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Matt Rife Natural Selection (2023) | Review

By Shannon Street


Rating: 1/5


If you’re lucky then all you may know of Matt Rife is that a problematic joke of his went viral on X at the end of last year. Rife made fun of a waitress who had visibly been beaten by someone, presumably her partner, gleefully declaring that she wouldn’t have a black eye if she could cook. Unfortunately, these are the types of jokes that make up Matt Rife’s Netflix special, Natural Selection.


Matt Rife and fan courtesy of echolalia [echelon] on flickr

I tried to go into this special with an open mind, which was incredibly hard given the context. I braced myself for the infamous first joke but was somehow even more shocked to find that the build-up to this joke was a fond story about his grandfather’s favourite state. It seems incredibly tasteless of Rife to use this story to punch down at someone for a cheap laugh. What was particularly infuriating about this joke was Rife's Demand for validation for daring to make fun of a woman. We, the viewers, are not “fun” if we don’t laugh. We’re not cool and daring like Rife if we don’t find his low-blow humour amusing.

He acts as though his humour is grandiose as if he’s diving into unchartered territories, as if we’ve never heard a misogynistic joke before.

Rife wants us to think that if we don’t laugh, it’s because we’re not ready for such dark humour. Rife doesn’t seem to have ever stopped to consider that maybe it’s just a bad joke. 


The misogynistic tone continued in the rest of the special. His first annoyance: women who like crystals. Rife gets weirdly aggressive during this sequence, yelling at an abstract (and probably non-existent) hippy woman to get it “through [her] head” that her bad decisions are not caused by the planets but instead are down to a vape addiction. This entire sequence gave me the impression that Rife might have never spoken to a woman. None of his jokes seem to have been pulled from real-life experience, rather that he’s decided to jump on the bandwagon of the latest internet jokes but taken it an echelon further for the sake of being edgy. 


The set-up of a seemingly irrelevant and often cringeworthy punchline is a recurring theme in Rife’s set. Rife mentions his non-verbal, autistic nephew just to lead to a joke about the penis size of a disabled classmate. Whilst discussing his fear of ghosts, he somehow uses racial stereotypes as the punchline, claiming he pretends to be hanging out with a group of Black men to ward off any apparitions. He’s also not scared of monsters unless they’re gay; cue a joke about Lil Nas X. Finally, he throws in a school shooting joke for good measure, and when this is met with a less than enthusiastic response he claims again that he is just “testing” us.


There lies the problem with Matt Rife: his defensiveness. For the whole hour he is up on stage he’s in attack mode. When his majoritively female audience doesn’t laugh at his fifth male masturbation joke it’s not because it’s overdone and weird, it’s because they’re not men. 


To me, it feels like Rife is curating a persona to shock his audience, perhaps under the pretence it makes him more interesting. And it seems to be working for him. The worst part of this is, that Rife was funny when he wasn’t trying to shock. I genuinely laughed when Rife told a story about growing up with his grumpy stepfather, and regardless of whether or not it’s a factual story, it is pulled from his real-life experiences; it is humour we have not heard before. I hope that when Rife writes new material he refrains from the tawdry shock humour, but until then you can catch him on his “ProbleMATTic” tour.

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