It’s December 5th, 2020, and a small anti-lockdown protest is underway outside the home of Sheila Kuehl, LA’s County Supervisor. There are restaurant owners, anti-lockdown activists, California Republicans … and Dave Rubin. Brown hair coiffed, Ray-Bans perched on his nose, and a small cut on his forehead (which he sustained while stepping out of his car), Rubin is speaking into his phone, live on Periscope. “These are good people,” he announces. “Good people trying to live their lives. Understand who the good guys are right now.” This tiny gathering, he assures us, is the beginning of a change in California—a “fight” to take back the state and the country. Rubin had made a similar point a few months earlier about the “absolutely massive” Trump rally he attended in Beverly Hills (“happy people … I mean everything that is great about America really was there”).
As of this writing, the host of YouTube’s The Rubin Report has 1.3 million Twitter followers and 1.79 million YouTube subscribers, who have helped to make him one of the most notable influencers on the contemporary American Right. But amid a field of frauds, clones, and wannabes, Rubin’s path to political celebrity has been among the strangest. Once a gay comedian from New York, he became a dissatisfied liberal LA interviewer, and has now decamped to Miami in his latest incarnation as pro-Trump, Newsmax-commentating, party-line Republican. There, he rallies with Ron DeSantis, dines with Donald Trump Jr., and guests at Peter Thiel’s fundraisers.
Rubin’s peculiar political trajectory has made him the go-to example of a modern liberal “mugged by reality” and driven from the moderate Left by progressive intolerance and irrationality. This conversion narrative has been politically compelling and personally lucrative. His most watched video—PragerU’s “Why I Left The Left”—currently has over 14 million views:
Rubin is now rich, famous, and influential, and yet he remains something of a mystery. As I admit him to our Zoom call, I’m greeted by the same image his viewers see every day. Rubin is sitting under studio lights in a dark blazer in front of a bookshelf. His dark brown eyes gaze into camera and his hair is characteristically full and carefully styled. The image is comforting and polished, but as Rubin acknowledges during our interview, it is also fake. He’s actually sitting in a small puddle of light in a black room in front of a large flatscreen that displays an image of his old LA studio set. He has spoken to hundreds of guests, does a daily commentary show, and tweets incessantly, but still a nagging question remains—is any of this real?
The closeted comedian
It’s 2001, and a youthful Dave Rubin stands on a crude studio set, delivering scripted gags before a hooting audience. This is The Anti-Show, a guerrilla comedy project Rubin is making with his friends Andrew Tavani and Kevin Miller, filmed in secret on an unused NBC set at 30 Rock. Having shot six episodes, the three young comics cut a 10-minute promo which promises to give “the common people” something better than the “endless wave of formulaic sitcoms and tired reality shows” that have “taken over the barren airwaves.”
Their nemesis is “Supreme Hack, Jay Leno,” who “rules over a vile late-night television world that has become devoid of original, innovative, comedic thought.” The format parodies Leno’s own with a mixture of sketches, wisecracks, pop cultural references, and vox pops. The gags are poor but delivered with abundant enthusiasm. Dave Rubin is 26 years old and hungry for success. He doesn’t know that this is the closest to late-night TV he will ever get.
Rubin got the comic itch when he was seven years old, watching a tape of Bill Cosby’s 1983 concert film, Himself, an experience he recalls with great passion. He couldn’t understand all of Cosby’s jokes, he says, but that didn’t matter. The delivery was everything. “I remember buckling over,” he tells me. “I couldn’t believe anything could be that funny.” When I ask about his childhood, he replies, “You know, I know everybody, when people ask about their bio, they want to have this like, horrific story that they were beaten or abandoned, or they had nothing and all of this stuff, but that’s actually just not the truth in my case. … In retrospect, it was a very blessed childhood, I suppose.”
Rubin is the son of solidly middle-class Jews and the grandson of lower-middle-class Jews. His parents, he says, met in Israel “during the 1970s after college while working on a kibbutz.” They subsequently returned to Brooklyn but, a few years after Rubin was born on June 26th, 1976, the family moved to Long Island, the home of Gatsby. Rubin’s father worked in New York’s Garment District. His mother stayed at home to raise Dave and his siblings before returning to work as a nursery teacher.
After he graduated from Syosset High School, Rubin studied political science at Binghamton University and spent a semester in 1997 at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Henceforth, Zionism would be his only consistent political view, and he would talk about it through college, his early comedy gigs, and all iterations of The Rubin Report. His sister got married in Jaffa, and by 2020, he had visited the country a further four times.
A week after graduation, in May 1998, Rubin went to an open-mic night and started to hustle. “I thought, oh, you know, you just go to a comedy club, you start doing stand-up, and next thing you know, you’re on The Tonight Show and you’ve got a sitcom and that’s it,” he tells me. “Little did I know that’s not exactly how it works out.”
Despite an internship at The Daily Show in 1999, Rubin’s comedy was more Johnny Carson than Jon Stewart. It wasn’t risqué, offensive, or political—he wrote crowd-friendly, observational routines designed for the late-night set, typically wrapped around nostalgia for the pop culture of his childhood in the 1980s—G.I. Joe, Star Wars, Transformers, and The Golden Girls. His style may have been unapologetically commercial, but fellow comics say he was a dedicated comedy buff in his early years. He would rave about new routines, comedians, and deliveries and then try some of them out himself. Whether it was a joke with no set-up or different styles of crowd work, he would play with the format and showed genuine promise.
