Matt Rogers can’t quite believe the year he’s had. From his first regular TV role on Showtime’s I Love That for You to his scene-stealing work in the Hulu movie Fire Island, the Long Island-born comedian has seemingly been everywhere in 2022. And it all culminates this December with his big holiday special Have You Heard of Christmas?
In this episode of The Last Laugh podcast, Rogers talks about how unofficial “Queen of Christmas” Mariah Carey inspired him to become a Christmas prince and why the tears streaming down his face at the end of the performance are very real. He also shares his unfiltered thoughts about the way Fire Island and Billy Eichner’s Bros were pitted against each other as the year’s two gay rom-coms, and opens up about watching his best friend and Las Culturistas co-host Bowen Yang become an SNL star.
There’s a running bit in Have You Heard of Christmas? in which Rogers is trying to get Mariah Carey—his “North Pole,” as he puts it—to make a cameo at the end of the concert special. But as he confirms to me, it didn’t start out as a joke.
“There was this pie-in-the-sky idea that she would come in at the end of the special and crown me the Prince of Christmas,” he explains. But then he slowly realized that what was best for both the special’s budget and his own “mental health” was to try a different approach.
Instead of directly asking Carey to make an appearance, Rogers wrote her an extremely personal letter about how “formative” her album Butterfly was for him as a closeted 7-year-old growing up on Long Island. He may or may not have included the story about how he begged his mother to swing by a record store so he could buy the Glitter soundtrack when she picked him up early from school on 9/11. Rogers ended the letter by requesting the use of her holiday anthem “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” which he has been performing at the end of his downtown New York show for years.
“We did not hear back,” he tells me. “But I stand by the letter, because I think if she had read it, then she maybe would have entertained allowing me to sing the song. But, alas!”
Rogers hopes that Carey at least saw his letter and maybe even checks out the special when it airs on Showtime this Friday, Dec. 2. “But I definitely think she’ll be aware of the fact that out there does exist this gay creature who’s trying to meet her and interact with her,” he says wistfully. “And maybe I’ll get, like, a head nod or a wink or a pat on the head or something.”
Below is an edited excerpt from our conversation. You can listen to the whole thing by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts, and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.
Fire Island benefited somewhat from not having to face box office expectations, because it was on Hulu, unlike Bros, which didn’t do as well as people had hoped. What was your reaction to the whole discourse that happened around the release of that movie?
Yeah, the Bros thing is complicated, because during the promotion of Fire Island we mentioned Bros many times. I mean, we were all so excited about it and I remain excited about the fact that it’s out there, because I do think it’s a really funny movie and there’s so many great performances in it, there’s so many great jokes. I think the thing that bums me out is, it feels like there’s this narrative that started with placing so much importance on Bros doing well at the box office because of its historic nature, and now ends in like, “Well, it didn’t do well and so let’s talk about why it didn’t do well.” And we’re actually drifting away from the fact that it’s a funny, great movie and the emphasis should’ve been on that. And not to drag, because it’s hard to do press.
And the marketing. There were a lot of things that went into that, I think.
Yeah, it’s hard to get it right. Because queer audiences are fucking tough. And they’re smart. And they don’t like being condescended to and they don’t like feeling like they’re being painted into a corner in terms of representation. What I think ultimately is that, guess what? We are in the year 2022, we’re gonna move forward in time, and streaming is the way people watch movies now. So let’s not denigrate streaming. You don’t need to be a box office juggernaut to be considered a success, especially because where exactly are the romantic comedies that are doing really great? I mean, Ticket to Paradise with Julia Roberts and George Clooney makes money because they’re international stars. So we’re already working against a stacked deck because it’s a romantic comedy. Then it’s a queer romantic comedy, and the messaging is primarily, “You better go see this,” which, I’m sorry, but it was. And so for me, watching it, I’m like, there’s no reason this movie couldn’t have just gone to Netflix and then it would have been a huge success, I think. Or the narrative at least would have been this is funny, you can watch it. So of course we all had to wish that that movie had opened to over $20 million opening weekend. But we’re not living in a time that is healthy for romantic comedies in terms of box office.
