Thursday, July 26, 2018

Joe Rogan and Joey Diaz call “Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris” – a rough transcription of their conversation

Two months ago I posted to 3 Quarks Daily about Joe Rogan’s podcast. I included three video clips, one of them a discussion about a scene from Way of the Dragon, a classic Hong Kong martial arts film from 1972. I chose that clip because it seemed to me at the time – I’d been watching The Joe Rogan Experience for two or three weeks – that it was dead center in Rogan’s universe of discourse. I’ve watched a lot more Joe Rogan since then and that clip still seems to exemplify his interests and his appeal.

So, it’s time to take another look at that clip. It’s from a podcast that originally aired on March 18, 2015. Joey “Coco” Diaz was his guest, along with Brian Redban, who’d been involved in the podcasts from the beginning. Diaz is a comedian who was born in Cuba and emigrated to the United States as a child. He’s a friend of Rogan’s and a frequent guest on the podcast. Jamie Vernon is behind the scenes mixing the audio, operating the cameras, and bringing up video clips for viewing.

The purpose of this post is simply to present a rough transcription of the conversation. I may, I really ought to, do another post where I comment on the conversation in some detail. But not right now. I just want to get it up there.

Reality maintenance

Why this clip? Because it is explicitly about reality maintenance, if you will. Reality maintenance is a routine feature of conversation. There are languages, for example, where one must inflect verbs to indicate how one knows the information being asserted. Did you see it yourself or did someone tell you about it? Is it something you have inferred or even something that happened in a dream? English is not such a language, but that kind of information is easily supplied. My point is simply that this kind of reality maintenance is all but automatic to conversation.

What’s transpiring in this Joe Rogan clip, and through out his podcasts, is more explicit. Quite often the point of a conversation is to work out, affirm, and share (a sense of) what is real, what’s really real. In this clip that is most obvious in those sections where Rogan is commenting on fighting technique or when Rogan or Diaz is commenting on some aspect of film technique. What happened, how, what’s important, why?

Fight technique is a major concern of Rogan’s. He is a martial arts practitioner and he has a continuing gig as commentator on UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) bouts. Real fights are one thing, something is at stake for the fighters, a competitive win, physical well-being, or even life itself. Fights in movies are quite different. Nothing’s at stake for the actors. And what’s at stake for the characters is being presented to an audience: what’s at state for them? Movie fights are often not physically realistic, presenting actions that wouldn’t or even couldn’t happen in a situation with real stakes for the fighters. How realistic is the fighting in this scene between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris?

But there’s more at stake. After all, this is a fictional fight in which one man dies. Though the fight is a private one, there are no spectators, there are aspects to it that bespeak of ritual. Both Rogan and Diaz comment on that. This is about values, about ethics.

They also comment on film technique. The fight takes place in Rome in the remains of the Coliseum. That is, in the story being depicted in Way of the Dragon, that’s where the fight takes place. But that’s not actually where Lee and Norris were when they staged the fight. How can we detect that in the film? Moreover, Diaz calls our attention to the camera work at various points. He also remarks about the cats that show up as a motif in the scene. Feral cats live in the coliseum, and so their presence in the scene is an index that, yes, this IS (supposed to be) the Roman Coliseum. But the cats also punctuate the scene in an interesting way, providing a contrasting thematic resonance. Neither Diaz nor Rogan offer any analysis of this, but they’re clearly aware that it’s going on.

And then we have comments about the importance of this particular film, both in the history of martial arts film, but also, in Diaz’s case, its importance to children watching it, immigrant children in particular. What of Bruce Lee? Rogan and Diaz acknowledge and affirm his importance as a figure in the martial arts and in martial arts cinema and they make specific comments about what he does in the fight, Norris too.

Over the course of his podcasts Rogan is weaving a sense of the world; he is enacting the process of constructing a shared reality. That’s most obvious from his interest in conspiracy theories and psychedelic drugs, but it’s there in other discussions as well. Why else would he provide a list of books mentioned in the podcast, a list of his favorites, his recommendations, how to read more books, and why?

Conversational interaction

I’m just as interested in how the conversation unfolds. There are stretches where one person has the floor for 10, 20, seconds or more, there are other stretches where turns change in short phrases of a word or three, and still other sections where two or three voices overlap. How does that work?

