After going viral on TikTok, comedian Matt Rife has a new Netflix special and a sold-out world tour
Just two years ago, comedian Matt Rife was sleeping in hostels, La Quinta Inn hotels and any other inexpensive spots he could set up camp in between stand-up performances.
Despite putting incredible effort into touring, booking shows, starring in MTV’s “Wild ‘N Out,” a reboot of “TRL” and making cameos in television shows “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Fresh Off The Boat,” success was slow.
Then he went viral.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” Rife said during a recent phone interview. “You’re used to the 11 years of not having any work at all, and nobody wanted to give you shows or would come to your shows. So obviously, when something like this happens, you say ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ Now we’re breaking records, and I’m grateful to travel around the world, make people laugh and sell tickets around the world, (which) is insane to me. But it’s also exhausting. We do 10 shows a week, five nights a week, two shows a night and then two days off. Or you are traveling across the country for meetings or whatever it may be. I don’t have any downtime, but it’s a life-changing opportunity.”
The viral boost came courtesy of a clip of Rife posted on TikTok of himself doing crowd work that was dubbed “The Lazy Hero” during a show in July 2022. One click to upload and his career took off. He gained millions of followers, his club shows started selling out and earlier this year, all 260 dates of his ProbleMATTic World Tour in North America, Europe and Australia sold out just 48 hours after it went on sale. The demand was so high that it crashed the Ticketmaster website.
Rife’s massive outing includes two Southern California stops at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Friday, Nov. 24 and Saturday, Nov. 25. The shows follow the debut of his Netflix special, “Matt Rife: Natural Selection,” which hit the streaming platform on Wednesday, Nov. 15. Despite the numerous videos of his popular crowd work being shared on social media sites, he advises that fans not to get their hopes up for those specific bits when attending his upcoming performances.
“I don’t do a lot of crowd work, he said. “I only maybe do five to 10 minutes of it a show, and that’s after I’ve done an hourlong set. I never plan to do crowd work, and I always emphasize that if you’re coming to my show exclusively to see that, don’t come. I’m not a jukebox. You can’t expect a certain song for me to come and play. But, If you’re patient, good, and fun, it’ll probably happen naturally.”
Rife grew up in a small Ohio town and said Columbus was the only major city he had really ever experienced. Later in his career, he visited Los Angeles with his previous manager and fell in love with the city. He made the move since it provided more opportunity for his comedy career. He found it breathtaking, at least at the beginning.
“When I first moved out here, I was astonished,” he recalled. “I would drive around, and you could see the Hollywood Hills in front of you and the Hollywood sign, and it really hits you like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m here.’ Then, a couple of years into it, you go, ‘OK, this place is actually kind of self-absorbed. These are not typically people I would normally hang out with.’ I think one of the toughest things has been finding my people, and I’ve been so lucky to find my core group who have been through similar experiences, come from similar backgrounds and have the same views on the city and lifestyle going on.”
He began performing at 15 and had an affinity for comedy and the laughs that came with it. Rife told the New York Times in July, that his first comedy show was going to watch Dane Cook with his grandfather in the mid-aughts.
The comparison between Cook and Rife is made often, primarily because of the internet’s role in their careers. In a 2006 interview with the Associated Press, Cook told the news outlet that he spent $25,000 on creating his own webpage, DaneCook.com (still active today) and had garnered 1.5 million friends on the now mostly defunct Myspace social media site. It’s a fair comparison, given Rife has built his own empire of a fans with 17.8 million followers now on TikTok.
Social media has undoubtedly changed how people consume content and Rife understood that.
Before the internet and social media apps, the content was produced and curated by established studios, whether it was news content or comedy specials on cable and more recently streaming networks. That model, for better or for worse, is declining, and there is a rise of independent content creators who can now skip the network or studio process. With the help of social media, creators can now directly appeal to an audience and even hit the jackpot by going viral. Rather than wait for his big break to get his first stand-up special on a studio or streaming service, Rife independently released “Only Fans”, “Matthew Steven Rife” and “Walking Red Flags” on YouTube.
“If you want to do something, sometimes you just have to do it on your own,” Rife said in the opening of his “Only Fans” special, which was released on Dec. 17, 2021. “That’s exactly what we did with this special. I called in all the favors from my very talented friends and support from my fans and followers, and we made this happen. We made a special produced by us, directed by us, by the fans for the fans because nobody believed in us. No one wanted to take a chance on this special. No one thought we could do it. No one wanted to put it on their platform.”
Still, Rife, a viral TikTok star, understands that there are constraints on social media despite how much it has boosted his career and visibility as a performer. Now that he is debuting his first Netflix special, he feels a sense of validation that social media, although it helped propel him and helps feed his fanbase, can’t offer.
“Even if you have success on a platform, like YouTube, Instagram or whatever it may be, it’s just not as glorified or well respected as an official streaming service, network, or a studio,” Rife said. “For me personally, it does make me feel like I got let into this club of entertainment of a certain tier. I feel like a lot of people who never heard of me or just didn’t take me seriously now see the cosign by Netflix and go, ‘OK, well, if Netflix thinks he’s good enough, maybe I’ll tune in to check this out.’ But also, I’m just excited that I now have an opportunity to reach a much wider fan base, with Netflix being a global platform.”
The comedian’s material in his specials often includes personal anecdotes, his takes on pop culture and current events. He’s also openly expressed his opposition to cancel culture and political correctness, which is part of a broader cultural trend in comedy challenging the conventions of what’s off limits to joke about. Several long-time comedians have stayed consistent in how they’ve joked. In contrast, others have adapted to change with what’s currently socially acceptable, but to Rife, it just boils down to intention.
“The intention never changed. The jokes you see in a movie that might be risky now were still intended as a joke back then,” he said. “So, nothing to me has changed. I don’t think there’s anything you can’t joke about as long as it’s coming from a good place. All you’re trying to do is make people laugh about a subject that may be risky to them, or they deem insensitive, but it’s up to them to decide how that will affect them. If you have an opportunity to shine a light on that rather than it be some sensitive, depressing subject in your mind, why wouldn’t you choose the happier route?”
When it comes to cancel culture, Rife doesn’t have a purist approach and cites the #MeToo movement as an example of justly holding people accountable for horrendous acts. He said the caveat is when canceling is used for personal reasons, and when it gets oversaturated, out of hand and focused on people making jokes rather than using that focus to face more serious issues such as war. Rife believes that people are generally tired of hearing others complain, fueling more support against political correctness and cancel culture.
“I think we’re all tired of it, “Rife said. “The most prominent compliment I get after shows is, ‘I love how you don’t hold back, and you’re not afraid to make jokes about certain things.’ That’s such a weird thing to be considered brave for. I’m just making jokes. But people are so afraid of getting in trouble that they hold all of this within them. They can’t even say how they really feel about certain things, and then they just internalize it. That just boils inside you and makes you hate things more because you can’t express it, and you have to live a lie (where) you’re lying to everybody. I’d rather have somebody telling the truth and being disrespectful than dealing with a liar.”
For Los Angeles, Rife is bringing the same attitude to his performance, but anticipating some blowback for a city with a more socially conscious reputation.
“Los Angeles will be very interesting because my new show I’m working on definitely has some jokes that some people on the more woke side might not love, but that’s what’s so funny about Los Angeles,” he said. “Like 90 percent of the country has a totally different point of view on certain subjects in certain jokes than L.A. does, and I’m not going to change that. L.A. can get stronger. I’m not going to weaken myself.”
When: 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 24 and Saturday Nov. 15.
Tickets: Sold-out but third-party resale options are available starting at $58 via vividseats.com and $86 on stubhub.com.