“I have 14 months sober from cocaine. I have nine months clean from alcohol, and I have a lifetime ahead of me pretending like I’m having fun. Look, I’m doing it right now,” comedian Ryan Rogers joked during a live taping in March for his debut album She is Me.
The record’s release is like the icing on the cake at the end of a roller coaster launch to his career, now just barely a year old. Rogers, 34, is only getting started and already has some notable credits on his media kit: an evening hosting for actress and comedian Tiffany Haddish, a mental health comedy tour that took him to sororities across the Gulf South, headlining New Orleans’ first Queer Comedy Festival in June, a storytelling show in partnership with Virgin Hotels and now a mini-tour in Nashville and Chicago.
It’s been a whirlwind year. And it began with getting sober.
“It’s not a coincidence that I got sober from narcotics and alcohol and then, two weeks later, started comedy,” he says. “I still have a million things I want to accomplish. This is just year one.”
The truth is, Rogers is having more fun than ever being sober. A native of New Orleans, which features heavily in his shows, Rogers lived in Lafayette for 10 years and graduated with an advertising degree from UL Lafayette. His sex column in The Vermilion, UL’s school paper, landed him his first advertising job.
He moved from Lafayette to New Orleans and then to San Francisco to work for Google in 2016. It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that Rogers decided to move back to New Orleans, joined Narcotics Anonymous and picked up a microphone.
“I got sober and then had all this clarity in my life and left my career in advertising and marketing behind after 15 years,” he says. “I wanted to pursue something to make me happy. Comedy was something I always wanted to try my hand at.”
The first place he got on stage was New Orleans’ Ugly Dog Saloon for Raw Dog Comedy open mic night. He ironed out his material five to seven nights a week. After just three months, he was asked to host.
Since then, his star has been rising quickly. His career is still in its infancy. He’s an upstart comic, “like a percent of a percent of comedians,” he says.
But it’s not just luck that’s brought Rogers promise. He’s a grinder in the mold of most successful comics. His marketing and advertising background and his past job with Google have all come in handy. He carves out time every day for writing (while still picking up freelance gigs on the side) and uses G Suite to integrate his writing and calendars.
“I carry a notebook with me everywhere,” he says. “I do voice memos and run new bits by other comics and my husband and production partner Drew. I try to bulletproof them [my jokes] as much as I can before I get on stage, which is usually that evening. I’ll bend over backwards to get to a mic if I have something to say.”
Rogers’ act ranges in style, substance and delivery. He includes a Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” style bit on news headlines and ribs at New Orleans culture. He muses about sex, drugs, recovery and finds dark humor in his private life. He runs the raunchier bits by his mom first, since she’s in the audience a lot.
“I went to my parents’ home before my special and said, ‘I’m going to make jokes about you,’” he says. “There’s always been this kind of brazenness with my writing, this unabashedness. I’m not afraid of what my parents will think about it, but there’s still that approval. I have been really confident as a queer person who came out early in life and had really supportive parents.”
On stage, Rogers tells the story of the time he sexted his mom. He was in a Louisiana Folklore class at UL Lafayette and thought he was texting his boyfriend. His mom was on the receiving end of a text about Armani underwear. She responded 20 minutes later with, “Hey Ryan, I think your phone’s been hacked.”
That joke, along with several of his other greatest hits, made it into She is Me, which will officially release July 29. The album will be available on all streaming music platforms, including Spotify and Apple Music.
The album was recorded live in front of a sold-out crowd at Comedy House New Orleans. Rogers wrote the album with “chapters” in mind so that the jokes flow seamlessly and says preparing for the taping was like studying for a test. That translates to him practicing in his Uptown New Orleans kitchen using a spatula for a microphone.
“I kind of wanted to tackle what was really important to me at the time: sobriety, gender and identity, family and all of it filtered through a super queer lens,” he explains. “I’m rediscovering myself without a drink in my hand, and I’m discovering this fluidity in myself that’s not just about my sexual orientation. It’s more of a statement about the milestone and this is how I can mark it.”
Rogers believes in the healing power of comedy and the strength of the New Orleans scene, especially as it relates to women and people of color. He wants other aspiring comics to know they too can make it with a lot of hard work and a thick skin.
“You can’t let yourself submit to failure in this if you want to make it,” he says. “I’ve cried in my car so many times after a show, told myself I was quitting and then immediately dried my eyes and had a redo at another mic across town. It’s a cycle of redemption if you let it be.”