In an early appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast, Joey Diaz, Cuban-American comedian and star of The Longest Yard, threw out a story shortly before the podcast wrapped up. Now ordinarily this is the point in a podcast where everyone’s winding down and a guest will try to plug some comedy shows or a TV show or a product, running down through the strict formalities of personal branding. But not Joey Diaz, no way.
Instead the man relates a 10 minute long story about an experience which scared him off prescription pills. He speaks casually about going to California, “looking for blow”, but being disappointed to find only 30 Valium pills which he proceeded to wash down one after the other with Jagermeister. This is followed up by buying cocaine “straight from Noriega’s stash” from a group of evangelical Christians, and a week spent trapped in a hotel room with a paralysed face and a whole bunch of cancelled gigs. The only accompaniment to this tour-de-force is Rogan’s raucous laughter. The story keeps you hooked right to the podcast’s last seconds, as Diaz says he has to go and the outro music comes on.
Joey Diaz is one of the comedians that Joe Rogan’s hugely popular podcast has launched into the stratosphere. His appearances are legendary and have gained him his own podcast, and a devoted cult following – of which I must admit I am a member. Even with modern podcasting being what it is, there simply is no other man who can spin a yarn like this old school New Jersey Cuban. Diaz’s greatest skill is in his ability to drop insane anecdotes into an already bizarre story as though he were talking about getting ice cream last week, or something similarly banal.
He’ll be relating a story about casing out drug dealer’s homes so he can rob them while they’re off skiing, and then he’ll just drop the statement “after I got out of prison for armed kidnapping…” like it’s nothing. In a world of storytelling podcasts so dense that even the most minor happenings can be pontificated on and stretched out into a half hour ad for Squarespace, the fact that this man seems to have multiple heist movies-worth of anecdotes is absolutely astounding. The plain matter-of-fact way he relates these tales of debauchery and criminal activity only aids their impact.
Diaz is not a man for half measures, or for balancing his judgements with delicate nuances and consideration of multiple viewpoints; Diaz is a man who hands down his verdicts with the intensity and absolute authority of an Old Testament God, one who lapses occasionally into outraged Espanol. He holds strong opinions on the complementary nature of blue cheese and wings and refuses to believe that any films made after the 1970s are worth a damn. Every time he erupts into a long tale of Santeria and Black Sabbath and grams of cocaine – usually starting in a hushing whisper and erupting into a series of angry shouts – it comes with a hard-assed undertone of “laying down the law”.
Podcast storytelling often seems dominated by the relatively affluent, liberal NPR perspective, which although often brilliant can seem cloyingly clean and over-articulate and in that sense Joey Diaz is a welcome breath of fresh air. Joey, in his foul mouthed, straight talking way, connects you with subjects like immigration, crime, drug use and rehabilitation in a way that Ira Glass’ nasal voice and dry wit are never likely to.
This is storytelling that hits you in the gut, both with laughter and insight. In a way, through highly successful appearances on TV shows and podcasts including his own, Joey’s storytelling is a kind of redemption in and of itself. When he regales you with tales of robbing drug dealers, selling cocaine to Whitney Houston and holding friends at gun point, you can sense that Joey has some honest regrets about his criminal days, and is thankful for having gotten his life on track.
These stories almost become a way to exorcise the demons of his past, purging the worst parts of himself by blowing them up into totally cartoonish proportions until they become more laughable and ridiculous than dangerous. His comedy and storytelling gives one a space in which to flirt with and understand criminality, but never to condone it, to offer a safe place in which to explore morality and crime by making it hilarious and trivialising the two-bit Goodfellas fantasies of small-time criminals and coke fiends.
Joey Diaz’s stories are an entertaining and enthralling antidote to the romance that still surrounds hard drug use – they are a recognition that even tragic depictions of drug use still tend to lapse into moribund “Confessions of an English Opium Eater” romance, and that the only solution is to present the drug abuse mindset in all its ridiculousness and vanity. What makes Joey Diaz podcasting’s most powerful storyteller is his ability to relay stories of dealing drugs out of a halfway house and invest it with a combination of hilarity and a peculiarly sincere moral authority that’s hits you in the face like a tire iron, and makes you turn out all the cash in your pockets.