Metro Weekly

Q-Force: Twink actor Matt Rogers stands by “every single joke” in Netflix’s queer comedy

Matt Rogers breaks down the bops and "boops" of writing and performing on Netflix's new animated queer spy comedy

Q-Force: Matt Rogers as Twink, Sean Hayes as Mary, and Patti Harrison as Stat -- Image courtesy of Netflix
Q-Force: Matt Rogers as Twink, Sean Hayes as Mary, and Patti Harrison as Stat — Image courtesy of Netflix

Q-Force all started with an idea hatched by Sean Hayes and his producing partner, Todd Milliner.

“It was just three words: gay James Bond,” recalls Gabe Liedman, creator and executive producer of the irreverent, proudly queer, very adult new animated comedy-adventure series on Netflix. “They were like, ‘This is something, we know this is something. And it would be a funny character for Sean to get to play.’ So they started to meet with writers. Sean was a fan of my standup, which blows my mind, and called me in to see what my take on it would be.”

Liedman came back to them with Q-Force. “Which is not gay James Bond, but sort of a riff on it,” he says. “It just kind of occurred to me, there wouldn’t be a gay James Bond, like even if you were James Bond, your macho shitty bosses in a spy agency or in the military might not really see you that way. And it might be a bit of an uphill climb to prove yourself. And that just seemed funnier to me, and more rich and more true.”

It also occurred to Liedman to channel that story through an ensemble, where “it’s not just the story of this one gay guy, but of a larger community and the friends that we make who are bi and trans and lesbian. And we all lift each other up. It just seemed like this is the opportunity to do that.”

Thus, Q-Force‘s would-be Bond character, Steve Maryweather a.k.a. Agent Mary, doesn’t go it solo, but leads a crack team of LGBTQ+ agents. The show’s producers, including executive producer Mike Schur (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place), assembled their own crack team of comic talents to voice the ensemble, with Hayes as Agent Mary, Wanda Sykes as tech whiz Deb, Patti Harrison as hacker Stat, Laurie Metcalf as the squad’s agency capo V, and writer-comedian Matt Rogers as the exuberant, femme master of drag and disguise, Twink.

Rogers, who also co-hosts pop culture podcast Las Culturistas with SNL‘s Bowen Yang, initially was brought in just as a writer on the series. But an opportunity arose when, after auditioning several actors for the role, Liedman and his fellow Q-Force producers had cast the whole team but still hadn’t found their Twink. So, as Rogers recounts, “Gabe was like, ‘Just for the table read, because Netflix is coming, and Universal is coming and all the people are coming, could you read Twink?’ And I just thought to myself, ‘Absolutely. I know this character’s voice.’ I did start to think of it as an extension of me in a weird way. And I really do think of it like that now.”

Liedman agrees that the actor and role fit each other. “Twink is this fountain of energy and positivity. He’s like the id of the crew, the least filtered, least polite, but also the most lovable, I would say. It’s a character I really fell in love with writing. And he reminds me a lot of Matt. Matt gives off an incredible energy that can really light the room. And he was such an energetic and loving collaborator on this project. I just don’t think I would have crossed the finish line without him.”

Q-Force -- Image courtesy of Netflix
Q-Force — Image courtesy of Netflix

Rogers got to fill out this colorful character — “drag queen by day, master of disguise by night.” And, as part of the majority LGBTQ+ writers’ room, he could address queerphobia and discrimination “in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously.” In fact, over the course of its ten-episode season, Q-Force develops an incisive, resonant story of queer liberation, mixed with action, R-rated language, sex, camp, saucy humor, and lots of naked swinging dicks. Riffing on everything from Brokeback Mountain and The Princess Diaries, to anal bleaching and Subaru lesbians, the jokes reflect the show’s queer sensibility while taking aim at queer faves.

Perhaps no episode better exemplifies that spirit than “EuropeVision,” which finds Q-Force trying to thwart a kidnapping at a ridiculously over-the-top international song competition. Rogers not only wrote the episode, but also the hilariously Eurovision-style songs that propel the intrigue. “It just seemed like the perfect kind of set-piece for a show like Q-Force,” says Liedman, “where we could have life and death stakes, but also be playing it out in this very specific, very, very queer environment.”

