Matt Rogers brings Christmas to the Castro

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday December 5, 2023
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Matt Rogers (photo: Doug Krantz)
Matt Rogers (photo: Doug Krantz)

Comedian Matt Rogers, who headlines the Castro Theatre on December 20, is best known for the long-running "Las Culturistas" podcast. The zeitgeisty pop gabfest, which he co-hosts with dear friend and fellow NYU alumnus Bowen Yang, has been in production since 2016, making it one of the medium's longest running successes. The podcast began before Yang was cast on "Saturday Night Live," and before the duo costarred in the 2022 film "Fire Island."

Among the podcast's most magnetic qualities is the sense of cheerful intimacy it provides. The queer longtime friends speak in a quirky interpersonal shorthand that becomes more comprehensible the more episodes one hears, drawing listeners into what feels like a close-knit social circle.

One of the things the podcast's fans have learned over the years is that both Rogers and Yang are huge music fans. This past year alone they've caught multiple nights of the Beyoncé and Taylor Swift tours, not to mention Adele's Las Vegas residency.

While Yang has lately leaned into the pair's love of music theater, playing a role in the recently wrapped movie version of "Wicked," Rogers has gone full pop star mode, recording a slickly produced album, "Have You Heard of Christmas?"

Though it's lyrically tongue in cheek, the album so successfully captures the sheen of contemporary dance and R&B music that one could easily overlook the sidesplitting humor in favor of the rump-shaking beats.

But in a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter from his manager's office in New York, Rogers expressed his holiday wish that you'd make room for both in your heart.

Jim Gladstone: What led you to make a Christmas album?
Matt Rogers: I was watching an interview with Mariah Carey years ago — and you know I love Mariah, so no shade — and the interviewer just said aloud what's usually unspoken: "Wow! You make money on this over and over, every year!"

I thought that was so funny to call out the capitalism of the whole Christmas music thing. It was so in line with what I find hilarious: The craven pursuit of money and fame. I figured I'd just start saying I was cutting a Christmas album.

So, it was just a joke to begin with?
Yeah, it feels like when older pop stars become 'legacy' for lack of a better word, they trot out a Christmas album. I was like, listen, I can see the future and of course I'm going to become a legacy pop star. So, let's just cut to the chase and do the Christmas album now.

It started as a bit for my comedy shows, with just a couple of songs. Then year after year, the project got more real. What a slow build, right? You can't land a bit better than this. Six years later there really is a Christmas album. It's my true crime story.

When folks come to your performance, should they be expecting a comedy show or a pop concert?
First and foremost, it's a comedy project. But I will say, if you're off-book on some of the songs and want to get up out of your seat to dance and sing along, listen, I can't control you.

I don't know what the person behind you is gonna say. As we know, The Castro is a seated venue. It's a real theatre with a proper "re" at the end. But listen, if people want to acknowledge this as the pop star showcase may actually be, I absolutely love that. If you want to laugh, you want to cry, you want to scream, I encourage you to do it all.

I can't help thinking back to when Eddie Murphy tried his hand at making music albums and got a fair amount of backlash. Do you feel like there's any risk of seeming egomaniacal in doing this?
I think if I were just releasing this with no context, people would listen to it and be like, I don't know what to think of it because it's comedy, but it's also pop and it's also seasonal. But because I can contextualize myself via social media and via the podcast, people sort of know what they're getting.

Now, I'll also say that social media exposes you to a lot of criticism and potential criticism. There were moments along the way that I got really in my head wondering, 'Is this going to work? Should I be releasing music on a major label and asking people to both accept it as a real thing and also have a sense of humor about it? Or should I just be a comedian?'

I just try to like quiet the noise and tell myself, 'Look, you're having fun doing it.' It feels very truthful to me and my expression as an artist to do this.

Do you see any common denominators between comedy writing and songwriting?
The worlds of sketch comedy and pop music are much more compatible than people realize. I came up in New York doing sketch comedy and improv comedy. But I'm also a musical person.

If you're musical and have comedy experience, you can learn to write a comedy song. The beats of a sketch are often the same beats you need in a song. You introduce your idea, you explore that idea, you heighten it, and then you bring it to a satisfying ending.

I look at them like two things that I can blend together to best express who I am, not like two worlds where I'd have to be one person in one world and a different person in the other. I'm always gonna be myself.

What's your own songwriting process like?
It varies, but what's interesting is that the songs haven't always started out funny. When I sat down to write "Everything You Want," I was in a horrible place. I'd just gone through a terrible breakup. And then in the exploration of my feelings, I stumbled on a comedic idea, which is that I didn't really remember a lot of details about my ex-boyfriend.

I think the way that I healed and I made myself feel better is by laughing. I can cheer myself up by making myself laugh about something sad.

How would you sum up the Matt Rogers brand?
Ah! I would say 'Gay Clown.' Or 'Gay Clown Who Sings?' Hang on, I'm looking over at my manager to confirm. Olivia, what's my brand? Sorry, she thinks that's too specific, too limiting. She says it's 'Artist.' Okay, 'Acclaimed Artist.'

Before we go, one last Christmas item: Name a piper you'd like to pipe and a goose you'd like to lay.
Oh my god. Do you really expect an answer? Oh, okay! The piper I want to pipe is Channing Tatum and the goose I want to lay is Chris Pine.

Matt Rogers, Dec. 20. $35-$45. Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St. 415-621-6120

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