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Matt Rife and Poorly Done Dark Humor

The world hasn’t gone soft, you’re just not funny
Matt Rife’s Netflix special poster

A comedian gets a Netflix special filled with problematic “dark” jokes and, when people point out that they’re insulting and unfunny, the comedian claps back by complaining that “No one can say anything these days.” The internet is outraged for about a week until it moves on to the next trending story and the comedian continues their career virtually unscathed. Sound familiar? It should.

Comedian Matt Rife recently exhibited this phenomenon in his Netflix special Natural Selection. The first episode opened up with a story about a waitress who  served him and his friend at a diner in Chicago,who had a black eye. What followed was a series of insensitive jokes at the expense of the woman. First, his friend joked that the diner should “send her to the kitchen” where the public wouldn’t have to see her black eye. Then, Rife added that she probably “wouldn’t have that black eye” if she knew how to cook. 

Essentially, you’re supposed to picture a woman getting hit by her partner and laugh.

Throughout Natural Selection, he continuously makes jokes at the expense of women, including making fun of “crystal girls” by using a baby voice to impersonate them and, of course, the crème de la crème of quality comedy, body shaming. 

The issue is not that Matt Rife is approaching sensitive topics, but the way he’s doing it. Dark humor, when it’s done well, can be very funny, even to people who are experiencing these issues. However, this is only true when an absurd scenario is created around that traumatic subject. Simply stating that the subject, namely domestic violence, exists and joking about it, as Rife does with the story about the waitress in Chicago, is not dark humor, nor is it funny. 

Jokes about sensitive topics aren’t always disrespectful. In fact,  other comedians have been able to successfully approach the topic of domestic violence humorously. . For example, in his stand-up special Modern Women, comedian Eddie Murphy famously joked that husbands can’t hit their wives anymore because “women be taking aerobics, they’ll f*** you up now.” The punchline is not that women are being abused, but rather the  idea of men trying to hit their wives, and failing. The idea of someone failing to be abusive is an absurd situation created out of a traumatic subject, which is what makes it funny.

With Matt Rife’s largely female fanbase, fans understandably feel very betrayed by the misogynistic jokes in Natural Selection. Rife originally rose to prominence on TikTok, where his flirtatious crowd work gained him a following of over 18 million At first, his fans were very eager about his transition from crowd work to stand-up with Natural Selection, but given its 18% score on Rotten Tomatoes, they were clearly left disappointed.

Why then, if Rife’s fanbase is so largely made up of women, would he target and alienate his female audience? Easy. He wants to attract an audience of conservative men. Rife doesn’t try to hide this either, admitting that his domestic violence joke was a test to see if the audience was going to be “fun” enough to laugh at the idea of a woman being abused. In an interview with Variety about his special, he said “I don’t pander my career to women. I would argue this special is way more for guys.” During his stand-up set for Natural Selection, he outwardly states that he “needs more guy fans” because his joke would have landed better “if this room was 70% dudes the way it is girls.” 

And his plan worked. Conservative men began rallying around him and hailing him as a martyr for being a victim of cancel culture. The king of the canceled, Jordan Peterson, praised Rife for creating a fake apology video that was just a link to buy a special needs helmet, called  “the masterstroke.” 

Matt Rife started off with comedy that appealed to women. Once he got what he wanted from that demographic, money and fame, he immediately revealed his true colors, mocking and estranging his female audience to gain the approval of conservative men as a “real comedian.”

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About the Contributor
Gloria Strettell
Gloria Strettell, Opinion Writer
My name is Gloria Strettell and I am a writer for the Opinions section. I have been writing since I was very young and it has always been an important form of expression for me. I love sharing my opinions with the school through my articles and am always looking for something new to write about.
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    NaomiFeb 8, 2024 at 2:30 pm

    I really like this article! I like how you pointed out the issues with Riffe’s jokes but also showed the other side like Murphy’s good take on the topic and even Riffe’s own quotes.