“Ice pussy, I’m the Whoville thriller, I’m-a definitely fuck this Grinch,” Matt Rogers intimately croons aboard a piano in full “MILF with no kids” drag as Christine Baranski’s Martha May Whovier. The deeply profound, Mariah Carey-written (?) R&B anthem and future Billboard chart topper (?) is taken from Rogers’ Showtime special, Have You Heard of Christmas, a one-hour musical extravaganza that queerifies the yuletide as the star launches his bid to become the “Pop Prince” of Carey’s annual holiday.
The special, an instant queer classic, concludes an insane year for Rogers. The comedian memorably made his film debut as a Marisa Tomei apologist in Hulu’s Fire Island – which GAY TIMES ranked as one of the 10 best films of 2022 – starred in the Vanessa Bayer-led dark comedy series I Love That For You (season two pending) and continued to flex his expertise on popular culture alongside collaborator Bowen Yang on their critically-acclaimed podcast Las Culturistas.
“This has been such a great year because I’ve gotten to show people a lot of the projects that I’ve been working on,” Rogers tells GAY TIMES. “I feel really lucky and excited after so many years of not working in the industry as much as I wanted to and pounding the pavement in New York. It feels so good to have this year.”
Read ahead for our full interview with Rogers, where we touch upon all the aforementioned subjects including a potential Fire Island sequel, where he wants to see his character in the second season of I Love That For You and why it’s the “highest praise” to be “I don’t know her”-d by Mariah Carey.
Matt, the ‘tache!
I’m sort of like the American version of you, in many ways. I have that nice, thick, confident brow. I’ve got the moustache working. I’m you, over here in Seattle.
You have the bone structure to make it all work with just a moustache, though. I can’t pull that off.
What I have is excellent lighting here with this full window moment, okay? Let’s not go back-and-forth.
I have to apologise, Matt, because I’m giving Drag Race season one with this filter. I don’t know why it’s so vaseline-y?
Giving Shannel! I just recently watched a clip of Shannel on Drag Race season one again where she’s tossing the pins. I was like, ‘How did this bitch lose?’ I love Bebe Zahara Benet but how did she lose, exactly?
And Rebecca Glasscock making top three over her? Err?
The world’s first controversy. That feels like it happened in 8BC. By the way, someone made a list of all the seasons that are coming. It’s season 15, season 16, All Stars 8, UK 5, Belgique, Espana 3, Espana All Stars, France 2, Canada 4, Down Under 3, Philippines 2, Italia 3, Global All Stars, Mexico, Brazil, Germany…
I write a “here’s your guide to Drag Race this year” every January and I’m honestly a bit scared to write the new one.
For my own mental health, I just watch the American versions… That’s it. The UK, I do watch, but I watched an episode this season and I realised that I didn’t understand any of the references. It was the one where they had to play reality TV show contestants and it was so British that I didn’t understand, and I usually love the UK.
Matt, congratulations on all of your 2022 successes. Let’s start with Fire Island. A diverse LGBTQ+ film with an all-LGBTQ+ cast and crew winning at the Gotham Awards is major. What was it like sharing this moment with the cast, especially as you’ve all grown quite close?
We all knew we had made a great movie and that the best thing about it was this ensemble. We all left with these amazing relationships, but it was one thing to feel that way and another thing to have it acknowledged by a legitimate awards group. I hope that happens more often because we need to think more outside of the box when it comes to what we give awards to. Not everything has to be a sobering drama or a “comedy” about something real to earn something like an ensemble award. When you watch our movie, I think everyone would agree that no one made this for awards but that doesn’t mean it’s not deserving of an award. If they were going to award us in some way, I think the ensemble is a fitting area. Joel Kim is getting some recognition for his screenplay, which is also so great. I’m just really proud of it, and we got to get together for one last messy night. We all went out afterwards and made out with each other, it was great. Now that Fire Island’s press cycle is a little bit over, I can start getting a little messy with what I share! Not that messy…
What’s the messiest thing you can tell me? Reveal!
The messiest thing I can tell you? Let’s just say this: there should’ve been a camera crew documenting on Fire Island because I think it would’ve been more entertaining than the movie. And I say that with all the love in the world for the movie, I just think this would’ve been really good. It was a very meta experience [filming Fire Island]. We are gays on Fire Island together. It really added to the sense of reality and the sense of camaraderie amongst the cast that, while we were shooting it, we were really on Fire Island having a Fire Island experience. It doesn’t go away just because you’re there for work. There’s no real working when you’re out on Fire Island, even the people that work at the pantry or the shops or whatever. They get off the clock and their Fire Island experience is still going.
It is this magical place where you leave behind any answering to the norm or any sort of heterosexual voice in your head at all or patriarchal, homophobic voice. It is a haven for queer people. When you get there, something in your DNA changes a little bit. Of course, as the movie depicts, there’s all sorts of hierarchies and bullshit to navigate, but you give yourself permission to have an experience when you go there. Shooting the film was both a meta experience but also a very real Fire Island experience. We left it all with very close friendships with each other and those things don’t go away just because you’re not actually there on vacation.
