Out comedian brings hit Christmas show to Philly

Photo by Alex Schaefer

Have you heard of Matt Rogers?

If you follow the contemporary comedy scene, the answer must be yes. The out performer is a driving force behind the popular podcast Las Culturistas, which he co-hosts with his best friend (and “Saturday Night Live” cast member) Bowen Yang. The twosome also tour the country with their live show “I Don’t Think So, Honey!”, in which 50 comics spend one minute each railing against a topic in pop culture they find annoying.

On Dec. 21, Rogers will bring his solo holiday show “Have You Heard of Christmas?” to Underground Arts for one performance only. Originally staged two years ago at the legendary West Village venue The Duplex, the stand-up/concert hybrid has gained a cult following, selling out performances in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, where Rogers now lives. Over the course of the evening, he croons modern classics from a fictional Christmas album of the same name.

PGN spoke with Rogers about the genesis of the show, his true feelings toward Christmas music and the state of queer comedy. Some responses have been condensed and edited.

What inspired “Have You Heard of Christmas”?

I honestly think I was looking ahead and wanted something I could do every year. I’ve gone in and out of performing comedy music for several years, and I originally started in a sketch group called Pop Roulette that did musical comedy. As my career changed, I was really missing that. I collaborated with Henry Koperski, my music director, and we wrote up these songs. I thought it was a really fun way for me to grow with a project from year to year. It just happens to be my favorite thing to do every year. I look forward to Christmas now, not just because it’s Christmas, but because I can do this show.

Growing up, was Christmas music a part of your experience of the holiday?

To be totally honest with you, no. I was always so pissed off when Christmas came around because I couldn’t listen to pure pop music. Top 40 kind of disappeared and was replaced by Christmas music. I always found it kind of boring. Except for Mariah Carey, of course. She’s a legend; she’s an icon and we do stan “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” My number one goal is to have the show go well, and my number two goal is Mariah Carey’s continued success.

How did your feelings toward Christmas music influence this show then?

It is Christmas-themed music, but it also heavily draws from genre music. There’s a lot of pop music, country ballads. I really enjoy committing to a genre of music and really letting the music and lyrics come together. It doesn’t really sound like Christmas music, but there are references in there. But it’s not “Jingle Bells.”

How would you describe your on-stage persona? Is he a heightened version of yourself or a completely invented character?

It’s always going to be a heightened version of myself when I’m on stage. Even when I’m doing my podcast, I’m performing myself to a degree. It’s me if I were releasing an album, which I’m not actually doing. It’s a monster I’ve created.

Have people come up to you after a performance and asked you when the album is coming out?

They do! And I’m always really flattered. This year, there are definitely some light plans to put an EP out on Spotify. I’m working on the tracks, but it’s all going to come down to timing, and I’m not sure it will work out this year. But I have my musical director Henry and another friend who’s an amazing musician working on some stuff. What I’ve heard is great. That’s definitely something we want to do in the grand scheme of things. I feel so proud of the music. I stand by it as comedy, and I stand by it as music. 

Can you talk a bit about how the show has grown from year to year?

When it started two years ago, it was just two shows at the Duplex in New York. The next year, I did four sold-out shows at the Duplex. This year, I’m doing two shows at Joe’s Pub, one at the Hollywood Improv in LA, one at the Hideout in Chicago, and now one show at Underground Arts. It’s really exciting.

What have your past experiences been like performing in Philly?

I’ve done a few shows at Good Good Comedy Theatre, and Pop Roulette has performed there as well. Earlier this year, we did “I Don’t Think So, Honey!” live at Underground Arts. It was so fun, and I really enjoyed the audience here in Philly. Also, not for nothing, but I really enjoyed the gay audience in Philly. I love the gay community in Philly. 

As a young gay comic who’s been out for a while, how do you feel about the gay comedy scene in general right now?

I’m a little biased because I am from New York, and I’ve been lucky to be part of a burgeoning queer comedy scene there that includes not only my best friend Bowen Yang, but also my dear friend Joel Kim Booster. Another one of my sisters, Pat Regan, is really such a unique voice. He hosts the podcast “Seek Treatment” with Catherine Cohen, who’s an up-and-coming gay icon. I think gay people have really found a voice in podcasting, maybe because they couldn’t find their voice on stage all the time. People like Sam Taggert, Josh Sharp, Aaron Jackson and Jaboukie Young-White are blowing up in a huge way. And it’s not just gay men. There’s nonbinary performers like Peter Smith, who’s incredible. Larry Owens has really crossed over in terms of theater and comedy. It’s becoming more and more true that there are less rules of what you can and cannot do. I’m really excited to see that more lineups now don’t have just one gay person, or one person of color or even just one woman. Even just two or three years ago, it was still common to see a lineup with just one woman. Seeing it all break open, and to be a part of it, is really fun.

“Have You Heard of Christmas?” will be performed on Dec. 21 at Underground Arts, 12th and Callowhill Streets. For tickets and information, visit undergroundarts.org.