Rubin’s comedy career was built on burner shows. He now recalls that he would stand on the corner of 50th and Broadway, “handing out comedy club tickets for two hours a night, six nights a week.” When asked during an interview with the Gothamist in 2005 for the secret to attracting passers-by, he replied, “Lie. Mostly lie.” He began performing at Joe Franklin’s Comedy Clubon 45th and 8th—a room he co-founded in the back of the King of Nostalgia’s restaurant—before moving to The Comedy Companyin the basement of a TGI Fridaysat 50th and 7th Avenue. Co-founded by Rubin in April 2004, The Comedy Company was a larger space, closer to the tourist-hub of Times Square, but there still wasn’t much money coming in. The restaurant got the drink and food revenue, and performing comics split the $10 entrance take, reduced to $5 from Monday to Thursday.
But in spite of his talent, his evident ambition, and his boundless enthusiasm, Rubin’s 14 years on the New York comedy circuit were not particularly successful. He performed at New York’s famous Gotham Comedy Club, Stand Up New York, and the Comedy Cellar, but he was never a regular act. He mailed sample demo tapes to anyone who would take them, and contacted booking agents from his ComedyGuy2 email account, but he never got the spot on late-night TV that he desperately wanted. His creativity seemed to dry up and he stopped writing new material. For years, he closed with the same joke about watching a Sopranos sex scene with his mother and grandmother. When he eventually moved into radio, few of his contemporaries were surprised.
Dave Rubin Performance, December 3rd, 2005
Various attempts at kickstarting his own TV show were similarly unsuccessful. The Anti-Show never exceeded public-access obscurity; his semi-autobiographical sit-com, Truly Great People, didn’t make it past a self-funded pilot; and The Dave Rubin Project died in development. His RubinVille blog had few readers, and its RubinVille Sell-Out e-store attracted scant attention. This must have been disappointing, but it didn’t seem to make him bitter. Fellow comedians describe him as affable and confident, if highly transactional.
His friends and colleagues didn’t know it at the time, but Rubin was also gay. As he recalled in the introduction to his 2018 polemic, Don’t Burn This Book:
I was a closeted gay man—without a single person I felt like I could be honest with—for twenty-five years, and it nearly broke me. Every day that I denied my reality, I became increasingly lonely and depressed. It got so bad that my doctor put me on a powerful antidepressant called Celexa and told me to start seeing a shrink.
When the medication didn’t work, Rubin recalls, he exchanged it for pot and “bottles of cheap red wine.” It was only when he started hallucinating during a stroll through New York in September 2001 that he realized he “had to get a grip with reality.” “I was literally self-medicating to the point of delusion,” he writes, “and it scared me straight (pun intended).” He invited fellow (openly gay) comic Mike Singer out for a drink, and as they parted company at 12:30am, he came out to his friend. The timing was unfortunate. He was awoken the following morning by a phone call from his father:
I felt totally stunned by the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, but I also felt a strange sense of guilt about it all. It sounds crazy and deeply self-absorbed to admit now, but as this ungodly horror was unfolding, I honestly thought it had something to do with my coming out. I’d released this awful secret into the world, and now the world had struck back.
During an Ask Me Anything spot for the Gaybros subreddit in April 2013, Rubin recalled an incident that occurred when he was performing at The Comedy Company. A fellow comic pointed to a young man walking into the club with a group of women, and Rubin confessed that he felt like “such a fraud” for failing to point out that it was his boyfriend. “So after that night I took about 2 months off stand-up, which I had never done, and then booked my first gig at a gay show. I really can’t imagine where I’d be if I didn’t do that.”
When Rubin finally came out publicly in 2006, it took his colleagues by surprise. Nevertheless, they say he became a happier and fitter man, more relaxed and comfortable with himself. This development also opened new career doors—he co-managed the Thursday gay-comedy night “The Back Room”at Ochi’s Lounge and started several podcasts with gay network Here!But he was never a stereotypical gay comic. Although he jokingly described himself as “the Johnny Carson of gay comedy,” he was the same temperamentally conservative man who wore caps and t-shirts and loved basketball and video games.
Leaving stand-up a few years later, he began co-hosting The Ben and Dave Show with Ben Harvey at HereTV, which was later renamed The Six Packat SiriusXM. Billed as “a new-school, cutting-edge radio show,” the hosts gossiped about gay issues and trending news and interviewed various celebrity guests, including comedian Joy Behar (who Rubin described as his “idol”), actor James Van Der Beek, Democratic congressman Barney Frank, and Rubin’s future political ally, Donald Trump Jr.
It was here, on his 34th birthday, that Rubin met a young man in an American flag tank-top named David Janet—a huge fan of the show who would eventually become one of its producers. The two clicked immediately; Dave, the nostalgic showman, and David, the younger, tech-savvy, foodie producer. In 2013, the couple moved to LA together to work at The Young Turks, and in 2014, Dave proposed during a Fleetwood Mac concert at The Forum, while the band played Janet’s favourite song, ‘Dreams.’ They were married under a huppah the following year.
