Matt Rife’s success can almost be studied as a textbook case of social media's power and influence. He's often given interviews discussing how in just a few short months he went from scrambling to book every gig he could to having his own Netflix special. Given his social media presence and controversial material, it’s no surprise that the special drew a lot of attention. Of course, Rife didn't shy away from any questionable jokes. However, it was not WHAT he said but HOW he said it that bothered me.
I'll be the first to admit that I was looking forward to the special. Like so many others, I’d been exposed to Rife's work through clips on social media, mostly of crowd work as he interacted with the audience. I thought he was hilarious. His jokes were quick, witty, and unafraid to test the line when needed. A lot of people saw this swagger as arrogance and bravado. But in today's society people have lost sight as to what stand-up comedy really is. It's an act, a show meant to entertain. Although it might seem hurtful, it's never meant to be. It's always in jest, a point Rife makes repeatedly in his stand up. And I believe him. His club work comes off genuine and playful. His jokes might be at the expense of his audience, but he also works to make sure people feel accepted and comfortable at his shows. It's a difficult and delicate balance, and I was impressed by how well he handled it.
A Netflix special is a different animal, though. Some comedians do crowd work during a special, but it's a lot riskier. If it doesn't work out, it's hard to edit out of production. Instead, Rife focused on written material, which was certainly funny at parts. But it felt as if he had taken a different tone than the clips of him playing clubs, especially towards the end of the show. Rife began talking about his online interactions and a lot of the criticisms that have been levied against him. During this bit, Rife came off as bitter and frustrated as he addressed his critics. This sentiment was amplified during his final line when he directly addressed the claim that he "can only do crowd work."
Rife certainly dispelled this notion as he carried himself well during the routine, but I couldn't help but feel disconnected from this version of him displayed in the special. His club and crowd work is edgy and controversial, but it feels as if it comes from a place of jest. That's not how he came across during his special. It felt as if he had a chip on his shoulder and a grievance he wanted to address, which is his prerogative as an artist. So while I wouldn't necessarily call the special a blunder, it definitely felt as if he was a different kind of comedian than the one I was drawn to through social media.