By Chris Azzopardi
Photos: Jen Rosenstein
Come get cozy around the fire with your chestnuts and hear the soon-to-be classic tale of how Santa got all the toys into his big bag. That tale, as written by actor-musician-podcaster Matt Rogers, involves what else but Gun Oil. Rogers sings about the lubricant on “Lube for the Sleigh,” the second song on his first album that is like a Lonely Island release, just gayer and by someone who is actually gay. This is “not your grandma’s Christmas album,” Rogers says.
“I kind of hacked the system with this one,” he goes on, just days before promoting the album on “The Kelly Clarkson Show.” “I’m on ‘Kelly Clarkson’ and selling this album to a bunch of people that are watching at home, who are going to be a little shook when they find out what this really is, and I kind of love that.”
It’s true that you won’t hear Queen of Christmas Mariah Carey singing about one of the horniest times of the year on “Have You Heard of Christmas?”; leave that to Rogers. The album’s sexy (can you even say that about a Christmas song?) lead single is a club banger about banging. Called “Also It’s Christmas,” the song is real life for a lot of queer men — you go home to visit the parents and also get a fresh grid of Grindr torsos. Merry Christmas one and all, but especially to you! And to Rogers, whose childhood dream was always to record a comedy album.
Best known for his supporting roles on the Showtime comedy “I Love That For You” and in the Hulu film “Fire Island,” the 35-year-old aspiring Christmas prince is also the co-host of the podcast Las Culturistas, alongside friend Bowen Yang. In December 2022, Rogers hosted his own Showtime musical-comedy special, also called “Have You Heard of Christmas?”
Now that the album has slipped out of Santa’s slippery bag and into our hands, I caught up with Rogers to chat about why it made sense for his first album to be Christmas-themed (#capitalism), finding success when he decided to lean into who he is and why he thinks it might be “dumb” to release this album.
How are you feeling about the album coming out?
It’s pretty surreal. I think that the most exciting thing will be when I get to hold my vinyl in my hands. A couple of my friends have reached out and… oh my god, I get emotional. I think sometimes I get a little in my head and insecure about the fact that I haven’t seen anything like this. It’s a comedy album that’s also a Christmas album, that’s also a full pop record. But I just say to myself, “You know what, so I did something new.” So I’m just trying my best to have a sense of humor about it because it’s so fucking funny that this is happening.
Here you are laughing and nearly crying.
It’s a weird mix of emotions. It’s my music, but also it’s my comedy. So it’s this odd fork in the road I find myself at where I’m being vulnerable in sharing and asking people to listen to me, in terms of what I create musically, but also as a comedian, my self-awareness is what arms me. So it’s this very bizarre hybrid product I have right now, and I’m having a very weird hybrid experience with it: One, I worked really hard and it’s vulnerable, and two, LOL, this is so dumb!
Both of those things can be true.
I guess that’s like Christmas. Yay, we’re celebrating; also, it’s pretty stupid. Like, “Look at this. What is this, tinsel?” What does it have to do with anything? I just hope people get it, and if they don’t, I hope they have a good time not getting it.
You mentioned that this is pop and Christmas, but it’s also unabashedly queer.
I didn’t try to make a gay album. I don’t think of this as a gay Christmas album or a gay comedy album. It’s my album. I never once thought, “We need more gay shit or less gay shit on this,” or, “We already have a gay song, so we can’t do another gay song.” I’m pretty fucking gay. It’s a pretty intrinsic part of my personality, and therefore my comedy. So I don’t think of it as I’m a representative of the queer community, even though I obviously am. I’m representing myself. This is what I think is funny. The same way when Dane Cook didn’t think, “I’m making an incredible straight comedy album right now.”
Do you recognize that the Christmas genre has been dominated by a heterosexual narrative and that you get to do something really special and different just because you are queer?
Yeah, I think that because I’m queer, I get to say some truths about the whole Christmas thing, and one of the truths is that no one does this because they love Christmas. No artist is making a Christmas album because they’re super excited about making a Christmas album. They’re super excited about participating in the capitalist moment that is the Christmas season and that’s funny. There’s a lot of comedy in that. And so that is why I titled my album, “Have You Heard of Christmas?” Because obviously everyone has, but then when you listen to my song, “Have You Heard of Christmas?”, it’s really coming from the point of view of this person that knows that Christmas is this unifier and this thing that’s so dominant in the culture, but also at the same time has no idea where it’s come from, has no idea why we celebrate it, has no idea that it even has anything to do with religion.
So I think that there’s something really funny about our disconnect between why Christmas exists in the first place and why we celebrate Christmas. And so I think if I’m looking at this through a queer lens, one of those things is I’m taking the piss out of it because it’s funny and it’s actually way more obvious than we all think.
It’s literally screaming at us: spend money, spend money, spend money. And yet we code it in this thing, which is gift giving. It’s beautiful. It’s about celebrating and being together. It’s about family. It’s about the stories we tell. And all of it is attached to money.
You also get to say things about Christmas that Mariah and Cher can’t, like acknowledging hookup culture during the holidays.