Though the Six Pack radio show was about gay topics, it wasn’t political, let alone leftwing. Nor was Rubin, whether he was on stage, on the radio, or writing his blog. Through his blog’s 1,357 entries, Rubin mocked George W. Bush (“the world’s highest functioning retard”), but reported that he had voted for “outsider” Mike Bloomberg; he wanted Rudy Giuliani to become US President in 2008 and liked Ron Paul, but ultimately chose Obama over Romney. He was a New York comic, with New York Times-reading parents and a poli-sci degree he had no use for; a generally apolitical person whose slight leaning emerged from his gay identity. The only issue he cared about consistently was Israel.
The radio show was reasonably successful (“one of the top comedy shows on iTunes” according to its About page), but Rubin really wanted to be where people could see him. Comic Melissa Rauch had started at The Comedy Company, moved out to Los Angeles, and landed a part on The Big Bang Theory. Other comics, who hustled less energetically than Rubin, had left him behind for lucrative careers in entertainment and beyond. And so, in 2013, when an opportunity opened up at The Young Turks to host a discussion program called The Rubin Report, he and Janet left his Amsterdam Avenue flat and moved to Los Angeles, where stars are born.
A Hollywood progressive
The Young Turks is a progressive news network, and the two years Rubin spent there offer the only real evidence of the leftwing bona fides he would later renounce. But this first incarnation of The Rubin Report was really just a light-hearted panel show, intended as one of the network’s new range of wider entertainment offerings. Once a week, Rubin and a couple of guests would have a congenial half-hour chat about amusing frivolities. He may have absorbed some progressive talking points by osmosis, but his output still wasn’t especially political. Around the same time, he began hosting a weekly online show called The Golden Girls Ultimate Fan Clubfor LogoTV. To date, The Rubin Report’s most popular video is from The Young Turks period: “Wearing Condoms Just Got a Whole Lot Better” (15 million views). His third most popular is from the same period: “Lebanese Porn Star Mia Khalifa Responds to Haters” (4.4 million views).
Though his own show was frothy, Rubin quickly became friends with the network’s two most prominent political voices, Cenk Uygur and hisco-host Ana Kasparian. “Dave and I were extremely close.” Kasparian tells me. Not only did Rubin provide her with meaningful support and advice, but she “would go over to his place in West Hollywood for dinner almost every weekend. David Janet is an excellent cook—he had this goal of releasing a cookbook—so would always make these amazing gourmet meals, and we would have so much fun.”
By his own telling, Rubin left the network in 2015 as a result of its growing intolerance. He says he was particularly annoyed by a heated 2014 debate between Cenk Uygur and liberal philosopher Sam Harris. During his first appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast in 2015, Rubin said:
I could not believe that this person [Uygur] that I work for—who I respect, who I play basketball with every Sunday—that he was so dense to the ideas that Sam was portraying. … Cenk just doubled down on all this shit, because they don’t want to debate ideas. It really had a lot to do with why I left, because I just couldn’t believe it.
This is not how his co-hosts remember things. As a gay atheist and committed Zionist, Rubin was generally sympathetic to Harris’s take on Islam. In a rare solo appearance on his show, Rubin defended Harris after the latter became embroiled in a bad-tempered spat with actor Ben Affleck on an episode of Bill Maher’s Real Time. So, it’s entirely plausible that he took exception to Uygur’s debate with Harris for the same reason.
There were, however, other tensions. Although he played basketball with Uygur every Sunday morning, Rubin had become suspicious of his boss. In conversations with co-workers, he would speculate that Uygur was stealing from the network’s seven-figure monthly take and lying about how much The Young Turks could pay them. According to Kasparian, Rubin was also spreading rumours (including to her then-boyfriend) that their workplace was misogynistic and didn’t give her any control. Not true, she tells me: “That was hilarious, because I felt like I was constantly given opportunities and celebrated within the company. I had offers—he knew about those offers—and I had turned them down. It kind of blew his mind that I was willing to walk away from significantly more money to stay where I’m at.”
In March 2015, Rubin announced he would be leaving The Young Turks and taking The Rubin Report to a new celebrity-backed progressive network called RYOT, where he would continue the panel show with a glossy new set, improved production values, and even fewer views. Uygur and Rubin made a cheerful goodbye video together, but the mutual goodwill was short-lived. Once at RYOT, Rubin would call his former colleagues at TheYoung Turks, disparagingthe companyand encouraging them to leave. “That was our first indication that this guy’s weird,” Uygur tells me; “that there was something wrong with him that we never saw before.”
The RYOT gig only lasted five months, and in July 2015, Rubin announced his move to Larry King’sOra.TV. Around this time, he began to make his gripes with The Young Turks public, complaining about his former colleagues for the edification of Joe Rogan’s millions of listeners. Rubin’s personal feud with Uygur reached its nadir after the Islamist terrorist attack in Nice in July 2016, when he tweeted, “Hey @cenkuygur, I see a couple tweets since #Nice attacks but nothing about what happened. For or against?” Asked about that tweet during a Reddit AMA, Rubin conceded that it had been in “poor taste.”
