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What is Matt Rife playing at?
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What is Matt Rife playing at?

The Millennial comedian seduced a vast following of women and gained a massive audience with his basic charisma, remarkable bone structure, and terrific crowd work. Then he told a bad joke on Netflix.

Comedian Matt Rife has been doing stand-up since he was 15 years old. At the beginning of this year, his career took off. At the end of it, he was canceled.

A conventionally boyishly attractive guy in his late 20s, Rife found his niche and his audience through TikTok. “Crowd work,” for the uninitiated, is a segment of comedy shows wherein the comedian ad-libs interactions with his audience. This, Rife and the world discovered, was his talent and his charm.

There is an unmistakably nervous energy about Rife that reeks of conscious manipulation.

Rife published his crowd work on TikTok, and his basic charisma — a combination of his bone structure, a Pixar-style expressiveness, and a splash of highly affected Ebonics — enamored a certain type of pop-culture-poisoned American woman. The attention Rife garnered through TikTok quickly became profitable, leading to a Netflix special that debuted on November 15.

Matt Rife was for the girls, but he didn’t want to be.

So he opened his Netflix special with a joke about domestic violence. The story goes: He’s at a cafe in Baltimore, and the hostess who seats him has a black eye. His friend says, “They should put her in the kitchen.” He says, “If she could cook, she wouldn’t have a black eye.”

Ha ha.

Rife’s audience was predictably incensed. #CancelMattRife began to trend as user after user on TikTok posted their reactions to the now-viral clip of his opener. Plenty were scorned women, mysteriously shocked that such a pretty face would spew his ugliness all over a doting crowd.

Many others were simply confused. The joke wasn’t even funny. Why take a humorless potshot at the fans you courted? Why begin the special with your least witty bit? What was Matt Rife doing, really?

Some context helps. The best comedians around today are guy’s guys, defenestrated by cancel culture because of their proximity to real sacred cows. The greatest among them is President Donald J. Trump, of course. There’s also Shane Gillis, who was hired and then promptly fired by “Saturday Night Live” when a 2018 podcast emerged of him saying “faggot” and “chink.”

Sam Hyde was canceled in 2013, and his sketch comedy show on Adult Swim, “Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace,” was abruptly canceled for “coded racism.” Nick Mullen, the ringleader of a podcast whose name Blaze News won’t let me mention, has been repeatedly banned from Twitter for pushing similar boundaries. Theo Von is another.

Despite all this, and despite (perhaps because of) never apologizing or taking a knee to the neo-Maoists, each of these men has maintained and increased the loyalty of his fans by simply continuing to work, despite the obstacles. Each man has said objectively worse (and funnier) things about women than Rife did. None have publicly whined about their cancellation. Their popularity has consistently increased over time.

Cancellation is a painful path to a certain kind of success, but one with increasingly recognizable patterns that could be mimicked in the hopes of achieving the same outcome. The conservative impulse to support all of cancel culture’s apparent casualties is understandable. But is it necessarily best?

In Rife’s case, I can’t help but sense an element of stolen valor in the whole saga.

There’s a self-orchestration to Matt Rife’s “cancellation” that differentiates him from the others. As his cancellation was under way, Rife invited himself onto Jordan Peterson’s podcast to broadcast, essentially, how little he cares about losing his female fans. “If you don’t like it, it’s not for you. Walk away. It’s that easy.”

True enough, but there is an unmistakably nervous energy about Rife that reeks of conscious manipulation.

Rife seems to be actively positioning himself as the type of man these previously mentioned comedians are, as a matter of course. He seems to want Shane Gillis’ carefree, Republican, American, male audience (a demographic he shares with Donald Trump, Theo Von, Sam Hyde, and Nick Mullen). But instead of being funny enough on his own merits to earn his audience independently, he thinks he’s found a shortcut.

The joke was tasteless, sure, but much like that man who delivered it, the problem isn’t really the sexism. It’s the charade.

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Helen Roy

Helen Roy

Staff Writer

Helen Roy is an opinion contributor for Blaze News and a staff writer for Align.
@helen_of_roy →