After self-releasing three specials and amassing more than 17 million TikTok fans, Matt Rife is beyond gratified to have scored a Netflix special. “You work your entire career to feel accepted by a network standard,” Rife tells Variety, noting it was both arduous and creatively fulfilling to produce his YouTube specials — “Only Fans,” “Matthew Steven Rife” and “Walking Red Flag.”
Rife made his television debut on MTV’s “Wild ’n Out” and has had guest appearances on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Fresh off the Boat.” He’s currently in the middle of his sold-out ProbleMATTic World Tour.
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“Natural Selection,” shot at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., hits Netflix on Nov. 15. In typical Rife fashion, the comic does not hold back while discussing social media trolls, his fear of the dark and discovering his dad’s porn.
Congrats on getting a Netflix special. That’s a huge accomplishment after putting together all of your previous specials.
MATT RIFE: It’s incredible. My first two specials I had to do because I’d been doing comedy for 10 and 11 years when I did them, and I was sitting on material. I was very proud of it. But I was like, I don’t know what to do with it. Nobody wants to give me a special. What do I do? So I had to put them out on my own, which was very validating in and of itself. I grew my fan base exponentially. I was so grateful for how much people liked it. But to have somebody come from another level to be like, “Hey, we like what you’re doing. We like what you’ve done for yourself. We want to invite you to work with us.” It feels warm. It feels inviting. Netflix has been great about the entire creative process. They’ve given me the freedom to keep telling the jokes I want to tell and shoot things the way I want to shoot them.
In this special, you talk about kids, religion, finding your dad’s porn. It goes there. Was there anything you were nervous to discuss or worried would offend people?
RIFE: I don’t really adhere to this whole sensitivity rumor in the comedy world that you can’t say anything anymore. That’s bullshit. 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. You know what I mean? Other people’s perspective of you isn’t your responsibility. So how can you sleep at night? The way I look at it is, as a comedian everything comes down to intent. I know for me, everything that leaves my mouth on stage is purely with the intention of making people laugh. It’s never any deeper, never any more or never any less than that. That’s all it is to me. Now, I like dark humor. I don’t believe there’s anything you can’t talk about if you do it correctly, in the right way, at the right time. At the end of the day, I think you need to just go out there. You have to be yourself and not worry about offending a certain amount of people. You might miss out on a joke that you’re worried might offend somebody, but might make you a million new fans. You don’t know what people are into and that’s why you have to go out there and do your comedy and just lay it all out there vulnerably to find your audience. You have to be willing to be vulnerable and do the jokes you want to tell in your voice, in your comedy, to figure out who likes your comedy.
You touch on social media and online trolls in your special. How do you feel social platforms like TikTok have impacted your career?
RIFE: Oh, it’s changed absolutely everything. I mean the name of this game is exposure at this point. Stand-up isn’t about being funny. Rarely do the funniest comedians get the recognition they deserve. There are so many amazingly talented comedians out there who don’t get the right opportunities to be in the position that I’m in right now. So I mean, TikTok provided that exposure that I could not, for the life of me, for years figure out how to get. That was kind of the purpose with the first two specials, like maybe we can gain a following from this and we did a little bit. But TikTok just has such an expansive algorithm. You can reach so many people.
To go hand in hand with Netflix opportunity — for years, you don’t get this opportunity to get in front of a bunch of people because you’re relying on a network to give you an opportunity for a special, right? Now you have an app that’s in the palm of your hand that anybody has access to your video at any time… it gave me the most confidence in my career because I was so insecure for so long. For a decade of doing comedy, I was so insecure and thinking to myself like, am I living in delusion? Am I not funny, am I not good at this to be doing it for so long … and nobody seems to be recognizing this? Like maybe I’m not funny.
It took getting on TikTok and people having the opportunity to see my comedy to realize like oh, there’s actually a lot of people who share the same sense of humor I do.
I first came across you on TikTok and saw your hilarious crowd work videos. What do you enjoy about interacting with the audience?
RIFE: I like that it’s a surprise to me as well. It’s also something I haven’t even been doing for that long… It became something that I had fun doing. One thing as a comedian, even though throughout your entire year, you’re growing and working on your material… you can feel like you’re getting a bit of a “Groundhog Day” where you’re telling the same hour show over and over again. Even I get tired of my own jokes if you tell them over and over and over again. So, crowd work is so spontaneous and unique. I like being surprised. When some incredibly magical moment happens in crowd work that blows the crowd’s mind, it blows my mind. I get to be surprised by the show as well.
Interestingly, with both this special’s crowd work at the end and from your crowd work videos online, it’s clear you do have a broad demographic when it comes to your audience.
RIFE: One of the biggest misconceptions of things I get ridiculed online for is people are like “oh, he only has a female fan base.” In the beginning yes, because I did blow up on TikTok which is very female dominant… So, I get that perspective. But when you come to the shows, I mean, it’s 50/50. It’s couples coming out. It’s groups of dudes who are coming. And 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.
I wanted to make this special for everybody. I pride myself on making my comedy for everybody. It’s not for a specific demographic. I think if people would just give it the chance without going into it and being like “oh, only girls like him” or “people only like his face.” If you give it an opportunity, I think you’d like it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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