“It took me two years to address Dave publicly because I went from being hurt to feeling pretty embarrassed,” Kasparian tells me. “When I was getting ready to address it publicly, all of those emotions had evolved—or devolved, depending on how you feel about it—to rage. Because I saw what his game was; I saw how he was willing to throw people who genuinely saw him as a friend under the bus, in search for higher profits.” She says she now tries to refrain from making friends in the political media space and maintains a pretty “pessimistic” view about most people.
“We gave him a platform,” Uygur remarks bitterly. “If Dave Rubin hadn’t been on The Young Turks, right now literally no one would know Dave. The only way he got famous is by betraying us … If you’re a fan of Dave Rubin—pause for laughter—I would ask you this: Was he lying when he was a progressive at TYT? Or is he lying now?”
The rules of the game
Now that Rubin had developed a taste for political quarrels, he restructured his show as a Larry King-type interview program devoted to the discussion of contentious topical issues. On September 9th, 2015, shortly after he arrived at Ora.TV, he published a video in which he committed himself to 10 ethical ground rules that would inform the spirit of open debate and inquiry that he hoped to encourage:
As many of you know, over the last few months, I’ve been really disappointed by people, supposedly on my team—the Left—on issues of political correctness and free speech. Toss in the social justice warriors and our lapdog media, and debate—and I mean true debate—gets totally tossed out the window. To me, there is literally nothing more important in a democracy than free speech and debate. We should debate everything! We should talk about everything! We should engage in ideas that we aren’t comfortable with, and we should let the best ideas win. That’s how a healthy society based on rational ideas and a secular government should work. But too often these days, it simply isn’t what’s happening.
The “Rubin Report Rules,” he pledged,would change all that and distinguish his show from all the other media, mainstream or otherwise, plagued by bias, partisanship, dishonesty, and intolerance.
Rule #1: I promise you that beyond anything else, I will not blatantly lie to you.
Rule #2: Please fact check me! If you hear me say something that you think is factually unsound or patently wrong, call me out on it!
Rule #3: I won’t talk about people’s personal lives unless they’re hypocritical politicians.
Rule #4: I won’t be a partisan hack.
Rule #5: I will consistently stand for liberal values and I won’t demonize everyone who disagrees with me.
Rule #6: We’re gonna talk about big ideas here. We are so bogged down in attacking people that we rarely talk about why we are talking about them at all.
Rule #7: I promise to keep reading as many of your tweets, comments and messages as humanly possible.
Rule #8: I won’t fake outrage for clicks and views.
Rule #9: I’m gonna relate things back to Star Wars, usually in a pretty coherent way…
I remember watching this video when it was published—before the pandemic and the Trump presidency—with unfounded optimism. Revisiting it in 2022 is strange. I close the tab and switch to Rubin’s Twitter feed. His most recent tweet describes California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, as a “genuine psychopath” and a “soulless evil cartoon villain.” Scrolling down, I discover that Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell is “a complete fucking idiot,” that Noam Chomsky is “a truly disgusting human being,” and that Anthony Fauci is “evil incarnate.” In a reply to an anti-Zionist tweet from Mia Khalifa, the former porn star he defended from “haters” in 2015, Rubin remarks: “you’ve had too many loads blown on your face.”
I page down. The former comedian—who has used words like “retard” and “nigga” in his standup routines, and who professes to hate political correctness and cancel culture—responds to a tweet by Jimmy Kimmel by posting an unrelated screenshot of the TV host in blackface. Further down his feed, we find Rubin announcing that “vaccines work” is a lie circulated by “the Dems and media.” On his show, meanwhile, Rubin has taken to declaring that the war in Ukraine is “part of The Great Reset,” that Dinesh D’Souza’s dismal election conspiracy film 2000 Mules is “very compelling,” and that “It is not a giant leap, after two years of demonizing certain people who want a medical choice [not to get the COVID vaccine], … to compare them to the Jews before the Holocaust.”
One may agree or disagree with these intemperate opinions, but they bear no relation to the noble principles of charity and good-faith debate to which Rubin ostensibly committed himself seven years previously.
Rule #10: I will not always live up to these rules but I will try … I mean do … the best I can.
The newly political Rubin Report was built on promises its host could not keep. In the description below the video introducing his 10 rules, Rubin had said that, by “having calm rational conversations” with guests offering “different perspectives on a variety of topics,” his show would “help de-escalate the political polarization and help heal our democracy.” Not only is Rubin intellectually and temperamentally unsuited to this kind of discussion, but he soon discovered that his viewers didn’t want to hear it anyway. Following a successful inaugural interview with Sam Harris, his early interviews with actors, activists, news anchors, and policy specialists attracted little attention.
The Rubin Report only really became a hit when he refocussed his attention on the online Right, whose flamethrowers were invited onto his show to denounce the intolerant excesses of the online Left. A clip from one of Rubin’s interviews with Ben Shapiro—the first of 11 appearances—has 8.2 million views. The various clips from Milo Yiannopoulos’s first interview (of three, plus a UCLA event) have a combined total of 6.5 million views. Candace Owen’s first interview (of six) has 2.7 million views. The Rubin Report briefly popularised the term “regressive Left,” the Wikipedia page about which has been extensively edited by user DavidJanet88 (along with the site’s entries for Dave Rubin, The Six Pack, and Syosset High School).
