Rife’s debut special, “Natural Selection,” has garnered attention for its offensive jokes and mediocre performance, raising questions about the selection process for high-profile comedy specials on Netflix.
Comedian Matt Rife’s Netflix special, “Natural Selection,” has not only become a hit but has also ignited a firestorm of controversy. The uproar began with Rife’s opening joke about domestic violence, setting the tone for the rest of the special, which many argue punches down against vulnerable groups. Beyond the offensive content, the special has received overwhelmingly negative feedback from viewers and has prompted a broader discussion about the role of looks versus humor in Rife’s popularity. This article delves into how Rife landed a high-profile Netflix special, the backlash it has generated, and the implications for comedy and culture.
Matt Rife has been trying to be famous for over a decade:
Rife’s opening domestic violence joke has received significant attention, but it’s important to note that the entire special falls flat. The offensive material includes jokes about Baltimore, pseudoscience-believing women, children with intellectual disabilities, and homophobic content. The public’s reaction has been overwhelmingly negative, with just 16 percent of the audience giving “Natural Selection” a favorable review on Rotten Tomatoes. Rife’s response to the backlash has only exacerbated the situation, with his likes on defensive tweets and a sarcastic Instagram Story leading to further criticism.
As part of the widespread response to the special, people have resurfaced other instances where Rife offended and bombed. These include defending his comedy by claiming that people only hate those they’re jealous of and making obscene jokes about women on podcasts. Additionally, a cringe-worthy 2015 segment from MTV’s “Wild ‘N Out” shows Rife making racially charged comments and grabbing Zendaya’s chin without consent. These examples highlight how Rife’s career trajectory has shifted alongside comedy culture itself.
It took TikTok to make Matt Rife happen. Media hype—and women—did the rest:
Despite struggling to maintain a career, Rife’s fortunes changed in 2022 when he started posting snippets of his crowd work on TikTok. A viral clip of him engaging with an audience member propelled him to comedy stardom overnight. Journalists couldn’t resist mentioning Rife’s physical attractiveness in their profiles, which resonated with straight women who flocked to his performances for the chance to flirt with him. However, this dynamic makes it harder to reconcile the offensive nature of his comedy, especially when it targets his primary demographic.
Rife has stated clear rules for “good comedy.” But can he follow them?
TikTokers have circulated a clip of veteran comedian Anthony Jeselnik discussing the art of “getting away with” offensive comedy. The connection to Rife implies that his comedic material simply isn’t funny, beyond being offensive. Ironically, Rife has defended other comedians facing backlash, arguing that being offensive is acceptable as long as it’s funny. He claims that comedians who apologize are merely sanitizing their public image, but this stance ignores the backlash from his own fans.
Should Netflix comedy specials have higher barriers to entry?
The success of Rife’s Netflix special raises questions about the role of TikTok in promoting unproven comedians. By relying on easily shareable clips, TikTok obscured Rife’s lack of preparedness for fame and public scrutiny. While the format itself isn’t to blame, there is a cautionary tale about judging a comedian solely based on short interactions with an audience. The Matt Rife effect also highlights the significance of landing a Netflix special, as it provides access to a massive global audience. However, it also emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the comedians who receive such a platform are genuinely talented.
Matt Rife’s controversial Netflix special has sparked a larger conversation about comedy, culture, and the selection process for high-profile comedy specials. The offensive content and mediocre performance have drawn widespread criticism, with many questioning Rife’s comedic talent. The TikTok-to-Netflix comedy pipeline has been established, but it remains crucial to ensure that the comedians who gain access to a massive audience are genuinely skilled. As the debate continues, the industry must consider the implications of promoting comedians solely based on viral success and physical attractiveness.