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In “Everything You Want,” the second single from Matt Rogers’ new album Have You Heard of Christmas?, he croons about sending holiday tidings to a former flame — who, as it turns out, he can’t quite remember. “Gifted you my heart and swore a lifetime of my love, you’ve gone away now,” he sings. “Go get everything you want even if you can’t give that from me…all the stuff you like, which I forgot.”
The song, which is also a collaboration with Katie Gavin of MUNA, was one of the last he added to the tracklist. The collection began as new recordings of songs the actor and writer has been performing as part of his musical comedy tour of the same name, but Rogers felt it was missing something a little more emo. “I needed a song that went full Pisces,” he says with a laugh. “My Spotify is all midtempo sad-girl music. And, part of being a Pisces means that my shame won’t let me leave anything in the past.”
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Rogers, who also hosts the popular (and GLAAD-nominated) podcast Las Culturistas with longtime friend Bowen Yang and has acted in Fire Island and I Love That For You, is talking to The Hollywood Reporter over pumpkin beers at one of his favorite haunts from his improv days. He’s been head down in holiday mode for months now — recording, shooting music videos and prepping a national tour to follow the album’s Nov. 3 release — but here in Midtown, it’s still the Halloween season for a few more days.
It’s been a complicated time to be in the entertainment industry, with so many projects on hold or getting lost in the studio and networks’ near constant pivots to reusable IP. I Love That For You, the Showtime series in which Rogers starred alongside Vanessa Bayer and Molly Shannon, was canceled a month into the writers strike and has recently disappeared off of the Paramount+ streaming platform to the shock of the cast. “I was really excited for the romantic storyline I was going to have in the second season, but whenever a disappointment happens I try not to take it too hard,” he says. “I reserve that for my personal life. That Pisces is going to come out somewhere.”
Rogers, who is a member of both WGA and SAG, feels grateful to have interesting — and successful — creative ventures during an otherwise erratic cultural moment and also to be fulfilling a longtime dream of performing musical theater. He grew up on Long Island, a self-described “sports kid with a sports dad.” During high school he was prom king and captain of the track team, thriving on the outside but harboring a hidden queer identity and thirst for the arts. A year spent at NYU (where he originally intended to study journalism) helped him find the courage to come out and to admit to himself that what he really wanted to do was sing, dance and act.
“I spent so much energy in high school pretending I was an all-American jock, and I couldn’t lie for another four years, and certainly not with all those hot guys around,” he says. “Thank God I was good at this, ultimately. Most people would have tried [performing] as a kid and learned about their skills. I hadn’t even had my chance to figure out if I was a flop.” After college, Rogers spent several years performing a version of what has now become the Christmas show at the Duplex in the West Village, building out both his voice and his confidence in his voice. Now, as he sits for this interview just two weeks out from the release of his debut album, he feels completely in his own power as a singer — and only a tiny bit uncomfortable about asking people to listen. Here, he talks more about the way the album came together, what he learned from the podcast and how he’s rewarding himself for the hard work.
How did you go from music being a passion of yours to something you focused on specifically?
Years ago, Bowen and I were starting to find success with the podcast and became sort of a package deal here in New York. We got the opportunity to audition for Saturday Night Live, and he got it and I didn’t. I was half heartbroken and half, like, well what’s my other thing going to be? I should grow up a little bit here. I went out to L.A. and got a job writing on The Other Two season two.
I feel tempted to stop you there…
I had…an experience…doing that. I wrote next on Q-Force, then had two acting jobs that each only lasted one season and I went back to the drawing board of, what is my thing? It seemed like a good time to focus my attention on a Christmas album.
Now that you’re more removed from the situation, what are your feelings about not getting SNL?
It would have been an incredibly opportunity but it’s very stressful day to day. The highs are really high, but I also think the lows are really low. I say that not just from talking to Bowen; I have other friends who have been writing there for years. I don’t think it’s a place where I would have thrived. Back in the day, I would have been hard on myself about that, but now I know myself better.
I know you sold the taped version of the Christmas special to Showtime during the I Love That For You era; were you surprised when it didn’t get a second season?
Yes and no. They had already written the second season when it got canceled, so the scripts are out there. I was hearing little rumors that something could be in the works someplace else but I don’t know.
What was your reaction to discovering that it was no longer streaming?
There was never any announcement, but I used to hear about and from people discovering the show, and those messages had stopped and I wondered what happened. I’d heard about other shows coming down off the platform, but when it happened to us no one said anything. None of us talked about it. The network has changed a lot. I think they’re placing a lot of value in male viewers and what they think they want, which is a real shame especially when you see what is connecting with viewers and having success in cinemas right now. It’s hard for me to fully talk about because we’re still on strike, but I look at the whole industry and I feel disappointed. I’m lucky enough to have something else to do this year. But I feel like I’m forgetting how to act! I think about going for auditions again, and it’s scary.
Does anything about the business of making an album, versus the business of making a series, stand out to you?
What I’ve learned about the music industry is the same thing I learned about the TV industry, which is that you have to be the one to make things happen for yourself. A lot of my visuals and all those extras, that was me coming up with it and designing what it was going to look like. But I’m happy that’s the case because now this really feels like me in a way that other projects don’t. That’s also stressful, because it feels way more vulnerable to be like, “stream my single,” than it does to say, “Hey I have a show coming out.” There’s also probably a little bit of me still beating myself up in the way I did when I was little — like, is it gay to say you have an album coming out? I’m so proud of myself and this is the most fun, honest and stupidest thing I’ve ever done. But the imposter syndrome is right there. I’m constantly trying to wave it away.
