Dave Rubin on Digital Media, Crowdfunding, and Comedy (BONUS)

Also, what Dave learned from his year abroad in Israel and his pick for the most underrated Star Wars movie.

Today many YouTube channels have more influence than traditional TV shows. This fact is not lost on Dave Rubin, who started his talk show career in traditional media, but soon decided to strike out on his own. He now hosts The Rubin Report, which has half a million subscribers on YouTube and is financially backed by its fans on Patreon 

But the most important indicator of influence? All but one of Tyler’s law and literature class had heard of Dave before this taping.   

Recorded live at an event a few months ago, Dave and Tyler’s conversation cover all this and more, including what Dave learned from his year abroad in Israel and his pick for the most underrated Star Wars movie. 

Listen to the full Conversation

Read the full transcript

COWEN: I was talking to my Law in Literature class a few days ago and I told them I would be doing a podcast with Dave Rubin. And it’s striking that everyone in the class but one person knew who he was. So if you think about today’s world, if you have a well-known YouTube channel or a well-known podcast, it’s actually more intellectual influence than most television shows, if you think in terms of viewership, but also if you think in terms of quality of viewership or who is likely to be influential. So Dave, you’ve been doing these podcasts, you used to have your own radio show. Presumably you prefer the podcasts. What about podcasting as a medium do you find so dynamic and so useful?

RUBIN: First off, can I get the name of the kid that didn’t know me, ’cause we’d have to take care of that.

COWEN: He knows you now.

RUBIN: Alright, he knows me now, so that’s good. Well, first, I’m really looking forward to this because it’s nice being on the other side of the interview every now and again and getting to judge your questions to me the way that Twitter judges my questions to other people. Yeah, I did stand up in New York for 12 years. I stood on street corners six nights a week for two hours a night for many, many years just in Time Square. I’m sure you guys have all been harassed by those people, I was one of them. And I felt that stand up it was great, but it only existed in that room. You could kill or bomb and, regardless, people didn’t know how to find you after or they couldn’t remember, “Oh, he’s the sixth white guy after four hours of whatever.” A middle-aged guy with brown hair you can’t remember no matter how funny you were or whatever. So I remember thinking like, “I’ve gotta make a move out of this. I’ve gotta figure out something.” Actually, I started a podcast very early on, before anyone knew what podcasts were. I quite literally had a podcast where I did not know how to download a podcast at the time. I was doing it with my on-air partner, he knew how to do it, he said, “Let’s try this thing.” And eventually it became so successful I got on Sirius XM and I was over there for a couple years. Then that led to what I’m doing now.

COWEN: But you have a bigger audience now on your own…

RUBIN: Oh, yeah. Getting on YouTube and everything in the digital space, it’s incredible. My policy is I don’t care where people listen or where they watch or how they consume it or how much they watch. Some people watch for a few minutes then download the full audio. We put up our hour-and-a-half long interviews and some people watch that whole thing or listen to that whole thing, some people just want five-minute clips. So to me it’s like we create something and then however they get it, I’m fine with that.

COWEN: Why is it that so many successful podcasts are relatively long? So we’ve done very well with hour-long podcasts or sometimes even 90-minute podcasts. It’s counter-intuitive. You might think the internet you want short bits, everything should be five or seven minutes. But podcasts, it almost seems the longer they are, Serial, a lot of those episodes are fairly long. What’s your intuition there?

RUBIN: As we have thinking people in this room and I suspect most of your audience is thinking people, I think you’ll be happy to know that I really believe that there is a rubber band effect happening right now. We’ve been so bludgeoned with short form stuff. Vine or six second videos and Snapchat and Twitter’s 140 characters and this endless assault on thinking, because you can only have this tiny chunk to say anything. So I actually think in the last… I think it’s really started in the last year or so, there’s really a movement, people are willing to give you their time if you give them something good. So conversations like you have and like Serial and a bunch of other things, they’re allowing people to stop the noise. Because I think that’s what’s happening, people, even when I was on the flight here, I was watching the guy next to me on his iPad just go through his Facebook feed and it’s half political stuff and half babies and half cats, that’s three halves, but it was just a long feed.

[laughter]

RUBIN: People are just inundated and they don’t know where to put their attention, so I think a certain amount of people are finding long form now. And as I always say, it’s not rocket science what we’re doing but I think it’s actually, it’s rare these days.

