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Matt Rogers talks Q-Force and the challenges of making queer comedy for the masses

“You can’t pander to the gays—they can smell it,” warns a character in Q-Force , Netflix’s animated series about a team of LGBTQ+ superspies. The line looms large over the series, having been uttered in an early trailer that some online users accused of doing just that. But, as a show made by and for queer people, Q-Force knows where it stands and doesn’t try to placate its audience with feel-good affirmations about self-love and chosen family. Instead, the series—created by Gabe Liedman and executive produced by Sean Hayes and Mike Schur —just wants to have a gay old time, jam-packing jokes into a spy serial where the stakes get higher each episode, while never taking itself too seriously.

Q-Force’s blend of unabashed goofiness and pop-culture savvy will feel familiar to those who know the comedy of Matt Rogers , a writer, actor, and co-host of the long-running Las Culturistas  podcast. Rogers voices the team’s master of disguise, Twink, whose very name indicates the level of gleeful absurdity the series strives for. From the writer’s room to the recording booth, Rogers watched Q-Force evolve from the initial “ gay James Bond ” pitch to a more inclusive team romp that he hopes will inspire people to “turn their brain off and laugh.” Currently, Rogers is filming Andrew Ahn’s Fire Island, a gay rom-com and modern retelling of Pride And Prejudice , starring Bowen Yang and Joel Kim Booster. On a break from shooting, Rogers spoke with The A.V. Club about bringing Q-Force to life, shooting Fire Island, and his Emily Blunt-esque role in Vanessa Bayer’s I Love This For You.

The A.V. Club: With Q-Force, you’re a bit of a “double agent,” working in the writer’s room and voicing Twink. How did you first come to be involved with the show? Was it always a given that you’d be part of the voice cast as well?

Matt Rogers: I was a huge fan of [series creator] Gabe Liedman ever since I was in my early twenties starting comedy. Gabe Liedman’s stand-up album was the one that my sketch group, when we were going to festivals, would play in the car on the way there. We love Gabe, and I obviously love his work with Jenny [Slate], and everything he’s ever done. He’s such a genius writer. I mean, it’s Inside Amy Schumer , Broad City , Transparent , Pen15 —it’s truly crazy what he’s contributed to.

So, when I heard he was creating a show that was executive produced by Sean Hayes, and it was like a gay James Bond, I was like, “Please!” I was sent a script, I took a meeting, and, based on the meeting, got hired. When I read it, the character Twink really jumped out to me because I loved that he could become anything, you know? He’s a drag queen by day, master of disguise by night. I thought it was really clever—the use of code-switching as a superpower. And there’s a lot of that in the show, just little things that we, as queer people, understand, blown out into what makes us really effective parts of the team.

Outside of that, as a comedic character, I just love that [Twink] could become Ariana Grande—he could become anything! So, as a writer that’s looking for comedic tools, that was huge. And then, as time went on, I really loved things about his personality that I identified with. I love that he’s really unfiltered, that he’s really sex-positive, that he has a very high pop culture IQ. I love that he just says whatever it is at whatever time with a lot of energy, and whether or not it was needed was beside the point—everyone just kind of accepts him as part of the team. And, ultimately, I really like that he is invaluable to them.

We were having a really hard time casting the role. The only person that was cast at the beginning was Sean, so we were kind of writing to the character ideas, and we were not sure [for example] that Wanda Sykes would be Deb, so we were not writing to Wanda Sykes’ voice. And I think, because I was pitching a lot for Twink, unbeknownst to me and unbeknownst to us, he did sort of have my voice. So, when the first table read rolled around with Netflix and Sean and everyone coming, Gabe was like, “Could you read the role of Twink just at the table read?” So I said yes and, just trying to be a good [team player], I was like, “Let me sell the shit out of these jokes!” And then I’m sitting there next to Sean Hayes—who is a childhood idol of mine—and, you know, I want to turn it on and do well.

So, after the table read, I got offered the part. It was really just a dream come true to be able to be in the room and have the unique opportunity to write for my character and figure out how things were going to feel coming out of my mouth. By the time I got in the booth, I could improvise, and a lot of that is in the show. It really just became a very complete artistic, creative, comedic experience for me. And I’m so proud of it.

AVC: I’ve always been fascinated with the intersection of queerness and this love of the spy genre . Knowing that that’s the driving force behind Q-Force, why do you think the two make for such a good fit?

MR: I do think that, intrinsically, there is something queer about the spy genre and specifically James Bond—because it’s dramatic! The music is dramatic, everything is played to the hilt emotionally, and, while James Bond himself is not an emotional character, it’s very emotional storytelling. It’s dramatic and there are very high stakes. I thought I really connected to the Bond Girls. And I do think that there is a deep part of me that aspires, ultimately, to play a Bond Girl. That is what I want most in life—paging whoever it is that makes those decisions: If you want a gay Bond Girl, I would love to be her!

