:
In an episode of his podcast released yesterday, Joe Rogan told Brendan Schaub that “a lot” of people in Dave Chappelle’s inner circle got Covid-19 last week. He also described another comedy show he performed at recently where “several people” caught the virus. The video is above; here’s a partial transcript:
ROGAN: Someone in Dave's circle, not related to the show, got Covid and was hanging around with Dave, got Dave sick, got three or four other people sick, Radio Rahim got sick, the photographer's son got sick, I don't know if the photographer got sick. A lot of guys got sick. [Louis] CK—
SCHAUB: Did Elon get it?
ROGAN: No. No. Elon already had it.
ROGAN: Elon had it in the past and a lot of people were saying that his girlfriend Grimes gave it to Dave. That’s not true.
ROGAN: It was another guy that gave it to Dave. His girlfriend Grimes had gotten over it already, long before, like several days before she got to the show.
SCHAUB: You, yeah, you, I don't know, maybe you have the blood type or maybe you’re just built differently. You're just, you’re not the guy who's gonna get Covid.
ROGAN: I don't know man. But—
SCHAUB: You woulda got it by now.
ROGAN: We'll see. I was at a show with several people that wound up getting Covid. Because I went to the show and I didn't expect that it was gonna be so Covid-y. Everybody was just [cross-talk]… Out here, people don’t give a fuck. They just go out—
SCHAUB: You should see Florida.
ROGAN: Yeah, oh, I know.
SCHAUB: Dude, I did a show for New Year’s Eve, I walked out and there’s, it was just everyone's together, and I come out, I’m like “Do you guys not get the news? Like, listen, I’m pretty loosey-goosey but this is ridiculous.” And I see a guy making out with two chicks in the front, I go, “Hey, hold on, stop. Do you know each other?” Like, “No.” I'm like, “What the fuck you doing, man?”
ROGAN: They're not worried about it.
SCHAUB: No, they don’t care, man.
This is important news. It confirms what’s been obvious but undocumented for a long time, that comedy shows have been responsible for Covid-19 outbreaks. So far we’ve only heard about individual comics testing positive: Chappelle, Brian Regan, Schaub, Bryan Callen, DL Hughley. These stories have never yielded the industrywide reckoning they warrant because they’ve been treated as isolated cases. Chappelle’s team didn’t disclose that other people in his inner circle got infected, and not one news outlet asked. Now we know he was just the tip of the iceberg. It’s only responsible to question whether the same is true of those other comics, especially the ones who went right back on the road after they recovered.
True, Rogan didn’t clarify whether Chappelle caught the virus from his friend at one of their shows, but he and his inner circle were in Austin for the shows, and any extracurricular socializing necessarily risks everyone at the shows themselves. Comics and audiences and club employees (and their households and workplaces) are all in one big bubble. The outbreaks described by Rogan occurred at two of thousands of shows that have been going on around the country since May, the vast majority of them without the (ostensibly) strict testing regimen Chappelle and Rogan implemented in Austin, many of them in regions with virtually no enforcement of social distancing measures. It beggars belief that Rogan is describing outliers.
Policymakers in New York and California are currently preparing to lift health restrictions over the coming months. This means comedy clubs in New York City and Los Angeles are sure to push for reopening under the logic that indoor comedy is no unsafer than indoor dining. (Some are likely to reopen under indoor dining guidelines anyway: in NYC, Stand Up NY already declared as much.) This line has always been an obvious fantasy that ignores the basic mechanics of a comedy show and the social tendencies of comedians. The people spouting it—people like New York State Senator Michael Gianaris—have done so in an information vacuum,. There’s no centralized contact tracing data tracking infections at comedy clubs, there are no news reports about non-famous comedians who get Covid, nor any about servers and bartenders and cooks. There are only isolated stories about celebrities and anecdotal evidence from comedians themselves. Still, those stories, combined with the research surrounding indoor dining, should be enough to give lawmakers serious pause when it comes to reopening comedy.
So should the attitudes some comedians have toward the virus. Here’s what Rogan and Schaub say immediately after the above:
ROGAN: Do you know about Quercetin and zinc, all those different medica—or, different nutrients?
ROGAN: For people that didn't listen to the Mark Gordon podcast, I'd recommend you listen to it because there’s actual peer-reviewed studies on Quercetin, which is something called an ionophore, which gets ions into the cells and then you take that with zinc, has a much higher absorption rate of zinc. According to Dr. Gordon it essentially like stops viruses dead in its tracks when you when you take this on a regular basis.
SCHAUB: Even Covid.
ROGAN: Yeah, and I'm just on, I have not wavered even a little on my vitamins.
SCHAUB: Me neither. I stay—I got Covid, right? I was the canary in the coal mine for comics.
ROGAN: You were there early.
SCHAUB: I was the first one.
ROGAN: It seems to me like kind of everybody’s gonna get it.
ROGAN: At this point in time.
SCHAUB: Be cool. Everybody’s gonna get it. Be cool.
ROGAN: The people, it’s like, when you get it they want to yell at you for being irresponsible and for killing my grandma.
It’s worth stating plainly what Rogan just told his millions of listeners: that if you take certain vitamins you will not get Covid-19. This is deadly misinformation, made even deadlier by his and Schaub’s insistence that the virus isn’t a big deal, everyone’s gonna get it, there’s no need to make a fuss. Later in the segment they blame the US’s high rate of Covid deaths on its obesity epidemic. Nary a thought is spared for their own responsibility to the fans they regularly invite to see them live.
It’s also worth stressing (for the hundredth time, forgive me) that comedians are not the only ones with this brand of reckless apathy. You may remember Marko Elgart, who in November reopened his Brooklyn club Eastville for indoor shows in violation of state guidelines. Here’s what he had to say in Vulture this week:
You look at the numbers, 80 percent of people who contract COVID have zero symptoms. Out of those who contract it, it’s a global 3 percent death rate. So that’s great odds. Now granted, obviously, if one of those 3 percent were my mother or my father…,” Elgart said. “I mean, it’s ruined a lot of people’s lives, those who were killed or permanently affected. But it’s also ruined a lot of people’s lives on the other side of the coin, like mine. The moral dilemma here — and that’s my problem with outrage, self-righteous culture — is you’re an asshole if [you reopen]. The question comes up: ‘Is it worth even one life to continue?’ And you’re the asshole if you say, ‘Well, yeah, I’m kind of willing to roll the dice at this point.’ Life is priceless, that’s a fact. I’m very cautious. But it’s one thing to go by caution, and it’s another thing to go by fear.
First off, Elgart is wrong on the science. That first figure is closer to 20%, and “global death rate” isn’t a meaningful metric for various reasons. More importantly, the sentiment is monstrous: 3% of the world population is 234 million deaths, an incomprehensible tragedy that Elgart handily converted into rhetorical fodder for reopening his comedy club. But there’s never been any moral dilemma here. Jokes aren’t worth lives. That it may be difficult to do the right thing is never justification to do the wrong one. Unfortunately the entire live comedy business has convinced itself of the opposite.
I keep telling myself that eventually one of these wakeup calls will finally actually register as a wakeup call. Maybe the next one.
Header image via YouTube/Joe Rogan.
Want to read more?
Subscribe to the newsletter