COWEN: I think a lot of it is about going to the gym. So when I was young everyone played tennis or even, believe it or not, racquetball. And if you’re doing that you can’t really listen to much while you’re playing. But if you go to the gym, you go to the gym often for about an hour or a bit more than an hour, you’re typically doing something solo, you’re bored out of your mind and you want something to listen to. And you don’t wanna be changing podcasts every five minutes, you get into some kind of rhythm and you actually listen. It’s the closest thing we have to a captive audience. And then there are commutes which, because we don’t price the roads at rush hour, ’cause we don’t listen to economists, many of those are about an hour long, so you get your podcast listened to in your commute.

RUBIN: Yeah.

COWEN: And people who go to the gym and people who commute, if you think of them demographically, they are much more influential and better educated than average, I think.

RUBIN: Yeah, well, think how beautiful it is. Every single one of you have a device in your pocket. You have access to the world right then and there. I talk to… Next week we’re doing a fan show on my show which I do every six months. I’m interviewing 20 fans from 20 different countries, so we’ll be talking to people from Africa to North America to South America and everywhere else. And I do 20 in a row and it’s incredibly rewarding that people are connecting over these ideas. And yes, there’s diversity in color and religion and things like that, but it’s really about diversity of thought, which is far more important…

COWEN: What’s your country number two for listenership?

RUBIN: Country number two is the UK. So it’s the US, UK, Australia and then Sweden, which is really interesting, because there’s a lot going on there right now and they’re having all sorts of issues related to free speech. And then, believe it or not, number five according to YouTube is Saudi Arabia, which I’m actually very proud of because it means we’re making a dent in a place that’s a pretty closed society.

COWEN: And do Saudis write you about what you’re doing?

RUBIN: Oh, yeah. I get emails literally from all over the world.

COWEN: What kind of anecdotal feedback do you get from countries other than the normal?

The most interesting ones are the closed societies, so a lot of the countries in the Middle East where there are free thinkers, who for the first time are able to find other people to connect with. So I mentioned in one of the panels yesterday, that sort of my awakening to what was happening here related to free speech and what was happening with my former colleagues on the left, most of them won’t talk to me anymore, was the night that Sam Harris was on Real Time with Bill Maher and got into this big fight and the quote that everyone grabs from that is that he called… Affleck called Sam and Bill Grossen racists. I had a guy on my show who’s an atheist in Egypt who wanted to do my show.

RUBIN: He has a little YouTube channel, but he doesn’t show his face on his channel. And he reached out to me, he said he wanted to do my show, and I said, “Look, if you wanna to wear a Spiderman mask and do it, if that’ll keep you safe, go ahead.” And he said no, he wanted to show his face and he came on and he told me that his political awakening was that same night, because he saw the clip on YouTube. And that’s an incredibly powerful thing. We live literally half the world apart and we’re having awakenings over ideas and it’s only because YouTube and all of this exists.

COWEN: I’ve had people from Nigeria write me about my podcast, but for some reason it gets sent to the spam filter.

[laughter]

RUBIN: Are they a prince? Do they want some money from you? Just give them the account and figure it out.

COWEN: Now another innovation you’ve been behind is the notion of crowdfunding your own activities. And you’ve been very successful with this. Could you tell the audience a little bit about how that’s worked for you?

RUBIN: Yeah, so crowdfunding actually has been the greatest freedom that I could possibly imagine. So we started my show, don’t boo immediately, but at first I was with the Young Turks, which is a progressive, or regressive in my view, online news network, and we were with them for about a year and a half. And then I moved over to Ora TV, which is Larry King’s digital network and that’s really where the show took off and I was talking to people like Sam Harris and Ayaan and all sorts of people. And that’s where the show really hit its mark. And after about nine months, I realized we had sort of grown to the point, and I was getting so much email from all over the world and people saying that they were feeling something about these conversations that we were having, that I thought we could do this independently.

So there’s a site that some of you may be familiar with called Patreon. And basically my audience, you can give a dollar a month, which you get a newsletter. You can give $25 a month, you get a T-shirt. You can give $100 a month, I do a small group chat with a couple of people, so a little video group chat. If you give $500 a month, I do a one-on-one with you for 15 minutes. And all sorts of different tiers. And they fund us to about $30,000 a month. It’s about 4,000 people that do it. And it’s beautiful, because the truth is I don’t know… My audience is hugely diverse in terms of politics and they could really never sway me anyway, because I don’t know really what they think. I communicate with some of them, but it’s truly a way to be intellectually free.