In 2018, The Rubin Report’s growth, views, and influence peaked with the emergence of an ad hoc movement that founding member Eric Weinstein christened the “Intellectual Dark Web” (IDW). This loosely affiliated group of intellectuals and public commentators were dismayed by left-wing censorship and wanted to talk about big and controversial ideas. Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan would provide them with the platforms to do so. Away from screaming protesters, it was on Rubin’s channel that a previously obscure Canadian psychology professor named Jordan Peterson was provided with the time to expound upon his ideas; the same opportunity was given to Bret Weinstein, the former biology professor pushed out of Evergreen College by a student mob.
Rubin’s interviews and roundtable discussions with political writers and thinkers like Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, Maajid Nawaz, Sam Harris, and the Weinstein brothers dwelt at length on the problems of the Left. But they also provided something richer and more stimulating than mainstream television had to offer, and millions of viewers loved it. “I look back on it very fondly,” Rubin tells me. “It was an absolutely incredible time. And we did something very special that, whether you or anyone reading this agrees with me on where I moved to, we were part of something that was very cool. I mean, that’s pretty rare in life.”
Almost by accident, Rubin found that he had become part of something fleetingly huge, and he was finally getting the mainstream attention he had always craved. On May 8th, 2018, Rubin found himself profiled in the New York Times by Bari Weiss in a 3,700-word essay titled “Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web.” As far as I can tell, his only previous appearance in the Times had been as one half of an unnamed couple mentioned in a 2006 profile of Meredith Vieira. (After this piece was published, I learned that Rubin was also mentioned by name in a 2012 article.)
Don’t read this book
But there was a problem. Although Rubin likes speaking to intellectuals, he is not one, and this makes him ill-suited to stewarding serious intellectual discussions. He is a talk-show host, and his softball interviewing style—affable, accommodating, agreeable, and eager-to-please—seems to be the product of general, not strategic, ignorance. Throughout our interview, almost regardless of topic, his answers return to shallow talking points. When I ask him what books he’s read recently, he can’t name one, citing his recent move. Consulting the virtual bookshelf behind him, he claims to have enjoyed Zero to One by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters, Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, Carl Sagan’s Billions and Billions, and Gad Saad’s The Parasitic Mind. But his own first book is just a culture-war pop-screed, remarkable only for its oddly frequent blow-job jokes and the lamentation that Ukraine “gave up its nukes to become a NATO country.”
Rubin’s own ideas were never what drew in the crowds. Nor is he unique in offering long-form interviews ostensibly dedicated to the “exchange of ideas”—Tim Ferriss, Marc Maron, and Joe Rogan do the same. Rubin’s small monopoly rested on a television-quality studio in LA, and few scruples about who could enter. David Janet’s production talent had paid off, but Rubin’s coasting kneecapped it. He has been particularly bad at vetting his guests. Rehabilitating unfairly tarnished intellectuals is a noble endeavour, but Rubin showed no interest in distinguishing such people from the most radical demagogues on the online Right. He invited them on because he wanted to hear them excoriate the Left, and they accepted in the hope of laundering their own reputations.
Rubin has defended his incurious interview technique by saying it allows his guests to “hang themselves” with their own words; but The Rubin Report has been uniquely bad at that. Mike Cernovich was not asked to explain or defend his views about rape during his hour-long interview; Tommy Sotomayor was not asked why he had said (in a since-deleted video) that “Jews are financing black folks’ genocide” and chose to be in the Holocaust; Katie Hopkins was not pressed on her view that gunships should be employed to stop migrants she called “cockroaches.” (“Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water,” Hopkins wrote in a column for UK tabloid the Sun, “play violins and show me skinny people looking sad—I still don’t care.”) On TheRubin Report, these figures and many others like them were introduced as merely “controversial” and “anti-PC”—free-thinkers whose bold opinions hadtriggered the snowflake Left. It was left to others to post screenshots from old blogs, clips from livestreams, or archived Twitter posts as evidence that this wasn’t really the whole story.
In a recording shared with the Byline Times in May, InfoWars’seditor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson can be heard saying, “I care about white people, and not sand-nigger Paki Jew faggot coons. … I really think you should press the button to wipe Jews off the face of the Earth.”When Watson appeared as a guest on The Rubin Report six years ago, Rubin described him as part of “this new growing center,” and enthused about his “phenomenal video on the regressive Left.”
Even when Rubin’s guests do reveal their true colours on his show, Rubin rarely objects, apparently reluctant to antagonize those who share his distaste for the activist Left. Rubin nods and smilesas Lauren Southern says that Jewish organisations prompted the founding of the Canadian Nazi Party and as David Horovitz declares that President Obama was a communist. Several months after he appeared on The Rubin Report, Tommy Sotomayor was disgusted to learn during a livestream that Rubin is gay: “I shook his hand!” he cried. When I ask Rubin about some of this, he waves it aside as “trolling.” Speaking with me earlier this year, he was not even convinced by Sotomayor’s antisemitism: “if he said some antisemitic stuff … I’m not even totally sure what you’re talking about.”
