The comedian Matt Rife, whose sets have routinely gone viral on TikTok over the past year, is sparking backlash over a joke about domestic violence included in his latest special. Called Natural Selection, Rife’s special premiered on Netflix on Nov. 15 and opens with a joke about the comedian going to a restaurant with a friend and being greeted by a hostess who had a black eye. His friend wonders why the hostess was not working in the kitchen “so nobody has to see her face.” Rife’s punchline: “I feel like if she could cook, she wouldn’t have that black eye.”
Clips of the joke circulated online shortly after the special was released. Within a few days, at least one clip had over 2 million views as criticism grew.
Rife has posted his stand-up comedy routines on TikTok since 2020 and quickly gained a large following, with more than 18 million followers currently. His sets typically focus on sex, dating, and relationships, and have generally received positive responses from fans,
In response to the joke from Natural Selection, fans and online creators, a large majority of whom are women, have called Rife out for “punching down,” or making fun of a marginalized community and victims at their expense rather than “punching up,” or joking about those who hold more power. “It’s just not funny, and it’s wild that his team let this through knowing that his audience is primarily female,” @the.self.defense.girl on TikTok said in a video.
Drew Afualo, a TikToker who has made a platform responding to misogynistic men online, made two videos about Rife’s joke. In the first, she broke down why she felt the joke wasn’t funny and said Rife was alienating his female audience. The second video sees her responding to a comment saying that Rife is a comedian and she needs to get over the joke. “It takes a great deal of intellect and wit and a unique perspective to write quality jokes, but it takes a single-digit IQ to laugh at a joke where the punchline is you hitting women,” she says.
Rife, who in the special follows the punchline by saying he was “just testing the waters, seeing if y’all are gonna be fun or not,” responded to the criticism on Nov. 20 by posting an “apology” on his Instagram story. “If you’ve ever been offended by a joke I’ve told, here’s a link to my official apology,” he wrote. The link he included takes users to a website for “special needs helmets,” a response that prompted another wave of backlash and accusations of ableism. A representative for Rife did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Previously, the comedian was embroiled in controversy over ticket prices after announcing his tour, “ProbleMATTic,” in June and posting a presale code that boosted demand on Ticketmaster and raised the price. Fans blamed the site and Rife for increasing the price of tickets and posted about it on X, with some claiming the tickets were more difficult to get than for Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour (which famously caused Ticketmaster to crash).