COWEN: Now, consider comedy and politics. Some people have the common view that the major comedians out there, they’re left wing. There’s Colbert, there’s John Stewart, it might seem superficially that if you have a sort of anti-establishment attitude, it’s easier to be comic about that. Lenny Bruce in the 1960s, Richard Pryor, it’s easy to be against something and to be funny. Do you think there’s some kind of bias in the medium of comedy against a mix of libertarian, conservative, social conservative ideas?

RUBIN: Oh, yeah. We’re against the norm right now. Look at comedy, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you guys, but you could look at… I don’t wanna throw a bunch of people under the bus, but look at mainstream comedy right now. It’s pretty bad, yeah, there’s a couple, Louis CK and Chappelle, but basically they’ve bought into identity politics. So there’s just so much of it that they’re fighting the wrong people, they’re strengthening the wrong ideas…

COWEN: But is that going to flip against them? Because identity politics has a kind of self-seriousness to it. You’re not allowed to laugh at certain things. You’re not supposed to. And then you have comedians promoting identity politics. Won’t that, at least in the comedy club, be self-refuting?

RUBIN: Oh, yeah, well, it’s hugely damaging and you can see it. So like, Amy Schumer, who I think is a perfectly nice person, I have nothing against her. Her Netflix special got terrible reviews because she trades in a lot of that stuff. Their own viewing audience turned against it and once they found that out, they actually changed their rating system, because they didn’t want the public actually screwing with their rating system. So they don’t do it by stars anymore, which is, I think, kind of interesting. But yes, there’s been a flip. Look, political correctness is the death of comedy. Think about it. I would argue that George Carlin is the greatest comedian of all time. He would literally be banned from campuses right now. He would be thought of as an old, white, patriarchal guy coming around telling them these scary thoughts. That’s a huge problem and that is not good, it’s not good for comedy, it’s not good for society.

COWEN: I’m older than you are, when I was a kid most of my friends were not allowed to listen to George Carlin because he was too radical as a smart aleck. And today, you would not be allowed to listen to him because he’s too much of a patriarch.

RUBIN: Right, exactly. But really, that’s powerful. That’s a powerful notion right there. And it’s true.

COWEN: Now, as political correctness spreads its tentacles, do you think it will reach much into actual comedy clubs? Where, when I go I still hear some fairly outrageous things being said. Not by everyone, maybe you’re more likely to hear racial jokes from individuals who are minorities or jokes about women from women and so on. But how is political correctness affecting the inside of the comedy club?

RUBIN: I’m doing a little less stand up now, so I’m really only doing gigs maybe once a month or so in the clubs. Just because, as I said, I can spend more time doing a podcast where I can suddenly reach, quite literally hundreds of thousands of people like that versus a club I can reach 20 drunk people and it has less value. There’s no doubt that everything’s shifting in the political correctness, what’s happening is, you guys have probably heard about all these memes about Pepe the Frog and Kekistan and all of this stuff, which a certain amount of people on the left would have you believe are hate symbols or something like that. It’s actually just a bunch of kids just trying to get a rile out of people, it truly, that’s what it is. I’m in this at a very intimate level and I see this, where these kids literally, they send a picture of a frog to a celebrity and then the celebrity then amplifies it and says they’re under attack, and this really is happening right now. And then the ADL, which I think they mean well, they then list this frog as a hate symbol. This is really what’s happening right now, this is comedy but it’s coming from not the place you think it’s supposed to come from.

COWEN: How much do you think comedy is what’s sometimes called ‘a winner take all’ market? So another way to phrase the question is 20 years from now do you think there will be more or fewer professional comedians? You might say, for instance, “Well, you’re on YouTube, you’re really funny, I don’t need to go to a comedy club.” There’s this fellow in South Korea, Robert Kelly, he did an interview, he was trying not to be funny doing the interview, his two kids ran into the room, his wife pulled the kids back, it created a viral video, one of the funnier things I saw all year.

RUBIN: Yeah.