Rubin’s congeniality only waivers when he finds himself talking to the occasional left-wing or anti-Trump guest. His interviews with Marianne Williamson and David Frum were testy and contentious. Neither has reappeared on the show since. Rubin says the over-representation of the MAGA Right on his guest-list is explained by the fact that left-wing people are unwilling to talk to him. But Rubin won’t speak to leftists who are willing to talk with him either. “Debate Sam Seder” became a popular meme precisely because Rubin won’t do it, but Seder tells me he’s still willing. Radio-host Josh Szeps, who first met Rubin during the comedy years, told me:
I’d love to see Sam Seder debate Dave Rubin, because there are actual intellectual gripes there. But of course, Dave would never be willing to sit down for that. So he’ll always find a pretext [not to]. Why? “Oh, Sam said something mean about me, therefore, I’m not going to sit down.” But I mean, give me a break. This is someone who talks about snowflakes with thin skin.
Rubin found politics late in life, first in a mild form at TheYoung Turks, but then aggressively on his revamped show, where he discovered that the life of a culture warrior could be popular and lucrative. Certainly, in the early days, a lot of conservatives were extremely appreciative to find a disenchanted leftist who hated political correctness as much as they did. And as Rubin embedded himself with the online Right, the cracks in his social and professional life began to widen. This extended, not only to his former progressive friends and allies, but also to his new ones in the Intellectual Dark Web. The culture war strained some of those relationships at times, but they weren’t truly broken until Donald Trump was elected US President. As Rubin tells me:
I got a call one night from one of the, like, major players in the IDW—a good friend of mine—screaming at me that I didn’t have enough anti-Trump people on the show. And I said, “Who should I have on the show?” and he gave me a name. And then I had the person on, and I thought that they were one of the worst guests that I’ve ever had.
People like Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan saw in Trump the same kind of dangerous and irrational populism that they decried on the Left. MAGA Republicans, on the other hand, saw him as the righteous response to leftist excesses—both symptom and solution—and Rubin was inclined to agree. The populist Right didn’t criticise Rubin, either for the way he conducted his show or for his changing beliefs. When the pandemic began, followed by the bitterly contested 2020 election, Rubin found that COVID and election conspiracies suited his disposition for conspiratorial thinking. So, he leaned in and leaned hard. He tells me:
It is very obvious right now that the country would be in much better shape if Trump was president. That’s just reality. Would there be riots in the streets? Of course, because the Democrats would be using antifa and BLM to get more violence in the streets. But the supply chain wouldn’t be working. Inflation wouldn’t be like this. The Afghanistan disaster wouldn’t have ever happened. Obviously things were great for the four years if you could just remove the media-fed lunacy.
When I ask Rubin if he believes that Joe Biden is the legitimate, fairly elected President of the US, he tells me yes, unreservedly, before quickly adding that he is also “the worst president of modern times.” But he becomes exasperated when I conclude the interview by asking if he regrets spreading election misinformation. “You really want this to be the last question? We’ve had a good interview here. You want to end this with voting machines and Trump like that?” Swerving from responsibility or contrition, he begins to complain about Stacey Abrams and “Russiagate.”
As Rubin moved rightward, his funding increased. In June 2016, he announced that he was taking the show independent, and began to solicit fan donations and sponsorship deals. He would eventually secure funding from a Koch-funded organization called Learn Liberty (Rubin’s collaboration was the largest component of their $2 million annual budget). He became a regular fixture at Turning Point USA student events, and eventually landed a distribution deal with Glenn Beck’s network, the Blaze. However, Rubin’s most significant source of regular finance—up to $30,000 a month on Patreon in 2019, before he moved to his own platform, Locals—came from individual donors. The liberal activist Ali Rizvi, who had previously appeared as a guest on Rubin’s show, tweeted:
You go independent, build a patron following giving you tens of thousands a month, build a studio, hire a staff, and then it turns out a huge chunk of your donations comes from Trump supporters. What do you do? You’re helpless. Fully funded activism will always be compromised.
This process is known as “audience capture,” a term popularised by Eric Weinstein, and it is a major worry for the (wide range of) crowd-funded interviewers, podcasters, and journalists with whom I’ve spoken. Except Dave Rubin, who dismissed my question as if it were absurd: “I don’t worry about it at all.” It’s not even clear that he knows what I’m getting at, because he then elaborates by addressing a different concern: “I am completely independent. I have never had anyone ask me to say something or tell me to say something. I am my boss. The show sinks or swims on what I want to do.”
In late 2020, real-estate gossip site Dirt was the first to report that Rubin and Janet had left their $1.75 million, four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in Sherman Oaks and bought a 6,500-square-foot Encino mansion, with six bedrooms and 7.5 bathrooms, for $5.2 million. The Rubin Report hired more staff and Janet stepped back from producing. Michael Franke—who had formerly worked as a designer on The Candace Owens Show and has since moved on to work at Peterson Academy—filled that spot, assisted by Phoenix Glennand Connor McGrath.
Looking at these developments, it’s tempting to explain Rubin’s motives as nakedly mercenary, and to dismiss him as nothing more than a cynical grifter. This is the view held by Cenk Uygur, who tells me that Rubin has no values, just “opinions for hire.” Several comedians I spoke to who saw his lust for fame on the cold streets of New York agreed. I don’t. Rubin is in no meaningful sense a conservative, and admitted as much to Bill Maher. He’s an anti-leftist culture warrior whose right-wing economics—lower taxes and deregulation—are expressed in slogans and buoyed by self-interest. But from his Zionism to interest in gay issues, Rubin’s politics have always been primarily personal.
