His comedy went viral on TikTok, he did a Netflix special and then broke Ticketmaster – Matt Rife on his sold-out world tour, social media and cancel culture

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“It’s a blessing and a curse,” Rife says. “You’re used to the 11 years of not having any work at all, and nobody wanted to give you shows or would come to your shows. So obviously, when something like this happens, you say ‘Yes, yes, yes.’

For Rife, success was slow. Then he went viral and became an international comedy star. Photo: Mathieu Bitton/Netflix

“Now we’re breaking records, and I’m grateful to travel around the world, make people laugh and sell tickets around the world, [which] is insane to me. But it’s also exhausting.

“We do 10 shows a week, five nights a week, two shows a night and then two days off. Or you are travelling across the country for meetings or whatever it may be. I don’t have any downtime, but it’s a life-changing opportunity.”

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The viral boost came courtesy of a clip Rife posted on TikTok of him doing crowd work – where a comedian improvises and interacts with audience members – that was dubbed “The Lazy Hero” during a show in July 2022. One click to upload and his career took off.

He gained millions of followers, his club shows started selling out and earlier this year, all 260 dates of his ProbleMATTic World Tour in North America, Europe and Australia sold out just 48 hours after tickets went on sale. The demand was so high that it crashed the Ticketmaster website.

The shows follow the debut of his Netflix special, Matt Rife: Natural Selection. Despite the numerous videos of his popular crowd work being shared on social media sites, he advises fans not to get their hopes up for those specific bits when attending his upcoming performances.

“I don’t do a lot of crowd work,” he says. “I only maybe do five to 10 minutes of it a show, and that’s after I’ve done an hour-long set. I never plan to do crowd work, and I always emphasise that if you’re coming to my show exclusively to see that, don’t come.

“I’m not a jukebox. You can’t expect a certain song for me to come and play. But, If you’re patient, good, and fun, it’ll probably happen naturally.”

Rife grew up in a small town in Ohio in the United States, and says its capital, Columbus, was the only major city he had really ever experienced. When he visited Los Angeles with his previous manager, he fell in love with the city.

I don’t think there’s anything you can’t joke about as long as it’s coming from a good place

Matt Rife

He made the move there since it provided more opportunity for his comedy career. He found it breathtaking, at least at the beginning.

“When I first moved out here, I was astonished,” he says. “I would drive around, and you could see the Hollywood Hills in front of you and the Hollywood sign, and it really hits you like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m here.’

“Then, a couple of years into it, you go, ‘OK, this place is actually kind of self-absorbed. These are not typically people I would normally hang out with.’

Despite a clip of him doing crowd work being the thing that propelled his career, Rife tells people to not expect it at his shows. Photo: Mathieu Bitton/Netflix

“I think one of the toughest things has been finding my people, and I’ve been so lucky to find my core group who have been through similar experiences, come from similar backgrounds and have the same views on the city and lifestyle going on.”

He began performing at 15 and had an affinity for comedy and the laughs that came with it. Social media has undoubtedly changed how people consume content and Rife understood that.

The 28-year-old also understands that there are constraints on social media despite how much it has boosted his career and visibility as a performer.

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Now that he is debuting his first Netflix special, he feels a sense of validation that social media, although it helped propel him and helps feed his fan base, can’t offer.

“Even if you have success on a platform, like YouTube, Instagram or whatever it may be, it’s just not as glorified or well respected as an official streaming service, network, or a studio,” Rife says.

“For me personally, it does make me feel like I got let into this club of entertainment of a certain tier. I feel like a lot of people who never heard of me or just didn’t take me seriously now see the co-sign by Netflix and go, ‘OK, well, if Netflix thinks he’s good enough, maybe I’ll tune in to check this out.’

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“But also, I’m just excited that I now have an opportunity to reach a much wider fan base, with Netflix being a global platform.”

The comedian’s material in his specials often includes personal anecdotes and his takes on pop culture and current events. He’s also openly expressed his opposition to cancel culture and political correctness, which is part of a broader cultural trend in comedy challenging the conventions of what’s off limits to joke about.

Several long-time comedians have stayed consistent in how they’ve joked. In contrast, others have adapted to change with what’s currently socially acceptable. But to Rife, it just boils down to intention.

Rife performing in Washington. The comedian says that getting the “co-sign” from Netflix has legitimised him as a comic and brought him to a wider audience. Photo: Mathieu Bitton/Netflix

“The intention never changed. The jokes you see in a movie that might be risky now were still intended as a joke back then,” he says. “So, nothing to me has changed. I don’t think there’s anything you can’t joke about as long as it’s coming from a good place.

“All you’re trying to do is make people laugh about a subject that may be risky to them, or they deem insensitive, but it’s up to them to decide how that will affect them.

“If you have an opportunity to shine a light on that rather than it be some sensitive, depressing subject in your mind, why wouldn’t you choose the happier route?”

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When it comes to cancel culture, Rife doesn’t have a purist approach, and cites the #MeToo movement as an example of justly holding people accountable for horrendous acts.

He says the caveat is when cancelling is used for personal reasons, and when it gets oversaturated, out of hand and focused on people making jokes rather than using that focus to face more serious issues such as war.

Rife believes that people are generally tired of hearing others complain, which fuels cancel culture and encourages political correctness.

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“I think we’re all tired of it,” Rife says. “The most prominent compliment I get after shows is, ‘I love how you don’t hold back, and you’re not afraid to make jokes about certain things.’ That’s such a weird thing to be considered brave for. I’m just making jokes.

“But people are so afraid of getting in trouble that they hold all of this within them. They can’t even say how they really feel about certain things, and then they just internalise it.

“That just boils inside you and makes you hate things more because you can’t express it, and you have to live a lie [where] you’re lying to everybody.

“I’d rather have somebody telling the truth and being disrespectful than dealing with a liar.”

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