Content Warning: This article discusses misogyny and the objectification of women. 

The guy who seems to be on everyone’s TikTok algorithm — Matt Rife — has finally infiltrated mine. Over the summer, I became an audience to a clip of him at an unfortunate 4:00 am. I don’t remember his punchline, but it was crowd work, which I think seems like nearly all he does. However, in my view, his success with misogynistic jokes presents an image for comedians who are men: that they’ll only be successful if they are misogynistic. 

Rife’s crowd work joke once involved interrogating an interracial couple. After probing them with some generic questions about where they met and whose idea it was to attend his show, he made a confusing joke. He asked the white boyfriend which ‘BLM rally’ he and his girlfriend met at. I usually react instantly to a joke, but I didn’t know how to this time. 

For context, Matt Rife is a straight, white man. He says it himself. I was confused as to whether it was okay for white men to joke about the Black Lives Matter movement — or if Rife was even joking about the movement. I let the clip play further, and toward the end of it, he addresses the white boyfriend: “You wanna be Black so bad.” 

A white guy telling another white guy that he wants to be Black. Did he have the capability or ability to identify what makes someone ‘Black’? If so, how did he come to the conclusion? I don’t agree with Rife’s sentiments, nor do I support this joke — it seems to me that he’s reducing the identity of an interracial couple to a pair of protesters. Additionally, his assumed understanding of what makes someone Black is undoubtedly ‘problematic’ — he doesn’t have the right to make those assumptions about another race. I like humour, but Rife is trying to get away with truly baffling jokes, disguised as ‘dark’ humour. 

Rife’s defence would probably be that he was trying to be funny, and that the couple laughed at his jokes. However, I don’t think that’s conclusive: I feel like an audience is left with no choice but to laugh when a comedian is recording them for a joke. I worry that the couple might fear being labelled as ‘snowflakes’ in the comments on that clip had they not laughed. 

When I scrolled through the app again, I saw Rife’s videos more frequently because I had accidentally liked his racist-joke clip. His videos ambushed me, and I realized why my friends say they hate comedians who are men. The repetition in his jokes was — and continues to be — stupendous. 

The frequency at which Rife flirts with women in the audience in the name of crowd work makes me wonder what his improv strategy is. Is his strategy based on ‘I-see-pretty-woman-I-flirt-I-laugh-you-pay?’ 

To me, Rife’s scripts feel like a fusion of misogyny, implicit sexism, and objectification: most of his jokes involve him calling women ‘hot’ or discuss how proud he is at the prospect of women engaging with him sexually. Seeing how he has reduced women in his ‘jokes’ to be mere subjects of flirtation, I read these jokes as both misogyny and objectification. It is misogynistic because he fails to value women. He even called them a burden on his career on what Medium writer Amber Wardell refers to as ‘alpha bro’ podcasts,’ which highlight misogynistic behaviour from men. It is objectification because he only values women for their looks. Rife is the epitome of the word ‘problematic’— so much so that he even called his tour “ProbleMATTic World Tour.”

Rife is not the first misogynist comedian, but his commercial boom scares me. I want to especially emphasize ‘commercial boom,’ because I cannot believe we are still enjoying misogynistic comedy. It seems to be thriving.

I infer from Rife’s label as a TikTok comedian that TikTok’s algorithm has exposed the truth: audiences today still enjoy misogynistic comedy. The likes on his videos show how his material is loved more than it’s loathed. He gets over a million likes on Instagram, even though his jokes constantly need women to be flirted with. A friend told me that Rife’s material is just jokes and not that deep. I agree, partly because a lot of his jokes arrive with exaggeration. 

In my opinion, Rife invading the privacy of the women in this audience — probing them constantly about their virginity, sex life, or even if they’d ‘hook up with him’ — stems from his own insecurity. When he’s not barraging such invasive comments, he makes sure that the audience is aware of how ‘hot’ he is. 

If future comedians who are men were to repeat Rife’s success, they’d have to become — as my friend calls him — ‘a pretty boy’ who is evidently horny. It’s a funny title but comes with a dangerous definition. What I’ve understood from this is that future comedians who are men will have to crack the same misogynistic, objectifying, and sexist jokes. If it gained Rife such quick, enormous success, these protegés might think it will yield them similar results.

But comedians do not have to be misogynistic to be successful. Comedians like Rahul Subramanian, Vir Das, Trevor Noah, Ronny Chieng, and Hasan Minhaj are some examples of popular comedians who are non-misogynistic and men. No stand-up comedian is free of controversy — some of these comedians have stirred controversies for insulting politicians, for example — but I still uphold political satire to be far more astute and humorous than Rife’s ‘I-see-pretty-woman-must-flirt’ template. 

I believe we must be aware that the comedians’ successes become a reflection of us, the viewers. We are making their jokes seem funny and naturally, these comedians successful. 

Although many have criticized Rife, the idea that misogynistic jokes can still land a comedian’s success is still scary. I thought we moved beyond such jokes — not by denying their existence but by not finding them humorous — but Rife managed to prove me wrong. Or, the viewers did.

I watched his stand-up special, Matt Rife: Natural Selection, on Netflix to see whether he could ever change his material. For the most part, no. There were a lot of jokes on women, although this time they were a little different: they didn’t involve flirting with women but calling their fixation on crystals and astrology stupid. He also dishes out ‘suggestions’ on how a woman should act to avoid domestic violence in the poor disguise of dark humour. He says he did it ‘for the guys.’ Well, of course, Rife. As a ‘guy,’ what else can I find funnier than jokes about women calling them stupid?

Rife has funny jokes on non-misogynistic matters too. He knows how to talk about topics beyond women or him. His Netflix special has some great punchlines on topics of growing up and family. They weren’t just honest but vulnerable, and I could see his comedic skill. Although his misogynistic comedy has gained him success, I hope he delves into diverse topics and alters his reputation. He is a comedian, after all, and one type of topic should not define his humour. 

I’ve laughed at a few of Rife’s jokes, so I’m slightly disloyal in my critique of him. I am not cancelling him. I’m not making posters saying, “Matt Rife should not do comedy — agh!” But Rife gained fame very quickly. I struggle to pinpoint the ‘exact’ date, but seeing how frequently he appeared on my feed after one reel, I assume it was close to overnight. 

Rapid successes like Rife’s often invite a dangerous consequence: the inability to process them. I’m worried that Rife may believe that only misogynistic comedy can give him success, given his recent success with it. It’s a dangerous precedent to have any talent receive such ‘overnight’ success without sound explanation — and I hope Rife does not attribute it to his problematic material. 

Devarya Singhania is a second-year student at Woodsworth College studying English and creative writing. He is the editor-in-chief of The Woodsworth Review.