COWEN: Maybe not a funny guy, he was trying to keep it serious, so it was hilarious, and I can find those through my filters, through Twitter, through search. What’s the role of a professional comedian when an amateur’s best moment from a guy who isn’t even funny goes so viral?

RUBIN: Well, the role is always there because the commentary on society is always gonna be there, so the moments like… Of course, I saw that video and it’s hilarious and it’s in the moment and it’s a beautiful thing. By the way, there was an outrage to that, because a lot of people were saying that the woman who came in was his nanny because I think she was Asian but it was actually his wife so then that created… So even that, just a pure moment of something hilarious happening became part of the outrage machine too. But the role for the critic of society, it’ll always be there, but it’s just not gonna to come from the clubs anymore, I think. I think that unfortunately… Comedy in its rawest form of standing in front of a group of people with a microphone and connecting to them that way, it’s as beautiful as it gets, there’s nothing in between you and the audience. It’s like painting, if you were a great painter and every stroke you had to go, “Was that okay? Was that okay?” Well, that would make you kinda crazy as a painter, but in stand up up you have to do it that way, every line you have to make sure is funny. I have not been funny here today at all, maybe we have to do something else.

COWEN: There’s less live music in New York City today than in the 1970s, is there less live comedy?

RUBIN: I think there is a little bit less because people are just realizing… The simple truth is anybody, you got a good idea and you can open a YouTube account and do it there. So people just see less utility for it and, by the way, I really think that’s okay as much as I loved stand up and I love spoken word stuff and live events and things like that, I think ultimately if you can figure out how to get to your people, which is why we do what we do, then whether you’re doing it in front of people or just in your room I think either one’s fine.

COWEN: And as a comedian are you more of a gatekeeper in a way that a comedian might have been in an earlier time? And let me explain this, so if the moments from these amateurs, like there are hilarious one star reviews on Amazon, there are funny tweets. There’s so much funny stuff out there, even done by non-funny people. If I can just live in the moments I still want comedians, but I want comedians I trust, comedians who have opinions, they’re gatekeepers of opinion, they’re figures and personalities, and that in a sense is more important than just being funny. ‘Cause just being funny, you’re competing against the moments, but the moments don’t supply trust, a sense of comfort, and even moral guidance. Do you agree with that?

RUBIN: Yeah, well, look, who do we miss right now in America, whether you agreed with his politics or not? I suspect that for this audience, that Jon Stewart was probably a little left for you guys, but we miss some voice right now of sanity, that’s what we don’t have right now.

COWEN: That’s you.

RUBIN: Well, I guess… Alright, alright. But… Well, thank you, but we miss that in general, that you can get some truth. No one wants to be… What’s that Oscar Wilde quote about truth? “If it’s not funny they’re gonna hang you.” I completely butchered that but something to that effect. So couching something in some humor is really the only way you can tell anyone truthful, anything truthful these days.

COWEN: Is it hard to stay funny as you start to feel more morally important?

RUBIN: I think I’m probably struggling with that a little bit, quite honestly, yeah. I’m talking about big things, I’m talking about important things and racism and free speech and all this stuff, but I can tell you this, when I go to universities and I talk to these kids, they want to laugh, they really do, and I’ve tried to bring back my stand up into that while we’re talking about some seriously heavy stuff. Because imagine being a 20-year-old kid right now and consistently told, “You can’t think what you think.” And if you think differently you’re somehow racist or bigoted or prejudiced or any of this stuff. So they need any outlet and if we don’t provide it to them then people with worse intentions than us will.

COWEN: So in the 1960s much of the left, not all of it but much of it, they were big defenders of free speech. You had the Berkley Free Speech Movement, these days you have Berkeley possibly banning Ann Coulter or at least telling her she has to come on some other date when she can’t make it. Why has the left changed on the speech issue so much, to what do you ascribe that evolution?

RUBIN: So this unfortunately is my specialty, because I was part of the left and it’s only in the last couple years that I really understood what classical liberalism was and that being liberal has very little to do with being progressive or a part of the left. The left and the progressives, they’ve become regressive. The belief that they have in the collective, that you should judge people by these immutable characteristics of them being black or gay or Muslim or whatever else it is. Well, you automatically, you’re throwing out the individual. You’re throwing out the free thinker. You’re throwing out the ex-Muslim who maybe wants to talk about the doctrine of Islam, which is a set of ideas that should be critiqued the way you would critique any other set of ideas.

