Belle Delphine

Two sides of the weird frontier

The archly neutral now stands on the margins, looking out at a society of fear and outrage

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This article is taken from the May 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

The Joe Rogan Experience is back on YouTube, which is great news for those of us who have been too stubborn to sign up to Spotify. (Presumably, it is less than great news for Spotify. Their relinquishing of exclusivity suggests that the audience of the biggest podcast in the world had narrowed on their jealous watch.)

A good podcast can be like an old friend. They do a lot of things that piss you off. Joe Rogan, for example, can be maddeningly arrogant. His comedian pals are often far less funny than he thinks they are. His disdain for the rat race never seems to factor in that most people can’t be super-rich podcasters.


Yet like an old friend, we love the podcast anyway: the curiosity that has inspired more than 2,000 wildly different episodes, the laid-back and impromptu vibe, and the anarchic sense of humour. Its virtues are rich enough that its vices are just part of the experience. No one has managed to equal Rogan when it comes to the interviewing format.

Louis Theroux was made for the genre. He’s been interviewing everyone from the Ku Klux Klan to Judi Dench since the mid-1990s, with his faux-naive style attracting outrageous and insightful answers. His podcast, The Louis Theroux Podcast — its bland title epitomises the disarming openness of his approach — has been going since 2023.

There’s a lot to like about it. Theroux is curious enough to speak to everyone from the brooding Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave to the bizarre online pornographer Belle Delphine, and his casual and empathetic nature puts everyone at ease.

He also has a nice line in self-deprecating humour. His impersonation of himself, in an episode with the comedian and podcaster Adam Buxton, cracked me up (“My time with Adam Buxton was coming to an end … ”).

Theroux is a real pro. For all that he can seem — and wants to seem — like a babe in the woods, he does his homework on his guests. One of the charms of The Joe Rogan Experience is that the whole thing is so spontaneous that it can stumble into ludicrous directions. Theroux, on the other hand, knows the questions people want him to ask.


I’m a Nick Cave fan, so I loved his appearance on the podcast. You don’t want to hear a man like Nick Cave ramble on for hours. It would be like seeing Bigfoot pick his fleas. All the mystique would be gone.

Theroux asks about the important things — The Birthday Party, Kylie Minogue, God — yet at enough of an angle that he can inspire an organic response. He has prepared, but he wears his preparation lightly. Cave’s thoughts on his reputation, on his beliefs and on “cohabiting a world of grievers” since the deaths of two of his sons are insightful and moving.

The interview with Belle Delphine is grimly interesting, too. Once a guide to marginal subcultures, Theroux has little understanding of the Internet — but the social media sensation and porn star has ruthless expertise, chattily explaining the mechanics of online virality and monetisation: “Once you gain their attention, it’s all about retention.” Sexy stuff. Her comparison of her business model to that of hypermasculine offence machine Andrew Tate is very sharp — even if it does not cast a flattering light on anyone involved.

Still, it was Theroux’s interview with his old friend Buxton that got me thinking. The two men are very similar: mild-mannered middle-aged Englishmen with eclectic interests. At one point their voices almost seemed to blur into each other as if I were listening to Ladam Buxroux chattering to himself about edgy humour and the implications of the term “woke”.

The two men wandered consciously yet anxiously around the arguments of the “culture wars” — unwilling to commit to any stance, which is fair enough, but also with the naive sense that the “culture wars” were another eccentric subcultural phenomenon and not a border-crashing ideological beast.

Louis Theroux with comedian and podcaster Adam Buxton

Once, Theroux’s reports on hardcore pornographers and bile-spitting fundamentalists were postcards sent back to the secure cultural mainstream. Now, what isn’t weird? Not in terms of lifestyles — if anything, our lives have become more staid and passive. But our sense of values, identity and our standing in relation to others has been sufficiently disrupted that “weirdness” has seeped throughout Western society.

There was a time when Theroux seemed to represent the baffled everyman exploring the margins of society. Now, his archly neutral state puts him on the margins, looking out at a society where fear and outrage seem to be the norm.

For all of his flaws, Joe Rogan is a great interviewer for the modern world because he sees himself as being part of the weirdness. Yes, he can be too credulous (it is a common flaw of people who reject the lies and errors of the mainstream to embrace the lies and errors of alternative media).

But he is under no illusions about the fracturing of cultural consensus. Theroux, for all his gifts, feels like a man who dreams of the early noughties, when your holiday amongst the weird could end with a return to the realms of the sane.

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