But I think also there is something about having to be covert, having to be discreet, having to shield identity and take on different personas in order to succeed in life. I certainly was not the only person [in the writer’s room] that was really excited about doing that aspect of this job. It is a very serialized show, there are mysteries that unfold over the whole course of the season and missions that take many episodes to complete, which I think is really fun. There was a real energy, when we first started the room, about what those stories would be. You know, what wasn’t initially interesting was, like, “How we can figure a riff on The Princess Diaries into the show?” What was interesting was, “How can we talk about Q-Anon? How does the dark web figure into a modern James Bond mystery?” It was just really interesting that the queer element of the show was not necessarily what was making us tick, it was the spy element. So, you have the really cool narrative elements of the spy genre, and then you have all these queer comedians in the room, and the two fused together in a way that I’m really pleased with and excited about.

The Q-Force team

The Q-Force team Photo: Netflix

AVC: The show makes a lot of jokes about this idea of pandering to the audience, particularly a gay audience. What sort of conversations were you having about that in the writer’s room? Like, how do you make a show that’s specifically by and for queer people that doesn’t feel like it’s pandering?

MR: Well, it’s really interesting because—if people are going to say it’s pandering, that’s their response to it. People are certainly having a reaction to the show, whether they’ve seen it or not. And I was surprised, but I shouldn’t be, because I know what it’s like as a queer person to watch them try and try and try and try to represent you. But I know now, as a queer creator, how difficult it is to get these things made, and I think it’s actually a huge achievement that this actually is what it is. All I can say is that this is by queer people, for queer people—in terms of the writing staff, in terms of the cast, in terms of the animators—and that everything in the show really made us laugh.

I think that, as a queer creator, as the projects that I am involved with become more high profile, I’m realizing that you’re never going to please everyone with queer comedy, queer art, because people are looking for different things. Not everyone is looking to just turn their brain off and laugh. A lot of people really crave representation, and they’re not all craving the same representation. And I also think sometimes it’s easier to be critical of something, or negative about something, because that’s the place where we’ve had to live, right? It can feel like we’ve only ever had representation by the one or two creators that seem like they have gotten the stamp of approval to be as queer as they are. But there are so many different kinds of queer voices that I just want to make sure we make room for all of them before labeling one as harmful, or one as this and one as that. It could be not for you, but that doesn’t also mean it’s offensive.

AVC: So, did the response to the initial teaser trailer feel unfair to you?

MR: It was hard, it was really hard. And it was weird because I don’t think it was a great representation of what the show is. And I certainly understand why—when that trailer came out, it centered one white gay character and used a lot of pride imagery—and that can be triggering for a lot of people, for extremely good reasons. So I completely understand, in theory, that response. But the way it just sort of became a whole conversation about the show—I was just like, “You haven’t seen it!” And now what makes me nervous is that it feels like people that are on social media know that something “effective” is going to be shit-talking this [show]. All I know is that I had a really fun time doing it. I can’t think of anyone I respect more than the people I did it with, and it certainly makes me laugh.

AVC: And I know you had an especially good time with episode four, “EuropeVision,” which you wrote. How did that come together?

MR: I actually met Gabe for the second or third time at a Eurovision watch party that our friend hosted. It’s like the Super Bowl without the football, which is so perfect, but even more insane and European, which we love. Anyway, we knew we were going to break the beginning of the first arc of the show at Eurovision, so Gabe turned to me and he was like, “I want you to write this episode,” and I was so excited. This is the first episode of television I’ve written with my name on it. And then he also told me I got to write the original songs—it was just an awesome opportunity to be able to pull in all these things, these references that I love. Not only did I get to write the music, but I got Annaleigh Ashford to sing the ballad that I wrote for the show. She plays Vox Tux, the pop star who Twink becomes, and it’s just this crazy fantasia of gayness that I’m so excited to say I helped create.

Q-Force’s Twink in Vox Tux drag for “EuropeVision”

Q-Force’s Twink in Vox Tux drag for “EuropeVision” Photo: Netflix

AVC: Aside from realizing your Eurovision dreams, what aspect of working on Q-Force has been most rewarding?

MR: Probably the feeling that the character of Twink is just an unfiltered, positive, little bright spot in the show, and knowing that I could give something that helped him pop as much is really gratifying. I don’t know, I love that he’s a femme gay character that is taking up space and being unapologetic. And I really like that he sort of employs what people might call stereotypes as superpowers. I love that his code-switching is a superpower, I love that his abilities with makeup and with performance are used as effective tools to save the world—I love that his queerness helps to save the world! And I really love watching so many diverse queer characters come together, who, only as a unit, can effectively complete their missions. Because while the original, very first nugget of an idea was “gay James Bond,” it then became a queer group of spies. Because we as queer people know that it’s only as a community that we really can move forward. You know, maybe James Bond can save the world by himself, but that’s a real fantasy. Whereas Q-Force is a documentary. [Laughs.]