According to Rubin and Janet, when Trump learned that the two men were married during a dinner at Mar-a-Lago, he said, “I want to shake your hands, that’s just great!” In that moment, Rubin—the gay former comic, who drank away the pain of his denied identity and never received the acclaim he hustled for—was recognised for who he was by the President of the United States; a Republican. Dining out in LA during the run-up to the 2020 election, Rubin abruptly exploded after a dining companion flippantly criticized Trump. His face reddening, he began slamming the table and ranting in defence of the president.
The Left was critical, but the Right embraced him and made him rich. This has even affected his lexicon, as he peppers his speech with Trumpian verbal tics like “You know, everybody knows” and “Trust me on that.” During my interview with Rubin, he reserved his most intense enmity for the former New York Times journalist Bari Weiss, who he regards as a paradigmatic example of the kind of “anti-woke” liberal he most despises—the kind of person who criticizes the Left but refuses to defend or vote for MAGA Republicans. To Rubin, this is simply insincerity and cowardice:
[The] Tablet-liberal crew; they’re really conservatives who just want to be liked … that’s what they are. All of the modern liberals, the same non-woke liberals; they’re conservatives. And they just don’t want to say it because they still want to go to nice parties.
When I ask Rubin about his show’s narrow scope compared to the breadth of topics covered by podcasts like Conversations with Tyler and Honestly with Bari Weiss, he becomes animated; “Where is Bari talking to all the Trump supporters? But she’ll never get asked about that, right? She won’t have me on her show!” His hostility to Weiss, in particular, can be traced to a single critical and largely overlooked line in her Intellectual Dark Web piece: “It seems to me that if you are willing to sit across from an Alex Jones or Mike Cernovich and take him seriously, there’s a high probability that you’re either cynical or stupid.” In a February 2022 edition of The Rubin Report, Rubin claimed that Weiss “called me the next day, crying after the article came out, apologizing for putting it in there, and said [her] editors forced [her] to put it in there.” (Weiss declined to comment for this story.)
The only group Rubin dislikes more than “anti-woke” liberals is the establishment press, a reflex identifiable as far back as TheAnti-Show promo in 2001. As a comedian, he despised the mainstream networks for their weak comedy and vapid news coverage, and his hatred was only intensified by their coverage of him once he became famous. Mother Jonescalled him “far right” and “extremist”; during a lengthy interview with presidential candidate Andrew Yang for the New York Times, Mara Gay asked Yang why he agreed to “appear on shows like ‘The Dave Rubin Show,’ [sic] who regularly hosts white supremacists?”; his Sky Newsinterview was a shallow and disreputable hit job.
But even reasonable disagreement is enough to raise Rubin’s ire. He blocked David Fuller on Twitter following a mildly critical interview on the latter’s YouTube channel, Rebel Wisdom. The Daily Beast’s civil libertarian journalist Anthony Fisher tells me that no conditions could be met for an interview with Rubin, even though Fisher offered to travel to meet him and agreed to provide written questions. He has also since been blocked. During our interview, Rubin asked if he could read a draft of this article before it ran, and as we were wrapping up, he requested that I refrain from mentioning his interview with far-Right “race realist” Stefan Molyneux “as a personal favor.” (Both requests were declined.)
In the months since, Rubin has sent me a series of increasingly aggressive Twitter DMs, complaining about my questions, questioning my credentials, and deriding my research. Immediately after he finished his live show on Friday, July 21st, he messaged to tell me that I am a “little rat” for contacting his ex-boyfriend, and then reiterated the sentiment on Twitter 13 minutes later: “You are a little rat. Print that.” On multiple occasions, I proposed a second interview so that I could ask him about the undiscussed topics he wished to cover, but he declined, hypocritically saying that he takes issue with sources talking off the record.
Rubin has made no shortage of enemies, but his friends still describe him as kind, open, and deeply loyal. When a guest appeared on his show who, Rubin says, “was actually very stoned and drunk,” he did the decent thing and heavily edited the interview rather than exploit that person’s vulnerability for clicks and views. Kyle Kashuv, a conservative activist and former Rubin Report intern, responded to my email by saying: “Dave is one of the best there is. Honest. Thoughtful. And always willing to stand up for what’s right. Please print that.” Michael Shermer, the editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine, had nothing but positive things to say to me about Rubin’s character, though he remains befuddled by Rubin’s cranky embrace of vaccine conspiracies and election-fraud speculation.
The Rubin Report Rulesnever stood a chance. The problems in mainstream media are generally institutional, but the integrity of new media depends almost entirely upon the integrity of the person who runs it. Unfortunately, Rubin, like most of us, is slow to acknowledge the unreliability of his own worst instincts, and has allowed himself to become entangled in powerfully corrupting incentives. He is not stupid, but he has found that he needn’t worry about being scrupulous or consistent, informed or nuanced, so simply doesn’t bother.
All that matters is the never-ending quest for maximum engagement. His formerly professed values were just baggage so he threw them overboard. Over the last two years, the emphasis of his show has gradually shifted, as he deprioritises interviews in favor of a daily 40-minute livestream during which he holds forth about the culture war issues du jour. He finds podcast fodder by scrolling through Twitter.
