Matt Rife Will Find A Girlfriend After He Gets Some Sleep
The 27-year-old’s comedy career is taking off. If only he had time to check his Raya messages.
Matt Rife hands me a glass of chilled water. It is more than a formality, this beverage. It’s downright gentlemanly. This is the last of what was inside his Brita, which he will refill who knows when, because the water in his building was unexpectedly turned off. (There’s construction next door; he didn’t, like, forget to pay his bills or anything.)
The lack of water is why Rife couldn’t shower after working out, which is why he didn’t meet me at the restaurant where we had a reservation, which is why we are now in his pristine, West Elm-y apartment in Hollywood. Two scented candles are burning and there’s a Louis Vuitton book on the coffee table.
Since we’re already running late, I set the water down on a marble coaster emblazoned with the letter M and jump right in.
“So, what do you want to talk about? Comedy or dating?”
“Aren’t they the same thing?” he says, not missing a beat.
If you have come across Rife on Instagram (3.5 million) or TikTok (13.7 million), you know that he is quick. The clips that the 27-year-old stand-up comedian posts from his live shows are mostly crowd work, showcasing lightning-fast banter that manages to also be a little sweet. In one interaction, he asked a woman who’d dealt with suicidal ideation not to put him “in her note,” but only after quietly and deftly asking if she was comfortable proceeding on the topic. In another, he gently implied that a woman was autistic after complimenting a piece of fan art she made for him. (If you are a woman who brought fan art to one of his shows, sorry, but it didn’t make it to the fridge.)
Being known for your crowd work is a double-edged sword. “It’s constant yelling out at every single show,” he tells me now. He’s in gym clothes, sure, but looks perfectly clean. I think we could have met at the restaurant, but I’ll soon come to see that this is not a guy who wants to seem underdressed, or underprepared. The yelling, he says, “is always somebody who wants to be a part of the show and be a part of the next TikTok.” Audiences don’t realize that for every 10 minutes of crowd work, Rife is doing 70 minutes of scripted jokes.
“I don’t want to post jokes that you are going to come see live the next week,” he says. “That’s not fair to you. And I’ve been lucky enough to have the skill set and the ability that I can consistently pump out new content, but I’m not wasting anything.”
See what he did there? Took my question about annoying hecklers and turned it into an opportunity to be grateful, and also remind everyone how hard he works, out of respect for his audience? He does the same when I ask about his free time. “Honestly, I never have a day off. I really don’t. It’s exhausting,” he begins, before pivoting back to pure graciousness. “But you know what? I refuse to complain about it because even though I’m tired and I don’t have a moment to myself, and I don't have time to sleep or whatever, I had years of waking up every day at 4 p.m. with nothing to do, and I was absolutely miserable.” Rife has the conscientious manner of someone who was media trained by the Disney Channel. Only he wasn’t.
Raised by a widowed mom in the sticks (his phrase) of Ohio, Rife was 1 when his father died by suicide at 21 years old. His mother remarried when he was young; Rife has a half sister and three stepsisters. He says that going away to college wasn't a norm for his peers, and that if stand-up didn't exist he'd probably have joined the Army. While still a teenager, he started playing “bringer” shows, considered the bottom feeders of the comedy ecosystem for making performers pay to play by bringing their own audience. Then, at 21, he became the youngest cast member on Wild ’n Out, hosted by Nick Cannon. He stayed for three seasons, honing a winking-at-stereotypes style of humor that sometimes runs afoul of comedy Twitter. (“I’ll apologize for being born a straight white male when LeBron James apologizes for being 6-foot-9,” goes a recent bit. “Like sure he can do a f*cking windmill 360 dunk. And I can raise my voice to the police.”)
“I can't tell you how many times somebody has posted something trying to cancel me, or like, ‘Look how unfunny this video is’ or whatever. And then I’ll gain followers from it because people are going, ‘Hey, that’s actually not that bad,’” he says. He points out that Elvis used to sell “I Hate Elvis” merch. “I don’t think people understand how much good they’re actually doing by sh*tting on you.”
To wit: The first time I ever saw his work, it was a joke about being “gay fit” that someone posted on Twitter to call out how stereotypical it was. And now I’m being paid to talk to Rife, and I don’t remember who posted that clip.
To be a perfect ‘Hollywood star,’ you have to sacrifice a lot of personal opinion, and I would say dignity a little bit.
Then there is the way he looks. It is, objectively, good. His eyes are Taylor-Swift-could-write-a-song-about-them-blue, his jaw cartoonishly perfect. He got his teeth done after a couple seasons on Wild ’n Out, according to his Instagram, and now those are perfect too. His lips are pillowy. I never describe anything as pillowy, but there it is. They are. He’s downright pretty, which is kind of a rarity in the stand-up world, where men tend to get more comedic mileage out of how bad they are with the opposite sex, not how good they have it. I guess you work with what you got.
“When the TikTok stuff and social media stuff started to blow up, [my audience] was definitely, I’d say, 95% women from 16 to 25, which is a very, very powerful fan base,” he says. “And I’m so thankful for it. They’re very online. They’re not always the best stand-up comedy audience members. A lot of the time they like my face a lot more than my jokes, which is fine. It gets them in the door, and then hopefully you keep them with the comedy.” He adds that since his specials came out, his fan base has started to even out a little bit.
Rife draws a parallel to another viral sensation turned legit star: “Think about Justin Bieber when he first started out, he was 14, 15, 16, whatever. Every guy on the planet went, ‘F*ck this dude. What a little twerp. His music sucks. All these girls like him for no reason,’ because they’re jealous because he’s a cute, young, handsome, talented guy. And then the older they get and the longer his music is out in the public, and the more you’re around it, the more you actually start to appreciate it. And now there’s a lot of Justin Bieber guy fans. So, you don’t want to have too much of a girl fan base because then guys hate you.”