We have a mixture of different modes of discourse. There’s a lot of referential language – about the film, the martial arts, whatever. But there are frequent interjections as the film gets exciting. Just as often Rogan or Diaz will use short phrases or even single words to direct one another’s (and our) attention to what is happening in the film. Various modes–referential, exclamation, attention-setting, will intermix within a two or three second interval. There are also segments where two or even three people will overlap very rapidly, without allowing for proper turn changes, or even talk simultaneously. And there are one or two places where Rogan will ask Jamie Vernon to stop the clip, or even replay a segment.

Except for a few relatively short segments where there audio is muddled, the conversation is easy to follow. And, in a measure, THAT’s the point of this exercise. We, us humans, do this kind of thing all the time. It’s natural for us. But remove yourself from the conversational forum and observe it as an outsider trying to figure out what these creatures are doing, then it becomes bewildering.

Transcription is a first step in figuring out what we do and how we do it.

Two observations

Keep in mind the Rogan is a professional sports commentator. He does color commentary for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). That requires him to comment on the fight, in real time, while continuing to pay attention to the fight. That is a very sophisticated skill.

The world doesn’t present itself to us in discrete events. It’s a continuous flow; the flow of fights changes rapidly. The commentator has to divide the flow into discrete segments, attach bits of language to those statements, and assemble those bits into intelligible discourse.

Rogan is good at this. And yet there’s one place in the discussion near the end where the flow is so obscure that he asks Vernon to replay a bit of the film, several times.

Second, at various places in the conversation Diaz will address himself to Joe Rogan, or to a character he calls “dawg”, or to “guys”. If he were in private conversation with Rogan, would he address Rogan directly in that way? I don’t know, but I think it less likely. While the physical setting is that of a private conversation between three men, the conversation is being broadcast to the world – a fourth person behind the scenes is attending to the technical details of that.

When Diaz addresses himself specifically to Rogan, he distinguishes him from all those (potentially millions of) others. Just why he would do so is not clear to me. It may be to emphasize the importance of what he’s saying. Rogan is top dog in the room and so it is particularly important that he understand and assent. That is to say, he may be talking directly to Rogan but his use of Rogan's name is a signal directed at the larger audience.

By way of contrast, Diaz’s use of “dawg” is different. I don’t know whether or not he’s looking directly at Rogan when he does that, or, for that matter, at Redban or even Vernon, but “dawg” could mean anyone. Dawg is everyman. As such it asserts an affinity between Diaz and the rest of us.

Here’s an exercise for the reader: What’s the difference between “dawg” and “guys”? Yes, “dawg” is singular and “guys” is plural (collective?). And? For bonus points, assess the loudness of Diaz’s voice when he uses these three terms.

What I’ve done

Transcription is not easy. Speech is a richer medium than print. You simply can’t get it all on the page, the precise timing, the pronunciation, the disfluencies, the intonation, the volume, most of that has to be passed over. Nor do I indicate moments of laughter, which are fairly frequent in this conversation. Linguists who are deeply interested in speech will use sonograms and the international phonetic alphabet (IPA) in addition to transcription. I’m not a linguist and I don’t know the IPA. And that level of detail probably isn’t necessary for what interests me – except perhaps here and here. There’s always here and there, isn’t there?

I do what I can.

You’ll notice that the transcription is not neatly paragraphed. There are a lot of short lines. The right-hand margin is very ragged. I picked that up from Mark Liberman, a phoneticist who blogs at Language Log. He often transcribes a bit of speech and that’s how he does it – for example, see The rhetorical style of spontaneous speech, Language Log (April 12, 2016). Actually, what I do isn’t quite what he does. One point of difference is that he doesn’t use any capitalization or punctuation, while I do. As he notes, those are artifacts of writing; they don’t exist in speech.

Beyond that, there are a few places where I will have long continuous stretches where I suspect – though I don’t really know – that Liberman would break things up. That happens when one speaker has the floor and is directing his attention to one uninterrupted topic.

One last thing. Here and there I’ve inserted a dash ( – ), sometimes within a line, sometimes at the end of a line. That indicates a noticeable pause, sometimes even a second or more. Alas, I’m not consistent with this.

So many details. So many.

Note: Here and there I’ve inserted a comment between square brackets. A number of those are simply approximate timings.