The thought of Fire Island always used to petrify me because, as the film explores, I assumed it was run by white muscle gays. After watching the film and speaking to the cast, however, I’m ready.
You should definitely go! You should bring the closest people to you that are gonna be on board for the same type of experience. There’s this myth out there that it is run by these hot white gays that all look the same and yes, do they have an easier time navigating any space? Yes. So, is this any different? No. They’re gonna have places to go, they’re gonna have the circles they run in and they’re definitely going to dictate on social media what that looks and feels like. But, we don’t know what it’s like to be in their head. Are they actually having fun? Who the fuck knows? There are so many other things to do than be at that one party that it seems like they’re all photographing. Also, remember that visibility is not reality. Just because someone is shouting that they’re some place does not even mean they’re enjoying it. They’re clearly on their feed documenting it. Not to say that people don’t take pictures because they’re having fun and want to remember it, but as someone who navigates those kind of spaces… I feel like I’ve seen a lot of the gay community from every angle, to be honest. This is what I’ll say: perception is not reality. The movie does a really good job of illustrating that.
There’s a scene in the movie where Nick Adams’ character is intimidating Joel Kim Booster in a bathroom and he’s saying in so many words, ‘Stay away from Will because he’s gonna be my starter boyfriend and I see you circling him and wanna let you know to back off.’ After Joel leaves, Nick looks in the mirror like he’s dissatisfied. That’s a tiny little glimpse into the fact that, if he wasn’t insecure, he wouldn’t feel the need to be a bully. It’s a cloak. The ways in which we do drag in our everyday lives doesn’t stop at what we wear or how we speak. It’s also in how we present ourselves to the world. We could all do ourselves a favour by just slowing down and remembering that everyone’s a human being and no one is really in control of how you feel except you. Of course, there’s instances where we have real bullying happening and issues within the community, but a lot of times when I have fought back on me being insecure about going to Fire Island, which I was for a very long time, and me feeling like I wouldn’t fit in for X, Y or Z reason, it was always because I hadn’t dealt with something in here and less because I was actually afraid of people. Once you’re able to see the forest through the trees, it is a diverse place and I hope the movie can encourage it to be an even more diverse place where people can go and release.
When I spoke to Tomas, they said another film was “in the works”. Has there been further development on that?
There was some talk in the immediate aftermath of the movie about a sequel, but I think a couple things have to happen for that to become a reality, which is that Joel Kim has to think of an idea that he and Andrew both like; that it feels like it’s actually worth it. Also, they gotta pay! There was some talk about the sequel being James Scully and Bowen Yang’s wedding in Provincetown and that we all go back and for some reason we run into the characters that were from the first movie. It would be a really interesting continuation. The truth is, you do pull away from the dock, watch them dance and you do wanna know what’s next. That is, I think, a compliment to the ensemble and the wonderful script. You do fall in love with the characters by the end. More than just the characters, their group dynamic was worth following. We would all be excited about doing a sequel, but only if everyone could be there. And only if it felt like the script was saying something just as important and fun and that we could all feel really good about doing. Otherwise, it’s fine as a standalone movie.
We need to talk about I Love That For You. Matt, it’s one of my favourite new shows of the entire year. You’re brilliant. Vanessa Bayer is brilliant. I know you’re probably under oath, but where would you like to see Darcy in season two?
I’d like to see him exploring whatever’s going on with Perry. Darcy is the kind of person who’s married to his work and probably very proud of that, and I think his personal life has suffered. I always play him as someone who didn’t have a lot of friends, that’s why he was so invested in his friendship with Bethan, who really wasn’t treating him like a friend. I think that’s part of the reason why he had a full mental breakdown at work and started making bad choices professionally. With all that in mind, what does it look like when he actually has someone to invest in personally, as much as he invests professionally? Darcy is at a 10, so what happens when his little anxious ass nails shift from ‘my life is my job’ to ‘my life is my job but also there’s something else going on.’ It’s interesting when people who are really type A go-getters bring that energy to their personal life. Not everyone is used to that and Perry is the kind of person who is very laid back and he’s a sexual, free guy. What does a relationship between someone who is very scheduled and principled like Darcy look like with someone who is very loose like Perry? That could be a really fun thing to explore.
It’ll be interesting to see how his relationship with Patricia develops, because some of his walls were starting to break down towards the end of season one.
Definitely. Patricia is like a mother figure to Darcy. We know he has an actual family we haven’t seen, but I think Patricia is this aspirational, matriarchal type in his life and that he desperately wants approval from her. He’s starting to get that, but again, there is a hole that needs to be filled in Darcy. And so now that Patricia has given him approval and we get the sense at the end of the season that she sees him in this way, is that enough for him? Is the fact that she’s finally looked him in the eyes and been like ‘I respect you,’ is that enough? Or is there more that he has to deal with?