The Q-Force sense of humor is also very specific, Rogers acknowledges, and not intended as all-encompassing. “While we are a queer show — and yes, there’s so much amazing, diverse, inclusive representation here — it’s not the end-all-be-all when it comes to representation. I wouldn’t expect anyone to watch the show and be like, ‘Yes, they got it right! Thank God, finally, queer representation that really hits the nail on the head in every way.’ Like, no. It’s an animated, hard comedy spy show, where my character is a twink with blue hair, named Twink. So, it’s not to be taken completely seriously, but there’s stuff to be derived from it, for sure.”

Matt Rogers — Photo: Alex Schaefer

METRO WEEKLY: The humor on Q-Force is super, super specific. Jokes about anal bleaching, the Subaru McClanahan, and Eurovision. The humor is really unapologetically gay. Gabe talked about the fact that’s what he wanted it to be, and wanting to not hold anything back out of fear that somebody’s not going to get it. What’s your take on just putting it all out there?

MATT ROGERS: You know, the [writers’] room was predominantly queer, and like I said, the cast is predominately queer, the animators are predominantly queer. So, in terms of the references, we were just doing stuff that made us laugh. In the room, I can say we laughed at all these jokes enough, and scrutinized what would go in the show enough, the fact that they’re all in there is not a mistake, because we laughed at it.

It’s so interesting, when you’re representing queer humor, you’re really not going to nail it for everyone, ever. And I think that’s comedy in general, but because there’s not a lot of queer representation, people are very anxious, and they can be precious about the ways that they’re depicted on screen. So, I think that a lot of people are really enjoying a lot of the humor of the show, and some people feel like, “Oh, this joke about how gay men only drink wine coolers [is a stereotype].” Part of me is like, we can see the humor in stereotype, and also understand that it’s not dragging the community to make a joke like that.

When you do “queer comedy,” or something is called “unapologetically gay,” then people — especially queer people — will watch it and be like, “Oh really? Well, then what’s the joke? Let me weigh in on what I think about it.” I’m very conscious of the fact that what I think is funny is not going to be what everyone else thinks is funny, just on the basis of the fact that we’re queer. However, I love and stand by probably every single joke in there. There was a joke in the teaser [where] Mary does a dive roll. And then he goes, “Ugh, I wasted all that masculinity on nothing.” And my character says, “Not nothing. My little butthole went ‘boop.'”

That’s something that I would say. In fact, I pitched the line and that’s why it’s in there. I didn’t put it in the teaser, but that’s a whole other story. But it’s funny, because sometimes I feel like, if the jokes that I make to my Judys at the club, or at the bar, or at each other’s houses, or over texts and group texts, if I put them on television shows people would be like, “We don’t want that joke representing us.” But I know for a fact that’s how I talk. And you can’t tell me that I’m a bad representation of the queer community. We all are part of it. Who’s to call anything bad representation? Maybe if it was a straight person coming in saying all this shit, then I’d be like, “Yeah, maybe this straight guy shouldn’t be making a joke about a butthole going ‘boop.'” But it’s me. It is me doing it. I can claim it. Yes, that was me.

MW: It was from a place of love.

ROGERS: It was from a place of love, and the fact being that, whenever I’ve been sometimes attracted to someone, sometimes I will feel my butthole go “boop.” That’s just the truth. And sorry if it triggers people, sorry if people are uncomfortable with it, but that’s not really my problem.

I also don’t really think other communities have to think about these things, you know what I mean? When Sex and the City came out, it was like, “Finally, women talking about sex.” And I almost feel like when gay men — or femme gay men, especially — make jokes about sex, it triggers the community and they’re embarrassed about it. I think because there’s a lot of self-hatred we haven’t dealt with yet. Personally, for me, I don’t look on our screens and see a lot of gay relationships that aren’t two masc guys. I just don’t. And I just think we’ve been trained to be comfortable with wanting to see ourselves in a masc way, or played by straight people, which is messed up. And I think that it’s caused us, in receiving queer comedy, queer art, to be just a little too hard on things and not be very accepting.

