Arts, Review

Matt Rife Is Inconsistent in ‘Natural Selection’


Matt Rife rose to fame thanks to his witty jokes, good looks, and great social media marketing. Many TikTok For You pages consisted of at least one of his videos that replayed jokes and funny moments from his sets. In short, Rife is the arguably hottest commodity in comedy right now.

Rife is a roast comedian. He truly shines when he is bouncing jokes off the audience, using their replies to expand upon his innovative jokes. In Matt Rife: Natural Selection on Netflix, Rife struggled with his later jokes when met with a much larger audience. His opening act, however, is haughty, shocking, and hilarious. 

Rife’s first joke is set at a restaurant in Baltimore where a hostess with a black eye approaches him and his friends. One of Rife’s friends wonders why she had been assigned to greet people when she should’ve been moved to the kitchen where people can’t see her face.

“I ate lunch there and the hostess who seats you at the restaurant had a black eye,” Rife says. “A full black eye. It wasn’t like ‘what happened,’ it was pretty obvious what happened … but I feel like if she could cook she wouldn’t have a black eye.” 

The crowd erupts into shocked but humorous laughs. Starting off his set with a domestic violence joke, Rife was suggesting what the rest of the hour would entail. Comedians often walk the fine line between naughtily funny and offensively ignorant, but Rife walks that line well. 

Rife then takes on occult culture, comparing women who collect crystals to Thanos collecting infinity stones. Rife’s jokes are funny, and he also took time to sneak in some much-needed wisdom that he believes “hippies” should think about. 

“Astrology is not this magical life guideline that predetermines your future in the stars,” Rife says. “No, none of that. Your future is dependent on your thoughts, opinions, and actions. You are in complete control of how your future turns out … Just because Jupiter has a ring and you don’t, doesn’t mean that’s who you’re supposed to look up to for all this magical advice.”

This conversation could have easily been between a therapist and a patient or between two friends. The fact that Rife discusses the topic with the audience makes the discussion hilarious. 

These first few jokes showcase how Rife can shock his audience to laughter and share some surprisingly wise words. His later jokes suggest the opposite.

By the end of his show, Rife seems afraid of his audience, as he resorts to safe jokes about sex, masturbation, and penis size. Many comedians make penis jokes, so this is exactly what makes them uninspiring and underwhelming. They fail to hold the viewer’s attention, instead only garnering a quick laugh. 

Rife has a few different versions of these immature jokes: being rubbed off by a monster who hides under his bed, a story of finding his step dad’s VHS porn tapes, and bringing women to completion. These jokes, while funny, notably lack the humorous framework and conscious construction that his earlier jokes had. 

Rife’s literal connection to the audience through banter is similarly lacking. The editing ignores direct shots of the audience, avoiding crowd interactions which are debatably Rife’s strongest comedy sources. Rife hosting without a participating audience forces him to unsuccessfully come up with comedy from scratch. . Rife must drive up audience interaction  to keep his signature comedic style. 

In the final minutes of the special, Natural Selection cuts back to Rife talking to an audience member. 

“Did you know who I was when you came here?” Rife asks, as the audience member nods.“They play TikTok on Hallmark?” 

While Rife might’ve wanted to prove his skills in standalone jokes, he can’t help but turn back to the crowd. Natural Selection starts off as a funny conversation between friends, but eventually isolates the audience from any real connection to Rife’s jokes because of his lack of original material and audience interaction.

December 4, 2023