If you want to compare the transcription to the conversation itself – you really should, otherwise, how would you know what they're talking about? – you can open the conversation in a different browser window. Here’s the link:

Rogan, Diaz, and Redban have a chat

JOE ROGAN: Do you remember Chuck Norris vs. Bruce Lee?

JOEY DIAZ: Yeah, let’s watch that real quick, that’s sensational.

ROGAN: See if you can find “Chuck Norris vs. Bruce Lee”.

DIAZ: That came on HBO and my head almost blew up. I made my mother get me HBO when the Groove Tube came on because the chicks ran through the jungle with tits. The Groove Tube is cousins with Kentucky Fried Movie.

ROGAN: What is it?
I’ve never even heard of it.

BRIAN REDBAN: Kentucky Fried Movie?

ROGAN: No, the Groove Tube...

DIAZ: The Groove Tube is

ROGAN: The Groove Tube

DIAZ: The Groove Tube is Saturday Night Live before Saturday Night Live. They made two movies called “The Groove Tube” and “Kentucky Fried Chicken”

ROGAN: “Kentucky Fried Movie”.

DIAZ: ... “Kentucky Fried Movie”.

ROGAN: I saw “Kentucky Fried Movie”.
Oh, shit, look at this.

DIAZ: Look at this. This is the game, though. That’s the game.

ROGAN: God damn. Look. Chuck Norris takin’ off his black belt. Look how young he is. –
Bruce Lee.
This is a gay porn.
Look how slowly they’re unrobing.

DIAZ: No, this is the game.

ROGAN: Look at Charles Nor Chuck Norris’s chest.
[different voice] Charles Norris [back to normal voice]
Look at his chest.
It’s all hairy and shit. Before dudes figured out shaving your chest.

[c. 1:01]

REDBAN: When you see this and then you don’t like wrestling.
What do you think the big difference is, like you know

ROGAN: This is a movie mother-fucker. You’re not gonna’ see a play.

DIAZ: This was huge.
Brian, this was

ROGAN: Look how ripped Bruce Lee was

DIAZ: Brian, this was something that you cannot imagine.
This was,
every nerd had a hero,
every immigrant had a hero,
everybody had a hero.
Look at the kitten!
Look at the fuckin’ kitten!
Everybody had
That place has a million cats on there the Roman Coliseum though.

[c. 1:30]

ROGAN: Dude look at what he’s doing warming up.
They’re both warming up.
They’re doing kata to warm up for their fight.
They’re not even looking at each other.
This is the craziest fuckin’ scene ever.

DIAZ: This is tremendous is fuckin’ tremendous shit, man

ROGAN: Look at it ‘is.

DIAZ: America has to put these four movies on and realize why,
stop the,
Bruce Lee changed my life.
You only saw one fuckin’ movie.
You gotta see all four.
Forget the “The Game of Death” with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
that’s a horror show.
Just watch this one.
Look at this.
[cat meows on video clip]
That’s what he does.
When he meows, that’s when the fight starts.
Look at him, dawg, he had like 6% body fat at this time.
This guy wasn’t gonna die, Joe Rogan.
People like this don’t die; don’t fuckin’ insult me.
He didn’t die. They killed this poor little kid.

ROGAN: This is really fascinating. I’ve never seen a movie that I recall where two guys warmed up like this before a fight. But that’s fascinating how they don’t just even look at each other. They move away; they go into their own little fuckin’ world for awhile and they meet in the center. Like these are, this is a different thing than a fight in a movie, you know?
Like this is two guys – agreeing – “we have to find out who’s the baddest mother-fucker alive”.
You know?
They agree to do it the right way. Everybody warms up. Bruce Lee catches a good sweat, so does Chuck. –
This is crazy shit man. I forgot how crazy this is.

[c. 2:44]

DIAZ: This is the beginning guys. Joe and I talked about the movies of 1973.
You really wanna’ watch the shit today, go ahead.
But this is where it starts. This is where all these movies are stolen from, and they can’t even steal ‘em. They don’t know why they even did this.

ROGAN: Look at Bruce Lee is getting into his fighting stance.

DIAZ: Look the cat.
Bam! Bam! Bam!