MW: An example that some would say queer people especially were too hard on — and it really relates to this — is Jack McFarland, who rubbed a lot of people the wrong way for being “so gay.” I think there might be people who watch Q-Force and are ready to say, “Well, not all gays….”

ROGERS: Here’s what I would say to people who want to criticize someone like Jack — Will also has anal sex. So, really what you have a problem with is Jack’s authentic self. And I’m sorry to break it to everyone, but I know a lot of guys that are even more femme than Jack. And the reason that you’re calling it a caricature is because he was the only thing we were allowed to put on television for a long time. Say what you want about the original Will & Grace, I’m sure the representation wasn’t perfect, but it was the only representation. So, before you’re dragging what the representation is, maybe start dragging the fact that that was all we were allowed to have.

I just think — I would hope — that the queer community is smarter than to judge things simply on face value. But then again, no one is “smart” on social media, and that’s not what drives people to behave a certain way on social media. They’re not trying to engage in intelligent ways, they’re trying to get attention. If people just stepped outside of themselves for a second, they would realize how sex-negative some of the things they’re saying are, and how shame-y some of the things they’re saying are.

It’s funny. I sort of rotate between being more femme and being, I guess, a little bit more “masc.” I’m from Long Island. I know what it is to code-switch. And I also kind of love that Twink is a master code switcher. I think it’s clever. I think it plays on maybe something he’s had to do for self-protection, and he now can use as a superpower. I think it’s kind of cool. But I know what it’s like to feel like you have to be a certain thing to fit in certain places, because for so many years, I did have to.

When I was code-switching in high school, pretending I was straight, having a girlfriend, kissing girls under the bleachers, I was panicking, but I had to do that for survival. So I think, honestly, a lot of the ways in which we respond to queer art that we feel like “embarrasses” or disrespects us, or, this one really drives me nuts, “offends us,” it’s because we have a survival instinct and it’s not our fault. I just wish we would examine it more. Because when a femme gay character mentions their asshole, and everyone online says, “Oh, now I’m homophobic,” “That turned me straight,” — that’s not our problem. That’s your problem. And you’re trying to make a joke about it. And I have two pieces of news for you. One, you made a joke that everyone else made, which is always a bad sign. And two, if this animated queer comedy show can “make you straight,” you have a medical issue. [Laughs.]

Q-Force: Gabe Liedman as Benji and Sean Hayes as Mary -- Image courtesy of Netflix
Q-Force: Gabe Liedman as Benji and Sean Hayes as Mary — Image courtesy of Netflix

MW: For the people who might be wondering — and there are straights and gays who wonder — what is so funny about Eurovision? There’s been a whole spoof movie, and now this.

ROGERS: I think the thing about Eurovision is like, if you love pop music, then you’ll love Eurovision. Because it takes the surreal elements of everything that mainstream pop artists in America do, and just pushes it to twenty, on a 1 through 10 scale. I mean, it is true camp. And I really think there’s a misunderstanding, in America, especially, about what camp really is. I mean, the costumes don’t make a lick of sense. Often the lyrics don’t make any sense at all. It’s just true pop music drama, which is what I love. Or it’s true pop music comedy, which it’s really interesting to see European countries illustrate.

I first became aware of Eurovision five years ago when I went to Stockholm, because I went to the pop music museum — or the ABBA museum. And there’s a basement room where you can go in and you can watch all the Eurovisions throughout time. And I think maybe Americans might have some awareness of it, because Celine Dion was on it, or obviously, ABBA came from it. But you really need to dive into the trenches of what this is, because it’s pop songs that really go for it. And I’ve always found pop music to be funny.

