I watched Matt Rife's crowd work on TikTok and found him charming and funny. After watching his new Netflix special, which has caused him to be widely and sharply criticized, I regret giving him my attention. If you don't know who Matt Rife is, consider yourself lucky. Vox has a great quick primer on his Netflix show and how it went so quickly off the rails:
Rife's opening joke — in which he makes fun of a woman experiencing domestic violence with the punchline, "I feel like if she could cook, she wouldn't have that black eye" — is the one getting all the attention, but it can't be overstated that the entire show is a bomb. The domestic violence joke is part of a larger distasteful joke about how "ratchet" the city of Baltimore is (Rife, who is white, leans heavily on AAVE throughout his work). He follows this up with a long section mocking women for beliefs in pseudoscience, portraying this trend, bafflingly, as something only women are into, and something that seems to give him carte blanche to make fun of all women. ("You are in complete control of how your future turns out," he insists, while scolding women for believing in "crystals.")
Then there's a deeply cringe extended segment about children with intellectual disabilities, including a terrible joke allegedly stolen almost verbatim from the late comedian Ralphie May. This is followed by a straightforwardly homophobic riff teleported in from the '90s about (gay) monsters in the closet. If you can make it through all that you're treated to … a long description of Rife masturbating in the shower. And so it goes. None of it is remotely funny, and the reaction from the public has been overwhelmingly negative. Currently on Rotten Tomatoes, just 16 percent of the audience gave Natural Selection a favorable review, with the word "unfunny" popping up again and again in user reactions.
Rife responded by liking tweets from people coming to his defense, even if their defenses only made him look worse. He also responded, more publicly, by doubling down on the offensiveness. On November 20, Rife posted a response to the backlash in an Instagram Story: "If you've ever been offended by a joke I've told — here's a link to my official apology." The link, which read, "Tap to solve your problem," led to a link to purchase a protective helmet for children with special needs. This response inevitably led to more backlash.
I somehow thought Rife couldn't get any worse than that awful response, but he has since doubled down, and now is fully becoming the darling of the manosphere that I guess he always aspired to be. He has recently sealed his fate by appearing on the Jordan Peterson show. Episode 401, which was posted yesterday, is called "Rife For Cancellation," and is described this way on Peterson's YouTube:
Dr. Jordan B Peterson sits down in-person with recently "canceled" comedian Matt Rife. They discuss the incident in question, his viral response, the prominence of crowd work in his act, his early career start at the age of 15, the innovative use of social media to build his name, and the real reason he remains unapologetic for having a sense of humor. Matthew Steven Rife was born in 1995 and is an American stand up comedian and actor. He started early, entering a school talent show at the age of 14 after being encouraged by a friend. Finding this to be a success, he went professional the next year at age 15. Using TikTok, he managed to consistently go viral with his stand up and "red flag" crowd work. He then entered the arena full time, using social media to grow his name before producing three straight-to-YouTube comedy specials from 2021 to 2023. This year, he debuted his first Netflix special, "Natural Selection."
If you know anything about Peterson, then you already know exactly how this interview goes—they deride "cancel culture," they praise "free speech," and they even make appeals to evolutionary biology to discuss masculinity, gender, and "sneaky rape" (because of course they do). Watch here, if you must.