“I could put Trump videos up all day long and probably triple our views,” Rubin says
Dave Rubin doesn’t want to have the same conversations that political talking heads are having on cable news — and while a recent effort to book 2020 Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg fell through in a very public way, his approach is working out both financially and in terms of viewership.
The stand-up comedian-turned-commentator, a self-described “former lefty,” now has 1 million subscribers to his “Rubin Report” YouTube channel, which covers both social and political issues, and has racked up more than 200 million views since he left The Young Turks six years ago.
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His operation — a team of about four full-time and four part-time employees — pulls in tens of thousands of dollars each month, mostly from fan donations, Rubin told TheWrap. By any calculation, that goes down as a “win” in the world of digital media startups.
Rubin attributes his success, at least in part, to being the anti-cable talk show. He shoots an uninterrupted, hour-long interview from a studio in the garage of his West Hollywood home with a single guest he deems “interesting,” regardless of their political leanings.
“More than anything else, I want there to be a place where people can share their ideas and not feel immediately [judged],” he said. “You know, there are so many interviewers now that just want to getcha, so they can get that clip to go viral.”
In the last year, his guest list has included public intellectuals like Steven Pinker and Sam Harris to conservative media stars like Glenn Beck and Ben Shapiro — someone who doesn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with Rubin on gay marriage, for example. (Rubin married producer David Janet in 2015.)
However, one recent guest prompted major blowback: Mike Cernovich, the right-wing pundit who in 2016 pushed the Pizzagate conspiracy theory falsely suggesting that top Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, were behind a child sex ring operating out of a pizza parlor.
When Rubin looked poised to book 2020 presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg this month after reaching out to the Democratic mayor of South Bend, Indiana, on Twitter, members of what Rubin called the “blue check Twitterati” quickly moved to derail the interview.
Reporters from HuffPost and Vox as well as Angelo Carusone, president of the liberal advocacy group Media Matters, tweeted their disapproval to Buttigieg and the candidate’s press secretary, Chris Meagher, calling into question why “Mayor Pete” would want to talk to someone that had just interviewed such a lightning-rod as Cernovich.
In return, Rubin ripped Media Matters as an “absolute joke” and felt the dust-up was Exhibit A in how the mainstream media has been consumed by far-left, illiberal hysteria. “How does a writer at HuffPo or Vox truly look themselves in the mirror and consider themselves a journalist when they’re literally trying to pressure politicians from talking to interviewers?” Rubin asked. “They’re not journalists, they’re activists.”
Meagher, Vox’s Carlos Maza and HuffPost’s Andy Campbell did not respond to requests for comment; Carusone told TheWrap: “I don’t think it’s a stretch to point out that being juxtaposed with Mike Cernovich is not a good look for a presidential hopeful.”
When pressed if giving a platform to someone like Cernovich — who eventually walked back his Pizzagate advocacy — legitimized their views, Rubin said, “I don’t think interviewing somebody is legitimizing their views. Interviewing somebody is hearing their views.”
Without solicitation, Rubin will rattle off his liberal credentials: “I’m begrudgingly pro-choice, I’m against the death penalty, I’m for dignity with death and strong public education. I’m for legalizing marijuana,” he told TheWrap.
Still, the Mayor Pete fiasco was, in Rubin’s eyes, a microcosm of the rot he said has infected the left and why he doesn’t consider himself a card-carrying member anymore. In his view, the left’s emphasis on identify politics and move toward demonizing conversations with people on the other end of the spectrum has left him without a political country — somewhere between the New Left and the Trump-dominated GOP.
It’s a predicament he believes many of his fans can relate to — and something that’s helped drive his independent success. “I have left the left and not only have I survived, I’ve thrived,” Rubin said. “And I’m showing other people that you can do it, too.”
Rubin proudly boasts that all of his employees receive full health and dental coverage. Along with several other digital video creators, Rubin left the payment site Patreon over philosophical differences earlier this year. At the time, Rubin said, fan donations brought in $24,000 per month.
Now, after switching over to receiving donations through his website, his operation is bringing in about $35,000 per month, he said. YouTube ad revenue and ads on the podcast version of his show account for the other 30% of his revenue. The fan support has allowed him to build the home studio, which he joked allows him to escape the hellish 405 traffic. “We’re fan-funded. That’s pretty awesome,” Rubin said. “I’m truly free.”
That support is a signal of something “very rich happening on the center-right,” Rubin said, where a motley crew of “classical liberals, ex-lefties, libertarians, conservatives, Trumpers [and] Never-Trumpers” have banded together to fight for the same free-speech principles he says are the cornerstone of his show. This renaissance has not only galvanized his show, but several digital ventures from members of the “Intellectual Dark Web,” a loosely-connected “alliance of heretics,” as The New York Times put it last year, that counts Harris and Joe Rogan among its ranks.
Rubin said he’s been approached for potential distribution and network deals, but insists he’s content simply seeing where his YouTube channel takes him.”I don’t want to grow just for the sake of growing or chasing money,” Rubin said.
“We shoot one or two shows per week. You know, people want us to shoot more. But I don’t feel people need to be bludgeoned with more content,” he continued. “There’s no shortage of content. If you give me one hour of your life a week, and that probably means you probably gave Sam Harris one, you maybe gave Ben Shapiro two, and you might have listened to a three-hour [Joe] Rogan podcast, it’s like you should probably shut off some of these podcasts and go outside and take a run or something, because I think we’re overly political now.”
That might have something to do with a particularly bold choice made by Rubin, especially for someone hosting a YouTube show driven by social and political issues in 2019: He’s largely stayed away from talking about President Trump.
“I’m not obsessed with him,” Rubin said. “And I don’t like chasing things for clicks. I could put Trump videos up all day long and probably triple our views. But it’s not how I want to treat my business, it’s not how I want to live, and I don’t want to subject my audience to that either.”