AVC: As we speak, you’re in the middle of filming Fire Island with director Andrew Ahn , the rom-com written by and starring your pal Joel Kim Booster, as well as your Las Culturistas co-host Bowen Yang. What can you tell me about that experience so far?

MR: It’s really great. I’m so excited for everyone to see this because I think it’s going to be a real story about queer friendship and how it’s truly familial. It maps so well onto the Pride And Prejudice novel because—talk about an observation on class and society that’s applicable today. That’s that novel. And Joel so beautifully mapped it onto the gay experience on Fire Island: the anxieties, the hopes, the relationships, the fleeting dalliances. It’s all there, and also the tension between members of a quote-unquote “family” when it comes to being in a social setting where there’s the opportunity for mobility and there’s opportunity for gratification.

All these themes really come through. They’re really well drawn and so vividly directed by Andrew Ahn, who’s just so brilliant. And the cast is great—so many great people and also some people that are going to be amazing discoveries. I really am excited for people that have had the experience of being on Fire Island to see how we portray it, because it’s everything. There’s definitely partying, there’s sex, there’s drama, there’s friendship, there’s those stupid moments when you’re lying around the house with friends. But there’s also the quiet moments, there’s the reflection on the history of it, there’s a real exploration of everything it means to people that have been there, to people that have yet to go there.

And I think it’s going to surprise people. People might be expecting one thing because of the group of comedians that are involved in it, but they’re going to be surprised by the depth. I think that everyone in this film has been capable of doing this work, but we’ve just had success in sketch and being silly on podcasts and all this stuff. So it’s a really cool opportunity for us all to show off this other part of ourselves. And I hope that it opens doors not just for us to do more stories like this, but for more people in our community to show different sides of themselves.

AVC: And what can you reveal about your character? Given this is a re-telling of Pride And Prejudice, can we expect them to map directly onto a character from the novel?

MR: So I play Luke, who is the Lydia of the piece. And Luke is the “messy sister.” He’s very interested in what’s going on in the other houses, he’s horny as hell, and he’s very close with Keegan, who is the map of Kitty. He’s played by this incredible actor, who’s so funny and such a star, named Tomas Matos—we’re having such a good time together. And I think people that are looking for that Kitty and Lydia attached-at-the-hip dynamic are going to be really pleased by what happens. So, yeah, Luke-slash-Lydia really gets into it, some shit goes absolutely down. And I’m filming some stuff, which is—let’s just say there’s a lot of firsts for me. [Laughs.] But all the characters from Pride And Prejudice that you know and love are like vividly drawn out in queer ways in Fire Island. It’s a very faithful adaptation, and the ways in which it’s punched up to be modernized and queer are genius.

And then, I’m super excited because right after Fire Island, I have a month off and then I do I Love This For You. So it’s like all of a sudden she’s an actor! [Laughs.]

AVC: Yes, Vanessa Bayer ’s show! Which is even more exciting now because they just added Jenifer Lewis to the cast.

MR: When they said it was Jenifer Lewis, I was just like, “Wow, as if it could become more of a dream.” I’m very excited. But for people that don’t know, [the show] is like The Devil Wears Prada mapped onto the QVC world. And I get to be the Emily Blunt, which is really gay wish fulfillment. I get to turn some looks, I get to be a little bit bitchy, I get to conspire and do all sorts of fun things. And then it’s Molly Shannon, who is having the moment she so deserves and will continue to. I mean, this role is going to be such a culmination of everything that she’s being praised for her whole career, and she’s just so brilliant.

And then number one is Vanessa, who is going to show a side of Vanessa Bayer that we haven’t seen. I mean, isn’t it time for her to lead a comedy show? Who doesn’t want that? It’s going to really deliver.

AVC: Vanessa’s always been a scene-stealer, on SNL and beyond. So it really does feel like: What are they waiting for? Give her a show!

MR: She is that funny, she really is. She’s also even nicer than she is funny. And what people don’t get is that she’s been through a lot, and she’s put it all into this show. It’s really funny and sunny and bright, but it’s also dark. And she is so brilliant throughout—there were some scenes shooting the pilot where I was just truly breathless. I just couldn’t be more excited for her because she couldn’t be a nicer, more deserving, or more hilarious person.

AVC: We can expect to see I Love This For You in 2022?

MR: So, I shoot that in January through March, and then hopefully it comes out in [late spring or early summer], around the same time as Fire Island.

AVC: A Matt Rogers moment!

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MR: I mean, I can’t really speak to when things are going to come out. But this will all build to 2022—except for Q-Force, which is out now!



Source: https://www.avclub.com/matt-rogers-talks-q-force-and-the-challenges-of-making-1847577937