It’s weird. Oftentimes people will be like, “What are your comedic influences? What are your artistic influences?” And I often think Celine Dion dropping in to sing a power ballad and just the look she gets in her eyes is my comedic influence. And yes, the pounding of the chest and just the drama that she brings. She’s actually a really good example of what you get, when you get a truly — in her case — French-Canadian, but truly French take on pop music. And we know her for doing a lot of ballads, but also, over time as we’ve gotten to know her personality, we know she’s insane in the best way. But that’s everyone at Eurovision. Also, the drama of the points tabulation, how seriously the world takes it, the costumes, the budgeting in terms of special effects.

It’s so funny that every year there’s a Super Bowl halftime show that no one knows about in America and it’s called Eurovision. It’s like the halftime show without the football, which for queers, might appeal to them.

 
Q-Force: Sean Hayes as Mary, Pattie Harrison as Stat, Wanda Sykes as Deb, Matt Rogers as Twink, and Laurie Metcalf as V -- Image courtesy of Netflix
Q-Force: Sean Hayes as Mary, Pattie Harrison as Stat, Wanda Sykes as Deb, Matt Rogers as Twink, and Laurie Metcalf as V — Image courtesy of Netflix

MW: You gave me a segue with French-Canadians, because in addition to voicing Twink, you’re writing on the show. I’m wondering if you had a hand in Twink’s awesome backstory of getting trained for Cirque du Soleil, and having to quit because of his jelly bones?

ROGERS: I believe that was all Gabe Liedman. It’s so funny because I think that when we were breaking that episode, it was right when I realized I was going to be playing the role, and I was so excited, because when you get assigned a new character, whenever you’re gifted with the ability to sort of fill it in, I was sort of for myself filling in his backstory. And I gotta tell you, I never would have picked an accent that I absolutely cannot do. But that’s what ended up being what it was, so I sort of did this — it wasn’t really French-Canadian, it was more like a young version of Twink that I made up.

Luckily, I didn’t have to do too many flashback scenes, and they were really short and fun, and to the point. But the French-Canadian circus background, I think we were just trying to find a way to justify how he could configure his body in the ways that he does, as a master of disguise and premier drag queen of the world who can literally become anything and anyone. And someone pitched “jelly bones,” and I just thought it was the funniest thing ever. So, when you combine the natural deformity/gift of having jelly bones with the very tough experience of being a gymnast at a young age, and Cirque du Soleil-aspiring performer, you’re going to get quite a Twink.

Q-Force: Patti Harrison as Stat, Wanda Sykes as Deb, Sean Hayes as Mary, and David Harbour as Buck -- Image courtesy of Netflix
Q-Force: Patti Harrison as Stat, Wanda Sykes as Deb, Sean Hayes as Mary, and David Harbour as Buck — Image courtesy of Netflix

MW: Another character I’m curious about is Stat. Are they a cisgender woman, or trans? How would Stat identify themselves?

ROGERS: In the original script, Stat was non-binary trans. And then, in the casting process, we cast Patti Harrison, who is a trans woman. And I think that the identity of the character just followed the casting.

I actually hesitate to declare what Stat’s gender identity is, because it’s not said in the show, and I actually kind of like that about it. For me, personally, I read Stat as a trans woman, but I think that it’s not something that’s been explicitly stated. I think that once Patti stepped into that role, it really fleshed out the character in such a fun way, and she was able to bring so much of her irreverence and dry humor and Patti-ness to it. So, when I see the illustration and I hear Patti, it fills in a lot for me personally. But I don’t exactly know. We know that she’s interested in hot sentient AI. That’s all we know.

MW: Stat developing a relationship with a sentient robot doesn’t seem at all outlandish in the world of this show, or in the world of anything. I was actually wearing a Her movie T-shirt yesterday, so I get that. But could you ever?

ROGERS: You know what, I never say never. Actually, that storyline was based on Her. So, a lot of the plot lines in the show are riffing on, or trying to satirize, different pop culture tropes or pop culture treasures or queer storylines.

Q-Force: David Harbour as Buck and Sean Hayes as Mary -- Image courtesy of Netflix
Q-Force: David Harbour as Buck and Sean Hayes as Mary — Image courtesy of Netflix

MW: Like Brokeback?