And this is actually based in prejudice, which is the irony, because they’re the ones that are constantly screaming that everyone on the right is racist. This is what it’s become. It’s laughable in how ridiculous it’s become. But they constantly are doing that while they’re the ones that are actually keeping us in this constant state of judging each other, not on our thoughts, but on other things. So when I do these things, I was at the University of Arizona the other night, and there was a girl in a hijab there, and she was laughing, the same way the white kid who probably was a Republican was laughing. And I don’t care about any of their immutable characteristics, I only care about their thoughts.

COWEN: You studied for a year at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. How did that shape you?

RUBIN: Yeah. Wow, you really did your research! How did that shape me? Well, Israel’s an interesting place because it is the size of New Jersey and at some point… It’s about nine miles wide, the entire country. They’ve got one international airport…

COWEN: And a very different notion of political correctness.

RUBIN: Well, it’s funny, I was there about a year ago, and I just tweeted out that I was at a bar, and about 50 people showed up. That’s half the country right there. It’s a pretty small country. And I realized what it was, they have no tolerance for political correctness because when shit’s blowing up all over the place, you simply just can’t worry about what’s politically correct. You have to do what actually is correct.

COWEN: Are you more or less funny in Israel?

RUBIN: Am I more or less funny in Israel? Well, I do a pretty decent Israeli accent.

[laughter]

RUBIN: And you know it’s coming, I want to [19:54] ____ okay. I’m dealing with an Israeli contractor who built my studio right now, which if anything can turn you into an anti-semite, that’s it.

[laughter]

COWEN: If it’s indeed a country where anything can be said, does that make it harder to be funny? Is a certain amount of censorship, whether explicit or implicit required for humor to have its force? So you see from totalitarian societies, satire has much more power than maybe it does in America today.

RUBIN: Yeah. Well, that’s a great question, because if you listen to the hysterics of the people on the left at the moment, they’re making it sound like Trump is cracking down on everyone’s free speech. Now, I did not… I voted for Gary Johnson, and I should be judged accordingly, but Trump… I don’t fear the government coming for my free speech at the moment. I simply don’t. What I fear is the chill factor, that we’re doing it to ourselves. Every day, we’re slowly putting out less information, we don’t wanna be de-friended with somebody on Facebook and we don’t wanna be attacked on Twitter. I literally get emails from people that are going through divorces over politics now. And even just think about that in your own life.

RUBIN: There used to be a time… I used to know couples and friends that disagreed on things and that was it. You’d have a drink and you’d have something to eat and we agree to disagree and that’s it. That’s becoming increasingly rare, and I find myself even… Even though people know what I do, I have good friends who I get into crazy arguments with and I always make a point of saying, “Whatever happens here, our friendship is far more important.” And the fact that you even have to say that these days, or you have to preface something by, if you like somebody who’s a little out of mainstream think, you may have to go, “Well, I don’t agree with everything he says.” What a crazy notion that is. Who do you agree with all the time? I don’t even agree with myself all the time.

[laughter]

COWEN: Don Rickles, he just passed away at age 90, famous comedian. He was famous for insulting people. He insulted everyone, but often he insulted people in ways that today would be hard to pull off. Could there be a Don Rickles today?

RUBIN: I don’t think so. I don’t think there could be… The idea of a Don Rickles there could be, but the idea that someone could start these days and walk around this room and go, “Yeah, you’re a Jew, and black guy, Hispanic.” All that stuff, it could never fly, even if it was hilarious. The amount of cred… He had years and years and years of cred building in a politically incorrect age to get there, so to start with that, I think it would be incredibly tough. Ironically, we need that more than ever. We need to laugh at some of those stereotypes. We need to laugh at some of those differences. That’s the whole point is that if you can’t laugh at that stuff, man, we’re really in trouble.

COWEN: Now, you’ve been an opponent of political correctness, but do you feel there are things that we should actually not be allowed to make fun of? I don’t mean in the law…

RUBIN: No, wherever you’re going with this, the answer is no.

[laughter]

COWEN: In terms of custom and politeness…

RUBIN: No, no.

COWEN: And things that people should not make fun of in a comedy club.

RUBIN: No, you can absolutely make fun of everything. There’s simply nothing…

COWEN: Every single thing?

