In hindsight, comedian Matt Rife feels like a sudden TikTok sensation – popping up on our For You Pages and amassing millions of views seemingly overnight. In his first Netflix comedy special Natural Selection (2023), Matt Rife takes a break from the crowd-work seen circulating on social media, opting for his own written material to a huge audience in Washington, DC.
Running just over an hour, this special feels way too long. It lacks cohesion or natural segues from joke to joke, instead feeling like a bunch of random ‘hot takes’ or ramblings slapped into one Word document without any real point. The punchlines aren’t funny
, and the build-up is agonising at times.
But the worst part of the show happens within the first ten minutes.
In Rife’s opening joke, he references a waitress he saw with a black eye. When his friend complains that she shouldn’t be front of house with a facial injury, Rife replies that if she was able to cook she “wouldn’t have that black eye”. Rife says this joke to “test the water”.
Not only is this joke terribly unfunny, he follows it up with ramblings lasting ten long minutes, listing all the things he hates that women do. He lists liking astrology and crystals as particularly annoying behaviours, specifically, when it is women who engage in them. I cringe when I think back to the opening shots of him thanking his audience before starting, where we see his almost entirely female audience cheering him on.
It’s safe to say that Rife is getting a fair amount of backlash online for the domestic violence joke. It’s easy to label it as poor taste, but perhaps the reason is a bit more nuanced – as seen on TikTok, Rife’s audience was made up of mostly women, and Rife is conventionally attractive. That is the inference made by most people online to explain why his videos became so popular. For him to go on such a long tangent trying to distance himself from his audience, actively putting them down in the process, makes him come across as extremely unlikeable, and undeserving of the platform made possible for him by that same audience.
I think the problem that seeps through Natural Selection is that Rife got too comfortable. Transitioning from his rapid success on social media to a full-length Netflix feature seems to put him a bit out of his depth, for how smug he comes across, his jokes don’t match up. At times I felt like he found his groove – like when he was recounting a story of stealing porn from his step-father – but found myself quickly disappointed by the time he got to the next punchline. His material is simply lazy.
This special made it clear to me that the pattern of women in his audience watching him based on his attractiveness rather than his comedy is not a testament to female intelligence, but his limited skillset.
Leaving us with an attempt at some deep message about following your dreams (or something like that), he ends it by saying “but what do I know, I only do crowd work, right?” Maybe you should.