ROGAN: They’re both throwing front leg roundhouse kicks to open up with. And front leg side kicks. –
No one’s hit anybody. They’re blocking everything.
Oh! Chuck Norris scores with a wheel kick to the face!
And smiles. –
He doesn’t even follow up he’s a gentleman –
No ‘ground ‘n pound. –
Oh, shit. Chuck is puttin’ a beating on him.
Oh my goodness!
Oh, Bruce Lee grabbed a goddam chest hair.
That’s rude as fuck.

[REBAN is trying to get something in, but can’t.]

[c. 3:33]

DIAZ: This is also the beginning of Tang Soo Do, when Chuck Norris split from Taekwondo and he created this shit.

ROGAN: Really?

DIAZ: Yeah, he’s a Tang Soo Do guy.

ROGAN: Yeah, but, I don’t think he created it.

DIAZ: Well, supposedly, yeah it’s his style.

ROGAN: I mean it was definitely his style but it existed beforehand.

DIAZ: So they did two different Tang Soo Dos.
There’s Tang Soo Do Subak Do and I think he went the other way. There’s a Subak Do that they all they all started together but he went the other way.

ROGAN: Yeah, Tang Soo Do had a little bit of grappling in it.

DIAZ: Yes.

ROGAN: They had more grappling in it than Taekwondo did. They had like some wrist locks and joint locks and stuff.

[c. 4:03 Hear music on the sound track.]

DIAZ: Here we go.
See he gets his timing; he starts fuckin’ jumpin’ up and down, and it’s all – fuckin’ – lights – out mother fucker.
But the beauty of this
this is gonna’ remind you of sumpin’, Joe, just keep watchin’.
Watch it. –
Oh shit!

REDBAN: Isn’t it dishonorable to grab somebody’s chest hairs and rip it off and though like when you’re?

DIAZ: Not when you’re in the Roman Coliseum.
Whatever happens, happens.
You understand me?
As long as you don’t eye
But watch all these, watch all
This is still slow mo’, nobody knows nothin’.
Watch Bruce.

ROGAN: Hold up hold up.
How fake is this Roman Coliseum they’re fighting in? Look how fake that brick wall is behind them.
They keep showin’ like a picture of the coliseum.

REDBAN: And then a brick wall

[c. 4:38]

ROGAN: This is crazy shit. –
Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee. –
They slow everything down. –
This is hilarious. –
The sound that it makes every time they throw a kick is hilarious too. –

DIAZ: Hey dawg.
It’s forty years ago, lookit the camera work.
The guy’s tryin’ man. He’s like kick the fuckin’ camera. He’s tryin’.

ROGAN: Meanwhile there’s a poster of the Roman Coliseum behind them.
Lookit that poster.

DIAZ: Probably shot this in Laurel Canyon. That’s Laurel Canyon.

ROGAN: Chuck Norris is watchin’ his feet and [Lee] kicks him [Norris] in the face. Oh, Chuck. –
Oh – hands up

DIAZ: Damn! Damn! What?

[c. 5:57]

ROGAN: Wow, Chuck just shook it off. –
Beautiful hair back then. –
Oh, the oblique kick. –
Jon Jones style, son. –
Bruce Lee was [th]a first.
Oh, front leg round kick to the face. –
Chuck Norris goes down.
Nobody’d ever seen anything like this before back then. This didn’t exist. You never saw a fight in a movie like this.

DIAZ: When we were eleven and your almost blew off. You left there looking for somebody to say something to you. You fucked ‘em up including your dad. You didn’t give a fuck when you left these movie theaters. –
Lookit this, Joe Rogan.

[c. 6:17]

ROGAN: You know, whether or not Bruce Lee ever competed. That was like the big thing about him was he never fought. Like Chuck Norris was like world middle weight kick boxing champion at one point in time. Bruce Lee definitely did a lot of sparring.
For sure.
There’s no way he could be this good. The way his timing is, his movement, his understanding of what would and wouldn’t work. Like, this, in a lot of ways even though some of it is ridiculous, some of his movements are more realistic than shit you see in the movies today. The way he checks with that oblique kick, the way he counters when you’re movin’ in, it’s very realistic.
Like these scenes, like the way he’s fuckin’ this dude up is a lot like the way someone who’s at a really high level is fuckin’ somebody up in the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship]. It’s really kind of ironic. Like the way he, the shit that he’s doing

[c. 7:00]

DIAZ: Nobody does this!
Nobo. [a reduction of “nobody”?]
That’s a move and a half.
I told you.
In the seventies everybody swept, Joe Rogan. Everybody.
You had to watch that front leg you were gettin’ swept. Once you got into range and you threw two punches and they felt it, you were gettin’ swept, dawg.
Everybody swept. –
The sweep has disappeared from out society.
He broke his fuckin’ arm!

