As long as we’ve had out, queer characters in media, we’ve had the trope of the sassy gay assistant. Well-dressed, dependable, and always ready with a cutting remark—and a latte—at a moment’s notice, they might provide comic relief, but it’s rare they get to be anything other than in service of others.
It’s a position that actor, comedian, and Las Culturistas podcaster Matt Rogers knows well. In fact, the first role he ever booked was as the assistant to Jerry Seinfeld in an episode of the web series Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, and he’s spotted the trope in countless scripts in the years since.
In Vanessa Bayer’s new Showtime comedy, I Love That For You, Rogers stars as Darcy, who’s quick to introduce himself as a “senior associate”—not an assistant—to the Special Value Network’s head honcho, Patricia (Jenifer Lewis). Darcy, like the series itself, is well aware of the gay assistant stereotype, and it soon becomes clear that he’s much more than someone’s right-hand man.
In a cast of comedic powerhouses—including Bayer, Lewis, and Molly Shannon—Rogers stands out by bringing a wry, steely reserve to Darcy, and then peeling the layers back, episode after episode. Even if Darcy is, ultimately, a glorified assistant, I Love That For You is savvy enough to subvert expectations, and Rogers brings a nuanced, hilarious complexity to the part.
Ahead of I Love That For You’s premiere, we spoke with Rogers about the nature of the “gay assistant,” and how his character brings a dynamism to the trope that we rarely see in entertainment. Check out what he had to say…
QUEERTY: When we first meet Darcy, he’s quick to point out that he’s a “senior associate” not an assistant, which I love as this sort of commentary on the trope of the “gay assistant.” Broadly speaking, why do you think the “gay assistant” has become such a common character type in pop culture, and how would you say Darcy subverts expectations around that type of role?
ROGERS: Well, honestly, when I read the script during pilot season, it really jumped out to me because, you can imagine during pilot season, I do get a ton of these types of requests for auditions. It’s like “people coming in and asking what flavor pressed juice a superior of theirs would like,” or “where I can put some papers down.”
It’s actually so funny because years and years ago, the first thing I ever booked was a little bit part on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, and I played an assistant and I wore a dark navy blue suit, and I bent over him at one point to ask what he wanted. Years later, I was in an episode of Shrill where I played a publicist—which is sort of in the same world—and they put me in a navy blue suit,I bent over to tell Vanessa Bayer that we needed to go. So, I took the photos of both of them and put them superimposed together and posted it on Instagram, and it was like, “Look at the evolution!” I was an assistant in 2014, and I’m an assistant in 2020. [Laughs.]
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But, what I loved about the script was that he said that: “I’m not the assistant, I’m the senior associate.” And then I also love that seconds later, he’s treated like the assistant. So that’s something that’s built into his character: He really wants to be respected and treated like an equal to these people, because he’s worked hard for it. But his sort of journey throughout the season is realizing that he might be trapped in this role. And he acts on that realization in interesting ways.
I honestly think that the “gay assistant” is such a thing because we were never the leads of shows—I mean, it’s still rare. But we are often relegated to those supporting roles. And the assistant is a role that can pop, say one line, and then maybe pop in later and say another line and then be done with it. And then get their recurring check and then go home.
But I also think it’s like an opportunity for a joke wheel; you know what I mean? When a gay character comes in, says they’re catty thing, and leaves. So I was really excited when I read this script by Vanessa Bayer and Jeremy Beiler—who I knew already were the smartest ever—that they were the ones to subvert this. And I have to say, of all the scripts I’ve read, this just was like in the top 0.5%. And this was one of the reasons, because I felt like it really riffed on something I had seen so often.
And then when I got more scripts, I realized he gets even more dynamic, and he gets even more complicated, which is just the coolest for someone who grew up and did not see complicated, dynamic gay characters. I mean, we’ve said it 1,000 times, but it bears repeating: What’s gone on in the last couple of years in terms of complexity for queer characters on screen is major.
With such a talented writers room, I imagine there’s a lot of great material right there on the page, but what aspects of Darcy were most informative to you, performance-wise, in creating this character?
So Darcy is very good at his job, and I think that one tool that he employs is code-switching, I think that he is someone different with everyone that he works with. With Patricia—played by Jenifer Lewis—he’s very reverent, he is willing to cut off his finger for her, he really loves, admires, and respects her. And I think he also wants to show her that he is picking up on the ways that she leads the office. He follows her example and wants to let her know, and he also wants to make her very proud.
And I think that, in a toxic work environment, unfortunately, something that is prevalent is [feelings of] superiority and cruelty to those below you. So, with Vanessa[‘s character, Joanna], he really is interested in letting her know that he is someone to be respected, and to listen to. And he’s overplayed his hand in that way. So it’s just funny to play sort of fearful with Jenifer, and then play status on Vanessa in this way.
Just getting to play status on Vanessa is so funny to me. Because literally sometimes they’ll call cut, and I’ll just be like, “I’m sorry!” [Laughs.] I apologize to my colleagues all the time for the way I behave. One time they had me improvise on an extra and just be mean to her—they were like, “Okay Matt, now you’re just going to be nasty to her for a minute.” And there was no script, so I just let it rip. And I fell to the ground, like, my knees gave out, I was like, “God, this character living inside me is so dark.” What a red flag for my life!
