Matt Rogers wants to surprise you. The comedian and writer, known primarily for his wildly successful podcast Las Culturistas, is moving into what he calls “challenging” territory, with two big roles this summer. On television, he plays a corporate meanie (which is to say his character’s personality is quite far from his reality) in I Love That For You. And he’s got his first film role coming up next month: Joel Kim Booster’s Fire Island, a contemporary gay retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Both of these roles will make you see the comedian in a new light, as he demonstrates his range and flair for dramatics onscreen.
He took a roundabout way to get there, though. “I was a gay kid growing up on Long Island, so I was very concerned about remaining in the closet,” Rogers tells me when we meet via Zoom. “I never pursued anything I wanted to do because I genuinely was afraid that people would think I was gay, which I was. I was more of a sports kid, and I had a sports dad—who’s extremely supportive of me now—but all throughout my life, that was a non-starter for me.”
When Rogers arrived at New York University, he studied journalism for a short stint before switching to a dramatic writing major, thinking that might be a more appropriate side door into the world of acting. He was right—that change led him to write his own material, and he began pursuing comedy with his best friend, Bowen Yang. Eventually, that led to the pop-culture podcast he and Yang host together, Las Culturistas. “It was truly a way that we could have a play date 90 minutes a week because we’ve been best friends for over a decade now,” Rogers says. Since its debut in 2016, the podcast has become so popular that the hosts are gearing up for their 300th episode, along with a special awards ceremony at Lincoln Center this summer.
But in between recording episodes of Las Culturistas and preparing for his big Lincoln Center debut, Rogers can currently be seen in his role on I Love That For You, a new Showtime series starring Vanessa Bayer and Molly Shannon (whom he had met before being cast on the series, through the creators of The Other Two, a show that he writes for; the pair bonded at a Countess Luann cabaret performance in Los Angeles). His I Love That For You character, Darcy, works under the head honcho (Jenifer Lewis) at a home shopping network. “I get a lot of auditions for the ‘gay assistant,’ but what I really liked about this character is he actually had more depth than that because he was aware of the trope,” Rogers says. “His first line is ‘Just so you know, I’m not her assistant.’ I identified with Darcy’s deep need to be taken seriously. And there’s nothing funnier than a person who takes themselves really, really seriously.”
Of course, the similarities pretty much stop there. Darcy is unkind to the new hires, (clearly covering up something much darker beneath the surface,) and quite dry, while Rogers’s warm and bubbly personality exudes through the Zoom screen. Darcy is not exactly the type of character you root for, but Rogers is confident that by the end of the season, viewers might change their tune. “That was a little bit of a bummer for me, to know that everyone watching the show was only getting the first couple episodes,” he says. “I was like, ah, they’re not gonna know they love me yet!”
Rogers is also getting ready for the premiere of his first film, Fire Island. “It’s such a thorough examination of what time is like spent there with friends,” Rogers says of the movie, which was directed by Andrew Ahn and will debut on Hulu on June 3. His character’s classic novel counterpart is Lydia, the boy-crazy Bennett sister who ends up marrying George Wickham, a shady scammer who hastily manufactures the marriage for monetary reasons. In the film, his character’s name is Luke—similarly flirtatious, pre-occupied with being social, a little impulsive.
“Joel had written the role of Luke with me in mind, which makes me laugh because now, knowing what the character does and is a part of in the movie I’m like, is that a drag?” Rogers says with a laugh. “Lydia is kind of a flop and she really gets in trouble!”
The trouble that Luke gets into in Fire Island is a significant twist in the plot (which we will not be spoiling), but suffice to say it tackles a very contemporary issue. Rogers initially thought he might want to play some of Luke’s more intense scenes as comedy, but realized they only worked if he brought some anxious and upset feelings to the surface. “Luke doesn’t value himself. He is very insecure. When we were shooting, it was probably the most challenging thing I’d ever done as an actor,” he says.
In Fire Island, Booster has brilliantly mapped Austen’s complex characters onto a group of gay men, many of whom are played by his real-life friends. While maintaining many of the qualities of the original characters, the film also takes liberties to address some very modern problems of class, race, and the politics of desirability. Sure, it’s a fun and flirty romantic comedy, but it gets real, too. “When you treat someone like a body, you toss out their soul. There's been so much put on looks and so much put on sexual confidence and sexual prowess and sexual winning and losing,” Rogers says. “I’m happy that the film tackled it because it’s not afraid to tackle anything else.”
When pressed to remember his favorite part about filming last summer, he smiles. “I get to be in my first movie with my two best friends,” Rogers says. “It’s a movie that other people get to enjoy, but it’s very special because it’s like a scrapbook of this amazing summer I’ll never forget.”