ROGERS: Yeah, Brokeback, obviously. And in a way, Her is a queer storyline, because the AI played by Scarlett Johansson is… we can call that not a heteronormative relationship. So, I think that once we saw the emotional connection really play out on the page, it was really sweet.

MW: Let’s talk about Fire Island, the film you’re doing with Bowen Yang and Joel Kim Booster. Are you done shooting, or are you shooting it now?

ROGERS: We’re actually halfway through shooting it. We had a night shoot last night, we wrapped at around 4 a.m. It’s a Pride & Prejudice adaptation, set amongst gay friends on Fire Island in the Pines, written by Joel Kim Booster, directed by Andrew Ahn, staring Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamora, and Margret Cho. Amazing cast. And it’s really a very faithful adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. Jane Austen, she was a talented girl. She definitely had an eye for class, and the way you can move around in society. And it’s weird, that sort of Edwardian era, women in society, really maps onto gay men in the Pines, in ways that I think are really going to surprise people.

MW: There’s etiquette for sure.

ROGERS: Absolutely. I mean, there’s also hierarchy, in a major way. In so many ways. Joel is so good at speaking to that. He’s so smart and so funny. I think people mostly know him as a standup and they’re going to get to know him as a writer and as an actor, which is so great. I mean, he is the Elizabeth Bennet. And I play the sort of stand-in for Lydia Bennet. So, people who are fans of Pride & Prejudice know what Lydia gets into and it’s fun. I have a really fun role and I’m just having the most fun. I’m really waiting for it to feel like work. But we’ve been shooting it around Brooklyn and Long Island, and then we’re actually going to go out onto Fire Island itself in mid-September and shoot on location.

MW: There was another movie set on Fire Island, I guess a couple years ago, called Last Ferry, but that was a thriller. I assume nobody gets murdered in your movie?

ROGERS: I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I don’t think people have to worry about murder in this film. I don’t think.

MW: As you point out, it’s obviously a great place to deal with class issues. I think the story that comes out about Fire Island is generally always of a certain image, whereas there’s also the experience of just a quiet morning with a book and somebody making breakfast for the whole house kind of thing. Which, generally, is not what is depicted. What have your experiences been like? And how do you think Fire Island is going to be portrayed in this movie?

ROGERS: So, I can say it’s a very complete picture of Fire Island. You definitely get the moments of us lounging around the house, on our phones, in our sweats. That definitely happens. And then there’s definitely the moments of us, all just people that are in the house together, floating around in the pool, talking about whatever happened that night or what might happen tonight. But then there is the depiction of — and this is how it really maps onto Pride & Prejudice, as well — the anxiety and the wish to go out and impress people. To go out and party. There’s definitely partying in the movie. There’s definitely sex in the movie. There’s definitely all of those dynamics mapped onto what Jane Austen is getting at in the original novel.

I think that the adaptation is really faithful, and good and very modern, to the point where if you could watch the movie, and it just would be the movie, you wouldn’t need to know it was a Pride & Prejudice adaptation. But something I really like about it is that the movie is, first and foremost, about friendship. And about how friendship really is a stand-in for family. And, obviously, Jane Austen writes us a tale about sisters. And this movie is about sisterhood, as well.

There is romance and there is drama. But it’s really about how this is such an important place for experiences to be had and it’s also just historic. I think that when we go shoot there, and actually shoot at Tea, or shoot on the boardwalk — we’re actually going to go into Cherry Grove, and shoot outside the Ice Palace — I think it’s just a celebration of everything that it is. And I think most importantly, anyone that’s ever gone with a bunch of people to Fire Island, whether you know them or not, you do have those bonds with the people that you’re in a house with, people that you meet. Those fleeting relationships where someone is so important to you for two days and then you never see them again.

MW: Okay, wait, but I didn’t hear about your experiences on Fire Island.