This album coming through a queer lens, yeah, part of it is that Christmas is one of the horniest times of the year for gays on the apps. We’re back at home. There’s no one around. I actually have several years in a row over the Christmas holiday realized that someone I was into was into me too, because they also were at home, horny and on their phone, and we started sending nudes back and forth. I’ve hooked up with those people, and it’s because there is such a heightened sense of horniness when you’re isolated on Christmas with just your family and you’re just going stir-crazy. So that’s kind of where “Also It’s Christmas” was born.
Also, just to be totally honest, I just wanted a banger as the lead single, and I thought, “What’s an environment I could place this in?” Obviously the club, and also, it’s just so funny to me to think about the holiday and the cold and the family of it all surrounding what is a horny atmosphere.
How much did Mariah’s own influence on Christmas become your inspiration for your music launch with a Christmas album?
Pretty much a hundred percent. It was 2017, and I was looking for a new show to put up, and I really was just trying to figure out what the angle was going to be for my next one-man show back when I was just doing comedy in New York, and I thought I had seen an interview with Mariah Carey and the interviewer was complimenting her on, basically, her owning Christmas.
I thought to myself, “Oh, maybe that’s a funny angle for a comedy show: I’m releasing a Christmas album.” So it all started as a bit like, “Please come to The Duplex and see me perform my Christmas album, which is definitely real for sure. Absolutely one-hundred definitely coming out for the very first time.” And it was a hit just amongst my friends and family that came to the show, and then every year it grew and grew and grew till now, in 2023, I literally have a Christmas album coming out on Capitol Records, so I’m happy, one, as a person who always wanted to release an album as a kid; that was always my dream. And, two, as a comedian, because I stuck the bit.
Best of both worlds coming together for you. I mean, obviously, neither are an easy pursuit, and somehow you have made them both come together at the same time.
You just have to fake it.
You have to fake it till you make it. And you made it.
I guess. I keep faking it. So many things have gone so amazingly well in my career, but it never feels like it’s enough sometimes. There’s always that next thing. So the other day I found myself in a situation where I was just like, hold on, just stop for a second and pull yourself out of this and tell your little 12-year-old self that you’re releasing an album. I can buy a vinyl with my face on it. That’s insane.
I don’t even want to ask you what’s next. Let’s not even talk about it.
OK, good. Don’t ask because I literally don’t know. As the industry collapses all around us, what a horrifying question too. “What’s next?” Literally, every single person in the entertainment industry is so horrified by that question nowadays.
I want to unpack something that you said about overachieving.
The best little boy in the world.
It sounds like there’s a big part of your drive that is still that kid.
Yeah, I mean, absolutely. For me, it changed when I was in my 20s. To me, success meant that I was just solid as a rock and that I looked like everyone else and did what everyone else was doing. Individuality was not prized when I was growing up or just in the culture at that time. Suddenly I moved to New York to go to college, and it became really clear to me that that was not true anymore. We were moving into a new era. I don’t know whether it was the Obama election or just people catching on about gay rights throughout the country, or just diversity even becoming a topic. Suddenly it was like, no, in order to be successful, you have to have a strong point of view. You have to get your individuality across, you have to stand out.
Even when I started doing comedy. I did the acceptable kind of comedy, which was sketch and improv comedy. I could connect that to “Saturday Night Live” and so therefore, everyone at home would understand why I was doing it, because “SNL” was cool. When I came out of the closet, I started to finally turn more into myself. And I think it really crystallized when Bowen and I started doing the podcast and we literally thought no one else was going to listen or that it was going to be a thing. And so we really just talked to each other as ourselves in a vacuum, and without any thought about whether or not people would like it or want to keep listening to it or think it was cool. Things really changed for me once I leaned into myself and leaned into the things that make me different.
What’s the story behind your collaboration with Bowen on “Rockafellacenta”?
So I wrote “Rockafellacenta” years ago because I basically… OK, to be totally honest, I had auditioned for “Saturday Night Live” and didn’t get it, and I was thinking a lot about that part of town. I was in that part of town a bunch; it’s just so commercial. And again, it’s the tree. I had grown up going to the tree, and it was this place that was so larger than life, but also so sort of everything that this project satirizes. It is just this big, busy collection of people from all over the world who come and stand and stare at a tree. It’s essentially run by a media company, NBC Universal, and it made me laugh to think about going there on a date. It made me laugh to think about, do you really want to get gussied up and be romantic and you choose Rockefeller Center?
A basic bitch Christmas tale.
Bit of a tale of a basic bitch, yeah. And so, I wrote this song years ago, and now years later, Bowen still works in Rockefeller Center, and I just thought it would be so funny, because it was a short song, to beef it up with this “Vogue”-inspired breakdown that talked about all the legends that had worked in Rockefeller Center. And so I sent it to him. It really just elevates the song, and to me, makes it so funny that he is speaking for all of Rockefeller Center. And the way it ends with him saying his own name, I guess he’s really cemented his legend with this song.
Chris Azzopardi is the Editorial Director of Pride Source Media Group and Q Syndicate, the national LGBTQ+ wire service. He has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.