[c. 7:23]

ROGAN: Oh, he broke his leg.

DIAZ: There you go, there you go. –
Who the fuck you think you’re dealin’ with? [I presume he’s addressing Norris.]

ROGAN: Broke his arm or his leg?

DIAZ: Both!
Look at his arm and his that’s how my hand when I was outa’ eight balls. That’s how it shakes when [eight ball: eighth of an ounce of cocaine]

ROGAN: He did, he broke his arm and his leg.

DIAZ: And his leg.

ROGAN: His leg’s fucked up too.

DIAZ: He fucked him up.

ROGAN: He’s tryin’ to get back up.

DIAZ: But listen, but listen.
This is a tremendous movie. This is tremendous, guys.
Next time you see Chuck Norris lookin’ dumb with the wig. Think about this, think about this move. –
Look, dawg, he gets up.
Even though it’s a movie, Bruce was very smart. He {goes} let this fucking guy up. This is a great scene, dawg.

[c. 8:03]

ROGAN: He can’t stand.

DIAZ: But he gets up.

ROGAN: This is a good – fucking – scene.

DIAZ: He gets up.
This is tremendous, guys. –
Look at ‘im, look at ‘im.

ROGAN: Tryin’ to throw kicks.
Can’t get up. –
I forget how it ends.
Doesn’t he kill him?
Spoiler alert.

DIAZ: Beautiful, beautiful. It’s a beautiful ending.

ROGAN: He even got up correctly with a fuckin’ damaged leg.

REDBAN: The cat.

DIAZ: Oh yeah, mother fuckers.
This is cinematography 101.

[c. 8:44]

ROGAN: Look, he [Lee] got him [Norris] in a guillotine.
Oh my god he killed him with a guillotine!
First time ever. –
He’s upset that he hadda kill him. –
That might’ve been the first guillotine ever in a movie. I believe
Back it up a second.
I believe it was an arm-in guillotine, which is particularly difficult to pull off. I don’t think uh, don’t agree with his technique here.
Let me see.
Back it up just a hair.
That a arm-in? –
Let’s see here. Can’t see his other arm.
I feel like that’s a arm-in guillotine which I call bullshit. –
No, it’s not arm-in.
Is it?
It looks like it is. –
It’s hard to finish that one, man. You gotta’ get up high on the neck. –
Or you gotta’ have an unbelievable squeeze.
Let’s see, what you get, nope, I don’t know man. Tough to tell where his arm was.
If Chuck Norris has an underhook there, it’s very hard to

[c. 9:36]

DIAZ: Don’t cut it off.
Watch what he does.
This is this is tremendous, guys. –
Bruce Lee was a fuckin’ soldier. And he wrote all these. You know, he wrote all these, dawg.
Look, watch, watch.

ROGAN: Oh the music plays.
Got a soft kung-fu jacket.
By the way, how many black guys dressed like that – in the 1970s and 80s?

DIAZ: I dressed like that. I had the full outfit. My mom was going to send me back to Cuba. They sent me to the Santaria priest; didn’t know what was wrong with me.
Here we go guys.
This is tremendous.
No! No! No no no no.

ROGAN: What happened?

REDBAN: That’s just the YouTube. That’s not the whole movie.

DIAZ: He goes and gets his gi and puts it back on top of him.

ROGAN: Oh, did he?

DIAZ: He puts his gi back on top.


DIAZ: And his belt, and makes it look nice for him. Very nice Bruce Lee.

ROGAN: Look where he’s fuckin’ seen. [?]

DIAZ: Guys, come on.

* * * * *

As you can tell from the conversation, or, for that matter, from direct observation, the clip ends abruptly.

* * * * *

Addendum: I've bundled this post into a PDF which includes other posts about Rogan: Grappling in the Agora with Joe Rogan.

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