TikTok heartthrob Matt Rife is facing backlash following the debut of his first Netflix special Natural Selection. The aptly-named show became a kind of screening process for his fans’ tolerance, opening with a domestic violence joke that has left a bad taste in viewers’ mouths. Despite building an intensely loyal, mostly-female, fanbase Rife took the opportunity to mock not only abuse against women but to reinforce stereotypes that those women belong in the kitchen.
Rife opens the hour by talking about a recent experience at a Baltimore restaurant in which his female server had a black eye. He suggests that the restaurant should have made her work in the kitchen rather than a customer-facing role before saying, “Yeah, but I feel like if she could cook, she wouldn’t have that black eye.”
The painful irony is that Rife has relied on female audiences throughout most of his comedy career and now that his jokes are punching down at the very people supporting him, he’s facing a fall from the heights of TikTok fame. Rife first began gaining traction after uploading crowd work videos to TikTok and has seemingly never shaken off the embarrassment that comes with being a glorified influencer.
In an interview with Variety to promote Natural Selection he said: “That’s one thing that I wanted to tackle in this special was showing people that, like, despite what you think about me online, I don’t pander my career to women. I would argue this special is way more for guys.”
And yet the rest of the interview seems bizarrely introspective given the content he knew the special contained. Rife weighs in on the age-old question of where to draw the line in comedy, how dark is too dark, and what can modern audiences withstand. His take? “You can say whatever you want. Now, you have to prepare for repercussions. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to how do you sleep at night.”
And for Rife, the repercussions have been swift and harsh. Notorious nice-guy Hank Green weighed in on X, writing, “A comedian ruining his relationship with a large portion of his fan base because he wanted to be like all of the other boring-ass Netflix Special “You Can’t Tell Jokes Anymore” crowd is actually just depressing.”
But it doesn’t have to be this way. In James Acaster’s Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999 he opens by saying, “Edgy comedians, no one tells them what they can and can’t say. They walk straight on stage, do 10 minutes sometimes, just slagging off transgender people… If people on the internet get upset about it, the comedian’s always like ‘bad luck, that’s my job, I’m a stand up comedian’.”
Matt Rife epitomizes this mindset. When called out for his jokes and blatant misogyny, he doubled down, releasing an Instagram “apology” that this time targeted the disabled community through a link to special needs helmets.
Gender has always played a major role in stand-up comedy. Amy Schumer built her career on period jokes, while Russell Brand built his on womanizing. Tina Fey capitalized on all-too-familiar concepts like the “mean girl” while Daniel Sloss mocked the terror-inducing pubic hygiene routines of himself and other men.
This is the bond of comedy. It is a unifying experience, determined by its relatability. This is where Rife falls short. For his female audiences, it is a potentially painful reminder of domestic violence at the hands of male partners. For his male audience, it’s nothing but a light-hearted joke about women’s uselessness.
Rife fails to account for the inherent power imbalances that make this type of joke problematic. While some fans were quick to defend him, the overarching concern seems to be with his recklessness in perpetuating violence against the people who have paid to support him, whether directly, through buying tickets to his shows or indirectly, by spending time watching his videos.
The subtle misogyny that Rife has been hiding in his comedy for years has been dismissed in part because of his good looks. I have no doubt that an unattractive comedian would have been canceled far sooner than Rife has been.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy from the backlash though is the realization that maybe Matt Rife just isn’t that funny.
Attempting to join the likes of Dave Chappelle, Ricky Gervais and Jimmy Carr, Rife seems to care more about his status among other men than he does about his own career. For him, to be taken seriously as a comic is to punch down, to uphold the masculine values of other comedians, and ultimately proving what most comedians knew all along: Passable crowd work does not make you a great comedian.