A gay Republican in Florida
“When he first moved to California, he could not like stop talking about how amazing it is,” Ana Kasparian tells me. “Like ‘I love California, I love LA, and I’m never leaving.’ He loved Los Angeles for ‘the people, the culture, the space, the nature, the lifestyle.’ He never, ever complained about taxes.” But in time, Rubin fell out of love with the city. He cites crime, homelessness, vaccine mandates, and high taxes. During an interview with playwright David Mamet, Rubin complained that “whatever was cool and creative about LA felt completely gone to me.” This is true, at least for his show.
Rubin’s most popular guests have either left his life or left Los Angeles. Ben Shapiro has moved to South Florida. Jordan Peterson has joined Shapiro at the Daily Wire. Sam Harris appears to have written Rubin off as a dead loss, telling the hosts of the Decoding the Gurus podcast that Rubin had “said nothing useful at that point [the 2020 election] or since.” Eric Weinstein recorded a three-hour long conversation with Rubin and then never released it. Joe Rogan, who no longer associates with Rubin, has a new home in Texas. Republicans have little political power in California, and Larry Elder’s recall bid, which Rubin enthusiastically supported, fell catastrophically short. Rubin claims that he was audited three days after the failed recall, and that was the final straw.
But just as Rubin arrived in “the free state of Florida,” it became noticeably less free for its gay residents. In March 2022, Ron DeSantis signed HB 1557, which placed an assortment of new restrictions on Florida public schools. Most notably, it stipulates that “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” Critics of the bill worry about the implications for free speech, a topic about which Rubin still professes to care deeply. As Professor Jeffrey Sachs of PEN tells me, “Virtually any discussion of sexual orientation—even in response to a student’s question about someone in a same-marriage—could be prohibited.”
When I ask Rubin about these concerns, he tells me to “read the bill,” then misconstrues its provisions. “What these laws are doing right now are basically prohibiting the school district from encouraging discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity when it comes to like third and fourth graders.” He continues to endorse the bill, mocking its critics in his self-published debut stand-up special, Don’t Say Dave. Released in July and recorded as the introduction to a live interview with DeSantis, the $9.99 special contains faint echoes of old routines and jokes from his New York comedy days. But most of its 45-minute running time is consumed by conservative talking points. In the end, it is barely distinguishable from the political speeches he delivers to conservative student groups. As Josh Szeps told me, “It’s not crazy that someone who wanted to craft routines learns a schtick; an intellectual schtick instead of a comedic schtick.” (At time of writing, fewer than one percent of his subscribers have watched the trailer.)
During a February 2021 livestream, a viewer asked Rubin why he hadn’t yet moved to a red state given his ceaseless criticism of California. “California,” he conceded, “does have the best laws around surrogacy, especially for same-sex couples, in the United States, significantly better than places like Texas and Florida.” He’s uncomfortable and declines to answer when I ask him about this in February 2022, but says the laws aren’t as bad as he and Janet had feared. On March 16th, Rubin announced that he and his husband would be having two sons by surrogate, to be born in August and October, respectively. The process occurred in Los Angeles.
Some of his more liberal conservative friends cheered the news, including Karol Markowicz, Kat Timpf, Kyle Kashuv, Meghan McCain, and Megyn Kelly. Others—like Ben Shapiro, Charlie Kirk, and Candace Owens—maintained a conspicuous public silence. Much of his audience, on the other hand, was unimpressed and unafraid to say so. Thousands of tweets from the socially conservative Right condemned the couple. They were told they were “buying a baby” and “kidnapping children.” A Christian nationalist radio host wanted to know how this would help “us win the culture war?” (687 likes) while another religious commentator demanded to know the whereabouts of the babies’ mother (1,167 likes).
Others were just generally opposed to “rich gays hiring women’s bodies.” Each positive tweet from a friend was ratioed by thousands of appalled tweets decrying it. AChange.org petition demanded that Rubin be fired from the Blaze. (It was soon taken down after signatories flooded the comments with the word “faggot.”) Rubin’s former friend Milo Yiannopoulos called the couple “disgusting” before adding that “they should both be executed.” A few days later, Blaze founder Glenn Beck interviewed a visibly shaken Rubin on his show. Rubin limply tried to blame the reaction on leftist intolerance. Beck compared Rubin’s homosexuality to alcoholism.
It’s hard to feel much sympathy for Rubin. He’s famous, wealthy, and happily married, he lives in a fabulously expensive mansion, and he’s now the father of two children. The couple are planning to publish the cookbook David Janet has always dreamed of writing. In every superficial sense, Rubin has made it but he’s not doing what he wanted. He was a New York comic who wanted to host a late-night show and amuse general audiences with his crowd-friendly jokes and smart guests. In spite of his claim that he’s “doing something much more valuable now,” the years of frustration made him bitter and politically feverish, like so much of the country, and it was here that he stumbled into fame and riches.
To his friends, Rubin is loyal but sensitive about it. To strangers, he is charismatic and charming. And to those he disagrees with or who have slighted him, he is a vindictive, reactionary bully. As his friends privately admit, he is psychologically ill-equipped for the position in which he has found himself. The story of his meteoric rise to fame is, finally, a strangely tragic one. He is Faust’s Republican, the fallen clown, and the definition of the kind of elitist he has always most despised—hypersensitive, hyper-partisan, and failing upwards.