Have you ever just watched the cold open of somebody’s comedy special and felt you were in the best of hands just from that little glimpse? That’s exactly how I felt 30 seconds into Horndog as Rose Matafeo strolls past the theater, innocently trying to recreate the poses on her show posters. Matafeo’s goals are simple: to make you laugh, put you inside of her zany brain, and to redefine the word “horny.” You know what that word means, but to Rose Matafeo, it’s a tad more innocent.
Reading the title of the special, you’d assume it’s all about sex. Well, some of it certainly is, but that isn’t the reason for the title. Horndog is mostly an exploration of love and what the concept means to Matafeo from her awkward teenage years all the way to her present-day life. She makes it very clear within the first three minutes of her show that “it is not a TED Talk,” and I can confirm that it is far from that. Within the special you get to learn all sorts of things about what makes Rose Matafeo the woman she is up on that stage without feeling preached to, but by the end you’re feeling the type of love that she claims to feel as she breaks down in actual tears in front of the audience, telling them that you should give 100% of yourself to whatever it is you love.
That might make it sound overly emotional, but I assure you that is not the case. The special is packed with personal stories that have some hilarious payoffs—one of which is about the title of the special itself. Matafeo tells the audience that she named it what she did because of a book she read about how the meaning of life ends up being about what you pay attention to the most and what you love the most. She felt that “horny” was the only word found in the English language that could describe this type of obsessive love that she wanted to communicate. That is, until a friend of hers threw out the word “passionate.” Even still, Horndog is a much better name for a special than Passiondog.
So many surprises are packed within this one hour, mostly done to utilize the giant flat screen TVs placed on both sides of the stage. In an age of stand-up where comics are looking for inventive ways to bring their sets to life, Matafeo sprinkles in a visual element to make the jokes hit just a bit harder. It also helps that Matafeo exudes the energy of a Looney Tunes character while performing, bouncing around from side to side, breaking off to play little character bits, and even ending the show with a random dance number that feels like a fitting finale.
The special is goofy all the way through, but always personal, taking our expectations of what it means to be horny and turning it into an earnest, lovely portrayal of what it means to love something so enthusiastically that you simply cannot contain it. “This show is about love,” Matafeo tells the audience. “So if you did come tonight expecting, you know, like a sexy sex show, so sorry!” Like the reconstruction of the word horny, the audience’s expectations are altered to think they’re getting one thing, but they end the hour with something more poignant and sentimental.
Horndog is now streaming on HBO Max.