But you do see who he really is with Beth Ann, who’s played by Ayden Mayeri, who’s so luminous. You get to hear a little bit about what he wants and how he feels in a real way through her because he drops his guard with her. So I identify with the code-switching; as any gay man who grows up when when we grow up knows, you do have to do that to survive. And I think people do that all the time in professional environments when they’re really good at their job. So I based [Darcy] on people who are chameleons in the workplace.
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Right! There’s something universal about that, but the concept of code-switching in the workplace is very real to queer people. You often have to navigate how much of yourself to bring to work—like, whether or not to even be “out” to your coworkers.
It’s really interesting. And it goes in an interesting direction [on the show], too, because, like I said, the relationships in this professional environment are… “interesting” at the very least, and toxic at the very most. And there are some really great character matchups as the season goes on.
I just read every single script and was just so excited. I think the most fun part of doing this job for me was getting new scripts and realizing, “Oh this sh*t is good.” That’s what was exciting about it is realizing, like, I thought I was on a good show—and then I was like, “oh, we’re on a great show.” It just gets better and better.
I don’t want to make you choose favorites, but is there a specific Darcy relationship that’s been the most fun for you to play into?
Look, if this world is like The Devil Wears Prada at a home shopping network, then I get to be the Emily Blunt, which is very huge for me, as a human being, getting to be the Emily Blunt in a project. So, what I love about the Emily Blunt-Anne Hathaway dynamic is how casually cruel Emily Blunt is to Anne Hathaway. And I would like to think I’m not a cruel person in my real life, so it’s fun to pretend to be that. And also someone like Vanessa—who is so abjectly likeable, you love her so much—to be the person who comes in and is truly heinous to her and sees her as such a flop is fun. It’s just the way she receives my insults and my passive aggressiveness is so funny. And I love working with her. I don’t think she’s ever done a not funny thing. I mean, in her life, on screen—I don’t think people realize how much they’ve missed her on screen, and they’re gonna remember.
Oh yeah, even just the pauses and breaths between lines—she can make it all funny.
She’s singular! She’s one of a kind.
To zoom out a bit, this role is a huge one for you because it’s your first live-action, series regular role. On top of that, you’re walking onto a set with Vanessa Bayer, with Jenifer Lewis, with Molly Shannon—all these icons! Was there a point where you had to flip a switch and think, “OK, this may be the most exciting thing ever, but this is a job and these are my colleagues now”?
I think when we shot the pilot a while ago, there was of course that thing where you’re walking in and it’s like—truly, not even just the greats. It’s like formative people that I watched growing up that I respect so much. But then you do have to sort of turn that off because you are at work and are expected to do a job, Matt Rogers.
And, you know me, I love to extol praise, I love to do the most, to say the least. So I kind of had to turn it off and be like, “You’re Darcy, you’re unbothered. You blend into the walls here. You are the Iago to Jenifer Lewis’ Jafar. You are not someone who is so gagged at meeting Molly Shannon that you can barely speak.” But we actually had met before—Molly and I met at a Countess Luann And Friends cabaret show, so the ice was broken. Once you meet at a Countess Luann And Friends show, you’re bonded for life.
And speaking of Molly Shannon, you’ve previously teased what a great showcase I Love That For You is for her, and you were not wrong—she is delivering from episode one!
She’s so brilliant. And that’s the thing about SNL cast members: You see them do sketch—and what’s been really exciting over the past few years is to see Molly really play these dynamic characters on screen. I’m talking about Other People, I’m talking about The Other Two, I’m talking about The White Lotus, and so much more. But this, I think this is really going to be her moment to shred. It’s become something so amazing, and she’s such an incredible actor. She’s so real. She brings herself to it, but also it feels different than any of her other creations. I’m just so psyched to be a part of her orbit.
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We’ve talked a little bit about what’s in store for this season, but what else can you tease about Darcy’s journey ahead?
What I can say is that Darcy is sort of the connecting tissue to everyone in the office. So there’s a lot of pressure when you are that person that holds everything together. And, when pressure mounts, it sort of break, so there is some stuff… He’s a very anxious, high-strung person who cares a lot about his job. And when that person starts to feel undervalued or stressed, you do crazy shit. And so, “dot dot dot.” [Laughs.]
Oh, and also: I get put in some f*cking looks, too. That was—I didn’t even mind that my character was still wearing suits like every other assistant I’ve played because they put me in the good sh*t this time, you know what I mean? Like, I wasn’t wearing khaki, I was wearing stuff that was chic. Shout out to Imani [Akbar, Costume Designer] and Heidi [Reynolds, Assistant Costume Designer] who dressed me—the best! I didn’t get to keep anything though, those motherf*ckers.
If Darcy is a bit more steely and “unbothered,” that’s one side of Matt Rogers. But you’ve also got Fire Island coming out in just a few months—what side of Matt can we expect to see in the film?
Slutty. Messy. [Laughs.] So, basically, Fire Island is an adaptation of Pride And Prejudice, and for people familiar with that book, I’m the Lydia, who’s the messy sister who can’t help herself, and is always looking over your shoulder to see who else is here. And I think that maps onto a very specific type of gay guy that maybe you and I know, and it was really fun to play him and I get to get into some mess.
Fire Island is going to be so much fun—I’m describing it as equal parts slutty and soulful, and I think that’s apt. I think people are going to be really surprised by it. And I’m so excited to be a part of it, probably more than anything I’ve ever done. Just because I really think people are going to connect with it. I’m over the moon about it—over the gay moon.
I Love That For You premieres on Showtime on Sunday, May 1, with an early streaming preview beginning April 29. Fire Island premieres June 3 on Hulu.