ROGERS: My experiences on Fire Island vary. I started going when I was 26, 27. And I was very anxious about going. I really wasn’t comfortable with myself. I always was very fixated on fitting into a paradigm of whatever it was. And I sort of identify with that in the character I’m playing in the movie, because we are playing a little bit younger than we actually are. We’re playing late twenties. I’m 31 now, and I think in the years since going to Fire Island, now that I’m in my thirties, I kind of give less of a fuck. And I’m willing to let myself go for it. So, definitely when I was in my mid-to-late twenties, I was like, “Uh, maybe let’s stay home tonight. Maybe let’s not go to the underwear party. I’m nervous.” And now I’m like, “No, let’s go. Let’s see what happens. If I break off, I’m an adult. I’ll be fine.” It really is like a gay summer camp in a way. And this most recent trip that I went was probably my favorite trip, just because it was the right chemistry of people I was with. And that’s the thing is it’s always all about who you’re going with.

MW: All right, so last two questions then. One, because you share a birthday with my husband, March 6th —

ROGERS: Pisces is king. March 5th is my birthday, but yes.

MW: Oh the 5th, all right, I see.

ROGERS: So, Google is trifling. Google is all sorts of wrong when it comes to me. When you google Q-Force, they show Matthew Rogers, who was an American Idol season two contestant. And he also looks like the opposite of a twink. So Google needs to get it together, Wikipedia needs to get it together. They need to start figuring out who I am, because you know….

Q-Force: Matt Rogers stars as Twink -- Image courtesy of Netflix
Q-Force: Matt Rogers stars as Twink — Image courtesy of Netflix

MW: Okay, March 5th. I was going to ask, do you put any stock in astrology? And secondly, do you put any stock in husbands?

ROGERS: Oh! You know, astrology, I never really cared, until I found out what my birth chart is, and now I’m like, “Wait, there might be something to this, because this is too right.” I’m a Pisces, rising Pisces Cancer moon. And that’s so accurate as to who I am. And now it’s like, I look at the close relationships in my life, and a lot of them make sense astrologically. My best friends are all Scorpios and Cancers, water signs I’m very close with. So, the answer is no, I don’t live my life day-to-day being like, “Let me check the Co-Star app.” I really don’t care. But I also think it’s fun to talk about and I think that a lot of it makes sense when I dive in. But I don’t dive in all the way to the deep end and touch the ground, if that makes sense.

Husbands? I’d love to have a husband. I’m not looking for one, especially not now. But I think one day. My thing is like, if I was with someone who that was really important to, and they were important enough to me, then I would make it happen. I don’t know. I think that’s where my own thing comes in, in the back of my mind, where it’s like, “What am I going to do? Have a wedding? Have everyone come watch me dance with my husband, and then kiss him in front of everyone? What? For who?”

I guess I’m not necessarily big on that part of my life being for other people, in terms of a wedding. I guess I don’t need to throw an event to have people understand that I love this person — just yet. Like I said, if it was really important to him, then maybe. But I feel so pushed out of the whole thing since I was very young. I never assumed I would ever have a wedding. I didn’t dream, growing up, of having one, because I wasn’t going to have one. So, maybe that’s like the last vestiges of my own conditioning. Just being like, “Oh, that’s not for me.” Because it is.

MW: I agree with you. I didn’t have a big wedding, didn’t want one, never dreamed of one. And I hope everybody can support us without having a ceremony to attach it to.

ROGERS: Yeah, I mean, look, I love to party. I just feel like every wedding I go to — not every wedding I go to, but a lot of weddings I go to — it feels like this is not for the person getting married. It feels like it’s for their family, or for some religious connection they have. And it’s so boring to me.

That’s why I’m always just like, “This whole thing might not be for me.” Because I feel like it’s all mixed up in its own thing. But I’ve seen some non-traditional weddings that I really think have been great. And I’m all for people celebrating whatever they want to celebrate. It’s just odd when I think about me doing it. I can never see myself getting married traditionally, and up there with my husband-to-be, holding hands and doing the thing. I just can’t visualize it. But I’m willing to be wrong.

Season one of Q-Force season one is available for streaming exclusively on Netflix. Visit www.netflix.com.

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