Q&A: Matt Rogers on his Showtime holiday special

Matt Rogers
Matt Rogers dresses in a silver suit and performs his own, original tunes on his new Showtime holiday special.
Ryan Duffin

In his fabulous and hilarious new Showtime holiday special, premiering December 2, (and on tour through December), Matt Rogers thankfully doesn’t wear an ugly sweater and sing holiday favorites. In “Matt Rogers: Have You Heard of Christmas,” the out gay comedian and actor dresses in a silver suit and performs his own, original tunes. (One song contains the refrain “Santa’s got the lube” and another thanks his parents for “a fat f***ing check.”) It is a fantastic — as they say — show filmed at Joe’s Pub.

Rogers spoke to Gay City News about creating his holiday special and his holiday plans.

How did you conceive of this show, which is blasphemous, offensive, sexually explicit, contains references of homophobia, and is downright rude? The magic is you still manage to capture celebrate the spirit of Christmas?

Basically, I wanted to create a special that in equal parts celebrated and also dragged Christmas. When I was growing up, Christmas was a huge part of my life. I was raised Roman Catholic. I participated in Christmas culture all year long. But then, as a queer person — someone shoved to the side of culture in many ways — it gave me the opportunity to see things very clearly. I’ve understood, since I was very young, that Christmas was, first and foremost, something that is a capitalist fever dream. It is a time and year that is a culture all of its own. I have seen pop stars and music acts all capitalize on this holiday to sell an album, make money, and have a special. There’s a great degree of comedy and humor to that idea. So many people take this holiday so seriously for so many different reasons — religious, financial, cultural. Ultimately, I wanted to make fun of something everyone has a relationship to, and Christmas forces everyone to have a relationship to it. My sense of humor is to constantly speak truth to power and point out what is going on in the world, and there is something funny how our culture and Christmas intertwine.

Your performance is both satiric and celebratory. It winks and nods and is being sincere and showing off your talent. Have you always wanted to be a lounge singer?

It is a comment on capitalism, but it is my special, and I wanted to show off what I can do. Songwriting is something I’ve done for a very long time. I got my start doing sketch comedy writing, and transitioned to musical comedy writing, so it is something I’ve always had a passion for. When I was thinking about my special, I knew it would be a Christmas album — but it’s not; I’m a pop star — but I’m not. I know it sounds very high concept, but at its heart, it is very me. I’m very musical person and I always want to go for the joke first. Harkening back to how I developed as a comedian, my influences were Sandra Bernhard and Margaret Cho. They combine music and comedy and came from New York. I was involved in theater scene in New York. My mentor was always encouraging me to go for the dumbest thing possible. I wanted to put all of these references of downtown theater icons and package it in a way that both classic and modern. I am playing a heightened version of myself. I don’t have desire to be pop star; this character does.

What can you say about developing the material and your “act”? Can you describe how you approached a song, your phrasing, body language, and delivery?

I wanted to embody a seasoned performer, not belabor my way through a comedy song. I wrote these like real pop songs are written. I wanted to perform them at a level where they were fully executed. Another influence of mine is Lonely Island. They are expert musical comedians. The production and structure of their music is sound. The comedy in their music is heightened by the music being good. When you can match a comedic idea with tasty pop hook, then people are singing your jokes. I would be humiliated if I could not execute it correctly. That sets this special apart. I take the performance aspect seriously. It’s a hard show to do. I have rangy songs, but that’s the music I like. Harkening back to people really singing, not parody music — which is cool in its own right — but that’s not what this is. I think it heightens fantasy for it to be done well. In terms of the physicality and showmanship, I really worked on it. I thought about what I would want to see, and matched Christmas specials by Josh Groban, or Michael Bublé, or Barbra Streisand. I wanted to give every song its own genre and language because each one is about a different aspect of Christmas culture.

In one segment, you embody the female characters of Christmas lore. Can you talk about exploring your feminine side and why you worship Mariah?

When I was 7, the “Butterfly” album really spoke to me. It was the right time and right genre, I was big into late 90s R&B — Brandy, Whitney Houston, Destiny’s Child, Toni Braxton. I loved that type of vocalist. When I’m writing as the character of Mariah Carey for the song “The Hottest Female Up in Whoville,” and doing that bit as Martha May Whovier, that’s very in me. I know that style of music because I love that style of music. “Every Christmas Eve,” my “Mrs. Claus” song, I love that kind of pop ballad where a woman takes her power back. It’s not me doing literal drag in the number, it’s me doing drag in the metaphoric sense — to embody someone else. While this is my comedy special and way to express myself, I think I’m expressing myself through someone else’s expression.

How do you celebrate the holidays this year? Movies and Chinese food?

I would love to see more movies on the holidays. For Christmas my parents are going to come out to see the show. In the past, we have made the mistake of going to Orlando to do Disney on Christmas. It’s a grab bag. This year we’ll have a quiet night in because I’m going to be on road all December long. I’m going to Miami for New Years. I’m trying to be in a speedo on the beach.

Other than for everyone to see and love your special, what do you want for Christmas?

I told my mom, who is a hairdresser, I finally want to do the gay-male-my-age tradition and bleach my hair blonde. I will have a month off after this tour is done, so this is primo time between Christmas and New Years to get me while blonde platinum for Miami. I told my mom what I want for Christmas is to be responsibly dyed. I don’t want for much. I really do have everything I want. Amazing friends, a great family, the opportunity to express myself with this special, but I don’t have blonde hair.

“Matt Rogers: Have You Heard of Christmas” | Premiering December 2 on Showtime.