RUBIN: You can give me a list of things and I would say there’s absolutely everything…

COWEN: You’re willing to bite the bullet?

RUBIN: 100%. If you truly believe in what free speech is, then yes, you have… Somebody might say something offensive to you. Somebody might… I had a girl at… When I was at UT a couple days ago, there was a girl in the back, and she was a young black girl, and she said, “You know, it would be very upsetting to me if I was walking down the street and someone called me a bunch of names and blah, blah, blah, and what do we do about that?” And I said, “Nobody wants to be called bad names. Nobody wants to be talked down to and all that, but at the end of the day, they’re just words. It’s actually on you how you react to these words. Go ahead and start fighting with them if you want and use your free speech to counter it.” But there’s simply nothing that should be off limits, unless you can think of something…

COWEN: Is there a topic I’m not free to even mention, much less joke about. And I’d like to ask you, should “X” be off limits?

RUBIN: Yeah, give me one.

COWEN: And I’m not willing to say “X”.

[laughter]

RUBIN: Right, therein lies the problem. Here, you wanna write it down. Why don’t you write something down here. I’ll look at it, and then see what we can come up with.

COWEN: The “P” word, does that…

RUBIN: The “P” word?

COWEN: Pedophilia.

RUBIN: Oh, yeah. You can make fun of it, sure.

COWEN: Okay, yeah.

RUBIN: I don’t know, I don’t have a desire to… I certainly wouldn’t mock. This is why it’s on you.

COWEN: But say, victims, so one can joke about the topic, but to joke about victims of various very bad events. Should there be like a private norm or custom where that is…

RUBIN: That’s on you. It’s on you. That’s simply the truth. Do I want some sort of laws or code, or even…

COWEN: No, no. No laws. No laws.

RUBIN: It’s simply on you, yes. I prefer, myself, to be a decent human being but at the end of the day… Look, go on Twitter for just a moment and search some words that you don’t like and you will see the most horrific things you can… Things that you truly cannot imagine you will see people say.

COWEN: I’m afraid to compile that search history.

RUBIN: Yeah, yeah. Look at my Twitter mentions one day, you can see some pretty horrible stuff. But you know what? They have a right to do it. They simply have a right to do it. It doesn’t mean you should do it, but you can do it.

COWEN: What’s the most underrated Star Wars movie?

RUBIN: Ah, now we’re into something good. The most underrated Star Wars movie is Revenge of the Sith, actually, which was the last of the prequels. Which I know gets mocked a lot, but it’s a great political story about giving up too much power to what became the executive branch and then how that then gets flipped and you suddenly are cracking down on all the wrong people. There’s an incredible political story there that unfortunately through some bad acting and George Lucas not handing off enough, there’s really some libertarian stuff in there and some stuff about consolidation of power and a lot of interesting political stuff.

COWEN: So Star Wars is important to you?

RUBIN: Hugely important to me.

COWEN: What else from movies, literature, cultural background has been important to you, helping to make you funny, but also giving you your ideas? I don’t mean politics now, culture.

RUBIN: Well, I would say in terms of culture, I once ate some pot brownies and went to go see the movie Air Force One and it was sold out.

[laughter]

RUBIN: It was sold out, so that’s not the funny part. It was sold out and I ended up walking into the movie, Contact, which was Carl Sagan, it’s his one fiction book, with Jodie Foster. And I don’t know if you guys remember, but there’s an incredible opening scene, a panorama of the universe. And I had eaten some pot brownies with some friends and my mind was blown.

[laughter]

RUBIN: I mean, I was on another planet as that panoramic scene opened. And then through that, I loved the movie, I loved the existential questions it offered and the discussions about science and also there’s some interesting stuff about the role of government and what it should pay for in research as opposed to private and so a lot of cool stuff, and Jodie Foster’s amazing. But because of that, I basically read every Carl Sagan book, and that really opened me up to a lot of free thinking and a lot of philosophy and things like that.

COWEN: And those made you more optimistic?

RUBIN: I think, ultimately, I’m an optimist, which is…

COWEN: Ultimately is the tricky word there, right?

