Bullet Review: Matt Rife’s ‘Natural Selection’ Is Not Fit Enough To Survive

By DA Staff 22 November 2023 2 mins read

Matt Rife might've racked up millions of views and followers on the back of his crowd work but fumbles the bag on his debut Netflix special 'Natural Selection'.

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Matt Rife spent over a decade hustling in the comedy scene, hitting the stage night after night, to little success. And then one day, out of the blue, one of his videos—a charming, witty bit of crowd work—went stratospheric on TikTok. It hit 40 million views, and as people found more of his older videos, they started doing numbers too. Rife doubled down on the interactive format, showcasing his ability to ask uncomfortable questions and extract comedy gold. Turns out it was a great way to reel people into coming for his live shows where he served up his standup. But his three self-released YouTube specials, which have a combined view count of 38 million, aren’t as tightly packed and punched up as you’d expect them to be. However, there we still get to see a young comedian trying to push the envelope and reach for novel jokes. Sadly, none of that—apart from the high cheekbones—is in evidence on his new Netflix special Natural Selection.

Rife told Variety in a recent interview that he doesn’t believe in the whole “sensitivity” thing, and Natural Selection could be seen as an exercise in driving home that fact. He starts off with a bit about how Baltimore is so different from the rest of Maryland that segues into a domestic violence joke. “I figure if we start the show with domestic violence, the rest of the show should be smooth sailing,” he says. Well, the next hour is anything but smooth. There are plenty of bits that aspire to be dangerous but usually fall flat, mostly revolving around the many women who have offended Rife. He devotes the last quarter of the special to an increasingly unfunny diatribe about online haters framed by a story about an uncomfortable flight. The only redemption is that it’s at least a break from the misogyny… until he starts fat-shaming one specific “heavier-set” woman who got under his skin online. Oy vey!

There’s also an extended middle section of dick jokes and masturbation gags which are, to be fair, funny if vacuous. But at least Rife feels safe enough to relax during these bits. For the rest of the special, Rife comes across as tense and prickly, so sure that his audience will “cancel” him for his supposed transgressiveness that he’s preemptively defending himself. “What do I know? I only do crowd work, right?” he declares at the end before—literally—dropping his microphone. It’s meant to be a brutal put-down of his haters. But, at least on the strength of this special, I fear the haters may have a point.


DA Staff

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