I know you’ve had MUNA on Las Culturistas before, and you joined them onstage for a song during last year’s Los Angeles tour stop, but was it always assumed that they would be who you went out to for a feature on the album?
We were fans, and after having them on the podcast they felt like they were true peers of mine and Bowen’s. There is a queer camaraderie. So I felt like I could reach out to Katie and ask her to do the song — but it was still so vulnerable. It reminds me of how I felt driving my little car up to Brett Leland’s house and asking him to produce my album. I felt like a young Hollywood starlet driving up into the hills. It was kind of chic but very scary.
We can’t get any further into this conversation without me asking you about the Queen of Christmas herself, Mariah Carey.
I met her once, when I was doing Cody Rigsby’s Peloton Christmas show. Mariah had a big deal endorsement deal with them, so she came into the studio for a segment. I was riding my bike while she was up on the pedestal, and she looked me in the eyes and whispered, “Can you help me down?” I was strapped into the bike and was ready to bust my ACL wrenching my foot out of the pedals. I led her out to the stairs and she turned around and said, “I love you.” And that was it. I’m not even sure if she’s aware of me and these Christmas songs, I think the people around her are very protective of what they tell her about. She might be vaguely aware, but for me it was a full circle moment.
Do you enjoy doing press? I realize the irony of asking you this while we sit here.
Maybe I’m just a more social person, but all of the press and everything surrounding a project coming out is fun for me. I’m excited about what I’m doing, and I like talking about it. It feels like maybe some people think it makes them more of an artist to not care about or like the promotional parts. If you only want the art you don’t have to be doing it on this scale, you could do it in your garage or something. But I also like more chances to be able to get me across — just like when you’re doing a creative project, it can be hard to trust people to get me across. At least if a see a stupid-ass pull quote I said, I know it’s my fault. If someone is going to call me cringe or bullshit, I want it to be because of something I specifically did. It’s better than being made to look stupid by someone else.
Could I trace that sentiment back to you starting a pop culture commentary podcast?
Bowen and I started the podcast with no intent for anyone to actually listen to it. (Laughs.) We felt so dumb for even starting a podcast in 2016.
What was the first time you realized it was going to be really big?
We did a live show, and there was an actual audience there. And that live show was the first time our managers even acknowledged the podcast. They were on their phones the whole time, so I thought OK I guess this is boring. But then they were like, we were texting the whole time about how we think this is really going to be your thing. That changed the way I viewed my place in the comedy community — when I was younger, comedy had a very straight and homogenized language, like Dane Cook. I understood and appreciated that language but didn’t speak it.
A lot of times in the podcast we’ll hear one of you say, “we can take this out if we have to,” which of course means it was not ultimately edited out — I’ve always wondered if that means you don’t really take anything out?
Oh, we take a lot out. I think we worry about some people getting their feelings hurt if they were to hear the unedited version. It’s a little bit of a challenge because when we were just starting out we were just these gays who talked about pop culture in an unrestrained way. And now that the podcast has grown, and we’re in the industry, we still have a lot to say about the industry both positive and negative. Like if I see a person acting crazy, I want to talk about it, but I can get nervous. I had to take out an entire “I don’t think so honey” because I wound up having to do a chemistry read with the person it was about. I dragged them for something, and rightfully so, but then I had this opportunity to be in a starring role with them in a film and I was like, I don’t think I can leave this in. And I didn’t end up booking it after all. I look back and am like, “Is that a moment where I bailed on the podcast and what makes it truthful? Or was I right to protect myself?” But I leave a lot in. I’m out here saying I love The Morning Show because it’s written by third graders, and I don’t know if they’re going to take that as a compliment.
I can’t imagine people writing on the show don’t understand the way we’re watching the show, right?
Never put it past people to take something too seriously.
I was reading your Wikipedia this morning and did a double take when I saw that you worked on Teen Mom 2. Is that true?
It says I worked on Teen Mom 2, but I actually worked at the MTV offices as an intern. What I did — I’m not kidding — is staple and itemize all of their Taco Bell receipts so the Teen Mom 2 crew could get reimbursements. I don’t know if it’s the girls that wanted Taco Bell or the crew, but I would sit there and staple receipts to white pieces of paper so they could be faxed or something. And I also sort of sat around and worked on my comedy sketches. My boss was in development, so I guess my internship was also in development. I have to say my fans are so good to me about my Wikipedia — when Bowen and I did a recent 92nd Street Y I said, I won’t rest until my Wikipedia calls me a “recording artist” and the next day I looked and it was changed.
You’re about to tour this Christmas album, and you’ve also been out doing live shows for the podcast. What do you do to take care of yourself on the road?
First of all, I fly. I can’t drive or take a tour bus. My biggest concern is getting there.
That segues into something I love asking people: How their lifestyles have changed since they’ve found more success.
I changed the way that I fly, and the way that I Uber. I pay for nice cars and a nice airplane seat. I do not want to be uncomfortable when I fly, especially when I’m performing, and also once you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to go back. I need to get horizontal.
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