I’m really scared, Matt, because Showtime has been very quiet on a season two…
I have nothing to say other than… I’ll just tell you what I know: they’ve written the season and the powers-that-be just have to say, ‘Let’s do it.’ Certainly, it’s in a place where we’re ready to start production on it in the new year. That’s all I’ll say about it! But, the industry is in such a weird place that I don’t know what’s happening. All I can say is that everyone involved is really excited about it. Molly [Shannon] got nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her performance, and it was the first nomination that any of our cast has gotten for anything. There’s little things that are happening that are good signs. We appeared on some year-end lists and it feels like everyone I’ve talked to, yourself included, asks for the second season in a way that I can tell is genuine.
To round off the year, you adapted your stage show Have You Heard of Christmas? for a Showtime special, which is absolutely brilliant. How much of the Matt in the special is you, and how much of it is a character?
You know what’s funny? I started doing it as a live show in 2017 and the characters just sort of happened, this narcissist version of me that wants to become the Pop Prince of Christmas and join the Christmas canon and be synonymous with the holiday forever more to make money off of it much in the way that Mariah does. When I knew that I was gonna adapt it for Showtime, I knew that I wanted to play myself because I always had. But, where do I start and the character begins? I’ll be honest with you, I of course started the show because I want to do something every year. I do enjoy Christmas. I do enjoy singing. All of my interests that would fuel a character like this are there. In terms of the inability to see the forest through the trees, the lacking awareness of the genuine meaning of Christmas, I do know those things, so he’s like a ditzier, more craven version of myself; a little bit more unaware of his shortcomings intellectually, let’s say. What the character is born out of is genuine. I’m comfortable saying it’s Matt Rogers, but the characterised version is definitely the one performing. It’s not really me.
There were two particular moments in the special that made me cackle the house down: Martha May Whovier’s instant Christmas classic Hottest Female Up in Whoville, written by Mariah Carey; and the classroom scene where the kids ripped you to shreds. Please talk to me about how both of these scenes came together?
I’ve done the Mariah song since it started in 2017. I’m a huge fan of Mariah, and so it was really easy for me to tap into her vocalisations and the little things that are characteristic of her in her vocal and writing. I think I did it in about 15 minutes because I got the comedic idea of, ‘What if it was a Mariah Carey song from Martha May’s perspective?’ and I just went with it. They are so similar because they’re both elusive chanteuses, know what I mean? Martha May comes out, scantily clad and gives it to the women of Whoville, then she closes the door and who is that woman? I feel like Mariah would know, so I fleshed that out. With the kids, that was something I wrote at the 11th hour for the Showtime special. The thing about Christmas is, it really does capitalise on this thing with the children, know what I mean? Christmas is about the kids, we lie to the kids about Santa and we bring these kids to see the tree at Rockefeller Centre and look at the decorations etc. But, kids today have lived through COVID. They’ve seen the world. They’ve seen the dark. They’re on the internet. Are we really telling kids Santa is real in the year 2022? I just thought, ‘My character, how would he step into a situation where he is a Millennial, who was a child that was talked down to about Christmas?’ I had a really fun time having these kids just rip me a new asshole because of course they would. They can see through this. Don’t talk down to them!
Has the elusive chanteuse been in touch? I know she likes to speak to the gays…
She’ll speak to the gays. She has not been in touch about the special, but that’s fine. For Mariah Carey to “I don’t know her” me… That’s the highest praise, you know?
So, neither Marisa Tomei and Mariah Carey have acknowledged you after this year? Fools!
That’s changed, though! Marisa Tomei has now seen the Fire Island scene and I heard from a reliable source that she thought it was really funny and that she wants to meet me and Tomas, so maybe that’s in the future. Mariah, maybe not, but Marisa? I could see it.
Marisa Tomei starring in Provincetown, the upcoming Fire Island sequel? Here! For! It!
Don’t you think it would be funny if Marisa Tomei and Margaret Cho were in a lesbian relationship in Provincetown, Fire Island 2? I’m just saying, that would be iconic!
Give it to me now. Matt, you’ve had such an incredible year. What can we expect from you in 2023?
It’s been an amazing year, but do you know what has been missing from my year? Being truly creative again, from a writing something new perspective. So, I think I’m going to take the early months of the year to really think about what’s next for me and what I want to write next. I’m gonna be working with Bowen Yang and our good friend Sudi Green on a project. I’ve got so many ideas that need fleshing out. This has been such a great year because I’ve gotten to show people a lot of the projects that I’ve been working on. But, it’s time to think about what’s next so if you don’t see me for a little while in 2023, just know that I’m working! I feel really lucky and excited after so many years of not working in the industry as much as I wanted to and pounding the pavement in New York. It feels so good to have this year. I’m gonna get a little 2022 tattooed on my wrist because 22 was always my lucky number when I was little, and 22 has been such an amazing year. So, my first tattoo will commemorate how great this year has been.
Have You Heard of Christmas? is now streaming on Showtime.