Matt Rife and the trouble with being a 'TikTok comedian' | Stand-up's new Netflix special shows the result of a new pressure on comics, says Sam Serrano © Netflix

Matt Rife and the trouble with being a 'TikTok comedian'

Stand-up's new Netflix special shows the result of a new pressure on comics, says Sam Serrano

It’s not hyperbolic to say Matt Rife is the most successful comedian working today. With 6.4 million Instagram followers, 18.2 million TikTok followers, and a world tour that sold 600,000 tickets in 48 hours, he is undeniably successful, but his latest Netflix special, Natural Selection, isn’t doing him many favours. 

His audience has been built over the past two or three years through social media clips (particularly crowd work) and he has put out A LOT of content. In fact, this is his fourth hour-long comedy special in a year, following Only Fans, Mathew Stephen Rife and  Red Flags. While this has obviously done him a lot of good, could it also be starting to do him some bad?

As a comedian, I have recently started putting out stand-up clips online to try to build a following and there is certainly pressure among all comedians to do the same. 

We’ve seen circuit veterans such as Jeff Innocent be able to tour for the first time, relatively new acts like Karl Porter or Vittorio Angelone build fan bases they can perform to, and Have A Word Podcast sell out arenas.  This has been great to see as comedians now have the ability to create their own audiences even when TV or the ‘industry’ isn’t backing them. 

However, social media does create a culture of ‘if you’re not constantly on people's phones you will be forgotten’ and I think this could become a problem when creating content.

How many good pieces of art can somebody make in a year? If a musician puts out four full albums in a year or an author puts out four full novels, then it's going to be hard for them to keep up their quality. 

As creative people, we are supposed to take time and be perfectionists about what we make, but as content creators for social media, it is recommended to put something out every day. So the two can clash. 

Before I started putting out clips I used to aim for writing a good ten minutes of stand-up  a month, now if I don’t have a funny idea a day I start to worry about how it will affect me in the algorithm. 

Matt Rife has spoken in the past on podcasts about how for the first few years of his career he didn’t have an audience and would play to 30 people who’d been allowed in for free just so the club had some audience. 

I don’t think it’s completely out of the question to say he has also felt this pressure to put content out, but on a much larger scale. So, when people say the material in the latest special is undercooked or weak it’s because he hasn’t given himself the amount of time necessary to make it as good as it can be. 

Much has been said about opening joke where Rife talks about a waitress working in a diner with a black eye. He relates his friend saying: ‘Why do they have her at the front? Put her in the kitchen so people can’t see what happened’ to which Matt responds: ‘Maybe if she was good in the kitchen she wouldn’t have a black eye.’ That sort of line is not a good look when your audience is predominantly young women. 

I can quite safely say if he gave himself another six months to get this special ready then he would’ve taken this joke out and replaced it with a better one. From how I see it, the pressure to put content out and continue growing your audience has left Matt with a comedy special getting slated when it could’ve been decent if it was given the time to be fully formed. He’s probably worried about being a flash in the pan and wants to make sure he keeps putting stuff out even when it isn’t fully ready. 

There have been nights where I’ve come off stage having had a really good gig and instead of going ‘That was fun’, I’m checking how many followers I have or looking back through the footage to see what I can clip up and put on Instagram so I’m not forgotten about. 

From talking to other comedians, I’m not the only one who feels this pressure. But Matt has this pressure but on a much larger scale. With more than 100 worldwide dates on his new tour, it’ll likely be a while before his new special comes out –  which will probably mean he has more time to create something that will showcase how talented he is.

In the meantime, please go and watch my half-hour comedy special Beautifully Unconventional which is on YouTube for you to watch for free.

– by Sam Serrano

Sam on stage

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Published: 22 Nov 2023

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