But if anyone who dislikes him is reading this, I have bad news: You’re not gonna get under his skin. Like, ever.
“I don’t know whose quote it is exactly, but I’ve heard a lot of comics talk about it,” he says. “‘If you think I’m funny, you’re right. If you think I’m not funny, you’re right.’ It’s that simple.”
After Rife moved to Los Angeles, he auditioned relentlessly, eventually landing credits on Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Fresh Off the Boat. But the breakthrough came when he hustled around Hollywood gatekeepers, self-producing two YouTube specials, both of which have racked up millions of views. By almost any metric, his career is taking off. And what’s he doing with his success? Not a sports car or Jet Ski; he’s buying his mom a house. (His plan, he told me, is to eventually buy another for his sister, and then one for himself). Now that the bigwigs who used to turn him down are finally taking his call, Rife is at a crossroads. Does he do what’s been working — be himself, take it or leave it — or play the fame game for a huge potential upside?
“I would say that to be a perfect ‘Hollywood star’… you have to sacrifice a lot of personal action and personal opinion, and I would say dignity a little bit,” he says. “And I tried to be that exact perfect person for the first nine years being in Los Angeles. I was like, ‘I want to be exactly what everyone wants me to be so I can be the most marketable, so people will want to put me on a TV show and I can be a perfect little actor angel, and everyone will like me and everything will be happy.’ But that didn’t happen, and I was not being myself. And it really took me getting to rock bottom in the sense of having nothing — I wasn’t really selling tickets at shows, I wasn’t getting cast in anything — where I was like, ‘OK, f*ck it.’” Then came the followers.
Not to push the double-edged sword thing too far, but Rife is keenly aware that to succeed as a comic is to create a persona so convincing the audience thinks you’re being yourself. “I definitely play into the naive, kind of charmingly ignorant f*ckboi persona. Because it’s a little bit of what people expect, but it’s also funny to play on. But at the end of the day, I’m not really that person.” He probably was that person when he was younger, he says. He feels an obligation to share something real about himself with his audience, especially at live shows. “But again, it’s the same balance of who do you want to be at the end of the day? How much can you actually sacrifice?”
One thing he’s had to sacrifice, logistically, is a dating life. Rife is famous for his top-shelf taste in women — he was papped with Kate Beckinsale and shot his shot with Zendaya on TV — but he insists that he doesn’t have a girlfriend. He says he doesn’t even check his Raya account. He’s too busy for DMs or hooking up after shows. “I just don’t have time. I’m on the brink of being sick almost every day. Not in a cold kind of way, but just being run-down. I don’t sleep. I sleep probably three hours a night, maybe. And then I’ve got basically at least two shows every night, I’d say six days a week at least. So, a lot of times I’ll get done with shows. I’ll go back to my hotel, I’ll maybe smoke a little bit to unwind, and then I just edit for the next probably hour and a half.” I believe him. He canceled our initial interview plans, a week earlier, because he was sick.
But if you’re here for dating-Matt-Rife tips, here’s what I weaseled out of him. First, come prepared with a dark sense of humor. “Had we been on a date and you made a joke about my dead dad, I would’ve been like, ‘You know what? You might be the one, actually.’ To have the balls to actually go for it.” It probably wouldn’t hurt to dye your hair, since his formative crushes include Frenchy from Grease and Paramore’s Hayley Williams. You should be OK with doing less during sex. “It’s a personal preference… I feel like I’m probably more dominant in the bedroom. Some guys are the opposite.” And, finally, ask for makeout music at your own risk. His go-to song is “Cotton Eye Joe” by Rednex.
“Swear to God, if I’m ever just making out with a girl and she’s like, ‘You want to play some music or something?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah.’ I always play it so smooth,” he says. “Just because if I can make you laugh during sex, that to me is as good as [if] I made you come. That to me is completely even to my satisfaction.”
He claims he’d love a girlfriend, and would love a dog even more, but travels too much to care for either. “I prioritized women a lot when I was younger, and I was in a lot of healthy and a lot of unhealthy relationships. But both of them are equally time consuming. A healthy relationship, a lot of times you’re so happy that you prioritize it over things that you should be doing professionally… And sometimes you’re in a toxic relationship where you're like, ‘Hold on, I can’t do this professional thing because I’m too busy fighting with my partner right now.’”
Rife was polite enough not to look at his phone during our conversation, but now that our time is winding down, he checks it. A bunch of texts, missed calls, and FaceTimes. “I’ve got to change my number. Someone leaked it.”
I ask about two movie quotes tattooed on his left arm. The first is from f*ckboi red-flag award winner Fight Club, the other from, adorably, Grease. I show him my only ink, a small, très basic crescent moon on my wrist. Once again, he’s quick: “For the Shrek bathroom door?”
Rife puts my glass in the sink and throws a change of clothes into a duffel bag for the photo shoot. I’m looking around desperately for some last-minute “color” for this story, but the apartment is so clean and literally gray. Is anyone fascinated to know there’s a stick of Palo Santo on the counter, a jug of protein powder atop the fridge, or some soccer trophies in the bedroom?
I could have sworn I saw a big bag of dog food in the corner as we left. Which makes me think there is a person in his life who stays the night sometimes, and she brings her pet with her. But it might have been something else, or explainable by some other circumstance. Whatever it is, it’s something he’s not willing to sacrifice.
Photographs by John Jay
Photo Director: Alex Pollack
SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert