It’s a normal hot day in Los Angeles somewhere east of the 405 freeway. It’s also the day after Labor Day, so talk show host Dave Rubin, like most Americans, is back at work.
For him, though, it was more than a long weekend. He’d been off the grid for 33 days straight, the whole of August and then some. No news, no phone, no nothing. So the first thing he says to me when I walk in the door is ‘Don’t tell me anything about current events! That’s part of the deal on the show today. The guest host is going to tell me what I’ve missed.’
Next, an assistant proffers an iPad and I sign a form with my index finger pledging that I will not, under any circumstances, divulge the whereabouts of Dave’s studio – which is also the home he shares with his husband and producer David Janet. Taking a seat on the sofa in the home/office’s den-slash-lobby, I note that the place is both well organized and well appointed. There are a lot of succulents and bromeliads, and some Star Wars memorabilia (‘I’m as big a Star Wars fan as you can be while still having a job and getting laid now and again,’ Dave once tweeted). The Seinfeld pilot script, signed by Larry David, sits on a shelf in a plexiglass box, clearly a prized possession.
In what used to be a garage is the commercial-grade set, arranged to resemble a living room. ‘We were looking at houses,’ Dave says, ‘and as soon as I saw the high ceilings in there [where stage lights could be installed] I knew this was the place.’
As we await the arrival of the special guest host, Dave and I chat while his stylist attends to his hair and makeup. I warm up by enquiring about his dog, whose elderliness he sometimes laments on Twitter. ‘Emma’s doing great. We’re giving her CBD.’ No THC? ‘Just the CBD.’ Dave has strong libertarian leanings and is open about his past use of soft drugs, so it’s not such a bizarre question. Besides, in California, I’m sure it’s completely normal to feed dogs pot palliatively.
Rubin isn’t originally from here, though. Until a few years ago, he was a lifelong New Yorker, who, after studying political science at SUNY Binghamton, spent more than a decade climbing the stand-up comedy ladder. Along the way he discovered his inner talk show host, and finally yielded to it as a full-time pursuit.
His show The Rubin Report bills itself as ‘the largest talk show about free speech and big ideas on YouTube.’ I’m no expert interpreter of YouTube stats but his sound impressive: nearly three billion minutes watched, and over one million subscribers. Also, he traveled the world as the MC on Jordan Peterson’s recent book tour, and Rubin’s own volume (Don’t Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason) is scheduled for release in April 2020. And on the day of my visit, he announced his new partnership with TheBlaze, Glenn Beck’s pay television network, as he doesn’t ‘buy the YouTube game anymore.’
On cue, the amiable guest host arrives with an entourage of half a dozen, and introduces himself around. ‘Hi, I’m Glenn,’ says Glenn Beck, extending his hand. Then, the dynamic duo — an apt designation given the abundance of comic books visible in Dave’s house — settle in to living room chairs in the garage.
The livestream kicks off. Beck plays a ‘while you were on vacation’ game with Dave, who’s been tuned out, remember, for over a month. Dave momentarily has trouble believing that Jeffrey Epstein died in custody and Trump tried to buy Greenland. It’s a terrific bit of TV, masterfully orchestrated by Beck.
Rubin explains how healthful and cleansing a month-long media holiday has been for him. ‘AOC did not cross my mind even once. Trump came up very seldom in conversations. A couple of times during the month an old song would pop into my head because my brain was actually able to get rid of some of my garbage.’
Rubin spent part of his hiatus on an island in the South Pacific: ‘I would watch people that were lying out on the beach, the ocean’s crashing in front of them, and they’re staring at their phones the entire time. Like, what are you doing? They legitimately seemed crazy. I started feeling like I was the last sane man.’
On air, he then reiterated something he’d told me earlier in the green room: ‘People in real life happen to be nice.’ They come up to him, he says, and thank him for helping them get a better handle on the world, which he takes as a profound compliment. ‘It’s real. It’s not like “I like the way you play basketball.” And at IKEA, no one tells me to go fuck myself, or whatever they’re telling me on Twitter.’
Indeed, online, snide comments about Rubin are easy to find. A common refrain is that he’s a lightweight, or a naïf: ‘[Watching Dave Rubin is] like watching a teenager find out about libertarianism.’ But his supporters are clear about what they value in him: ‘I like Dave Rubin a lot,’ posts a Reddit commenter. ‘I respect him. I feel he is intelligent and humble. I feel like he is genuinely trying to search for the truth and I enjoy being on that ride along with him, through his show and online presence. It’s fun.’
His assistant Helen, who says that Dave would rather be known as a conversationalist than as an ideologue, was hired in 2018. She feels like she’s gotten in on the ground floor with the operation. ‘I used to work for Hugh Hefner. I’d organize the movie nights at the Mansion, and so on.’ Naturally that brought her in contact with a lot of high-flyers, and she detects a burgeoning star quality in Dave.
After the show, I get to interview the interviewer a little more, back in the green room, as the makeup’s coming off.
Inevitably, given Rubin’s emphasis on free speech, we talk politics and the culture wars. Rubin describes SJW-ism as a ‘virus’ that will destroy any institution that lets it in the front door ‘because there’s no liberal principle that can stop it.’ He claims ‘the left has no guiding principles’, which he speculates arises ‘because they’ve disconnected from religion’. He says he’s aware how funny this sounds coming from him, an atheist.
And although he’s not happy about it, he believes institutions like The New York Times will collapse. ‘They’re too far down the rabbit hole.’ The evidence: doing lunatic things like running that story, on the day of the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, about women making the Apollo 11 mission possible.
Optimistically, he thinks most of the tricks the left has been playing are ‘smoke and mirrors’. The fix, he believes, is to shame them, to use comedy to make fun of them, and, especially, to somehow overcome the ‘bravery deficit’ and stand up to their nonsense more often. On the last point, he carefully cites that it was Bridget Phetasy (a Spectator columnist), not he, who coined the term.
Dave’s so incredibly nice that I feel a sudden urge to be confrontational. Yet, I also want to give him the last word. So I decide to hit him with: ‘One critic called you obsequious, how do you respond?’ and then I let him have the floor.
‘My feeling on that is that if you are respectful and decent, guests will open up. They’ll be more honest if they don’t have TO defend themselves. I invite people to my home to see what they think about things. I wouldn’t bring a Nazi here and I wouldn’t bring an Islamist here, but if you’ve got interesting ideas, I’m happy to talk to you. And every now and again maybe I’m going to talk to somebody that’s more nefarious…if someone thinks I’m too friendly, well…everyone else is in scorched-earth mode, and I’ve done something a little bit differently. It’s like when people say “You’re too much like Larry King.” Really? I’m too much like the greatest interviewer of all time? I welcome that criticism.’