“Queer audiences are fucking tough. And they’re smart. And they don’t like being condescended to and they don’t like feeling like they’re being painted into a corner in terms of representation.”
Or comedies in general at the theater.
Exactly, exactly. And so I think the sort of autopsy on it is so much more complicated and broad than, “Well, straight people didn’t come.” Because I’ll be honest with you, gay people didn’t go either. They certainly went in more numbers than straight people, but I think it’s knee-jerk and bitter—
To blame it on homophobia?
And not to say that wasn’t an element of it. But let’s get real here: Period, point blank, queer people felt condescended to by the marketing. That’s just the truth. And I think Billy [Eichner] is an incredibly talented guy and he’s one of my influences and I adore him. But there’s stuff to learn from this outside of “Well, homophobia is pretty real, isn’t it?” We knew that, but also there’s a market for this movie and it’s fine. It being on Netflix is fine. It actually reaches more people. And now to hear that it’s doing well on rental is like, “Yeah, of course it is.” And people will find that movie. It’s great.
Both movies are great and I don’t think that they should have ever been in competition with each other.
I hated that narrative. Because they’re so different. And we were only excited about [Bros]. Bowen [Yang] was in it. I auditioned for it, I tried to get in it, I have no shame about saying it. We all did! I think even Joel [Kim Booster] auditioned for it. So this idea that there was any animosity, at least on our side, certainly was not a thing. And people comparing movies, you could look at it in a fun way. Like, wow, finally gays get to have their Julia versus Sandra moment! But of course I think we have a tendency to make things uglier than they need to be.
It all gets tainted.
And I do think it got a little weird, and [Eichner] did make a weird comment about streaming movies being “disposable.” And let’s talk about the word disposable for a second. You know what’s disposable? Trash, garbage. So that was a shitty word to use. And I understand, like I said earlier, press is hard. It’s hard to walk the line, especially when you’re a comedian who’s supposed to be a truth-teller, especially when you are someone who, like Billy, has a tough time not saying what he thinks. Of course, say what you think, say what you mean, but understand that when you say what you mean sometimes, they’re going to get it in print.
[Note: Eichner later issued an apology, saying, “I truly am so sorry if I inadvertently offended or insulted anyone.”]
Well, I’m on the other side of that a lot and people’s regrets.
Yeah, like I said, it’s hard. And ultimately the movie is really fucking funny. I actually think Bros maybe even has harder jokes and comedy than Fire Island does, which is a completely different movie. Fire Island is more of a romance comedy. It’s really also about friendship.
There’s a lot of sweetness to it.
Tons of sweetness. And it’s about demographically how we treat each other in the queer community and an assessment on the state of affairs in the queer community. And it’s also an adaptation of a classic novel. So it’s so many things that Bros isn’t, that makes it sort of weird to compare them, honestly. Because Bros is an Apatow comedy and it’s great at being that. So that’s what I would say about the whole thing. And I do think it’s actually important to talk about it, to be open about it. Because we are queer comedians. So that means two things. Queers, we’ve been pushed to the side of all of this for so long. So now what happens when you get pushed to the side is, you can look at it, and you can see it very clearly. And we’re also comedians, which means we should be telling the truth. We should be talking honestly about what our takes are and not being afraid. It was hard in the immediate aftermath of the Bros thing. Bowen and I have our podcast, Las Culturistas, and we discussed it, but it’s hard because we know how sensitive it is and we know how difficult it is to promote a movie.
And you don’t want to be seen as going after that movie or anything like that.
No! Because like I said, I only love the movie. And it’s a frustrating part of being in this business, because of course we all just want good work to be seen and accepted and loved because it’s good, but that just isn’t how it works. And so it is important to, I think, take notes from these things. And my big note pulling away, looking at Bros, is [there is] nothing wrong with being on Netflix, nothing wrong with being on HBO Max. That movie looked like a streaming movie, it felt like a streaming movie, and I don’t say that because I think it was disposable. I say that because I think it was fucking great and I wanted people to see it. And now they are, because you can rent it.
Listen to the episode now and subscribe to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts, and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.