RUBIN: Yeah, at the end of the day I’m an optimist, but I think there’s a lot of bad stuff at the moment. One of the things that I always say to the kids when I go to the schools is, I’m sure most of you guys saw Midnight in Paris, the Woody Allen movie. And the crux of the movie is that everyone thinks that if they only lived in another time that it was important then, if you lived in some other period that that’s when things were really happening. But what I say to these kids is, “You guys truly live in something amazing right now.” I mean, all of you can feel it, that’s why you’re all here and you guys all do the work that you do. There’s something happening right now, there is some incredible fertile ground. It doesn’t mean it’s gonna go well or it’s gonna go bad, it’s up for us to choose, and that’s why talking to these young people is so important.

COWEN: If you tell jokes all day long and you make people laugh and you interact with them on social media, that whole experience on net, making people laugh, does it make you more or less optimistic about human nature compared to when you started?

RUBIN: Well, social media, generally can make you…

COWEN: It’s part of the package, though.

RUBIN: Yeah, it’s part of the package. It can make you less optimistic. It’s a crazy… Look, all of these things are free, right? So anyone can get on Facebook, everyone can get on Twitter, everyone can get on YouTube.

COWEN: YouTube comments. You ever read comments on YouTube video? I’m sure you have.

RUBIN: You know how many times I’ve had to call my mom to tell her to stop reading the YouTube comments?

COWEN: I’ve had to do the same.

[laughter]

RUBIN: She literally, my mom literally thought that someone who was using a Bill O’Reilly… This was before this last whole Bill O’Reilly thing, maybe a year ago. Somebody was using a Bill O’Reilly picture as their avatar, and my mom thought that Bill O’Reilly was writing racist things to me on YouTube. I mean, this is…

COWEN: Was he?

RUBIN: Well, actually, in retrospect, it turned out to be him, yeah.

[laughter]

RUBIN: But this concept of just everyone… We’re constantly getting on there, it brings out the worst in us in so many ways. And by the way, I say that as someone who prefaced the beginning of this by saying it’s connected us. Look, Twitter and having a phone and all this video, it literally caused a revolution in Egypt. It’s changing the world for good in many ways, but even look at Egypt. Egypt, they had a democratic election after they got rid of, in effect, the dictator, that lasted for a year and it was much worse and now they have the army in charge again. It’s all good, it’s all bad, and it’s really what you make of it and what you pull out of it.

COWEN: Final question. You have a very different background from many or all of us, most of all being a professional comedian and being so much on YouTube, but not only. What do you think there is that you might understand about the future of liberty that we would not get that you could communicate to us?

RUBIN: As an interviewer, I just wanna say that’s a great last question. That’s a good one right there. I think, probably because I’m so in it with young people, there is something, they’re feeling something right now. And I don’t mean it purely at the academic level, I think existentially they’re feeling… They grew up in this crazy time of everybody tearing each other down all the time endlessly. It’s like we’ve all been bullied or we were bullies or whatever we all grew up with, that’s fine, but they’re walking around with this in their pocket all the time. And then you throw in a really terrible job that the mainstream media is doing these days, and you throw in fake news and you throw in Trump and they’re really having trouble figuring out what’s true.

So, as I say on my show every week, basically, I’m doing the best job I can to try to bring them something that’s true. And people will say to me all the time, “Dave I trust you, I trust you.” And I’m like, “Well, you gotta find a lot of other people to trust than me. I’m one guy, I’m doing the best I can, I certainly make mistakes and I try to correct them when I do.” But I think they’re truly feeling an existential squeeze on them that I don’t think, certainly my generation didn’t feel. They’re having trouble grasping what’s real. And I think it’s the job… That’s why this college thing, that this whole conference has been about, is so important. If we’re gonna shield them, if they’re gonna go to college to be shielded from the very ideas and the foundation that they need to go out into society, well, then we’re truly setting them up for a really depressing life and probably for, not to be overly dramatic, but the end of a functioning democracy.

So that’s why the ideas of liberty and individuality and knowing political philosophy, knowing why it’s your life and you should live it and all of those things, that’s why it’s so important. And we need more of that and that’s why for the two days that I’ve been here it’s been so nice, ’cause I see you guys doing it at an academic level and I’m doing it in an obviously different way, but we have to hit them in every way so that the kids that won’t listen to me might listen to some of these professors, and the ones that won’t listen to the professors might listen to me.

COWEN: Dave Rubin, thank you very much.

[applause]