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  • Writer's pictureSL Eastwood

On The Matt Rife Controversy

Updated: May 11

Jokes don’t stop being jokes just because you don’t like them…

Comedian, Matt Rife, found himself in hot water following the release of his Netflix special “Natural Selection”, in which he made an off-colour joke about domestic violence.

While giving a performance in DC, Rife told an anecdote about a trip to Baltimore where he and a friend were seated at a restaurant where their hostess had a noticeable black eye.

He goes on to say that his friend made the comment–

“I feel bad for her, man, I feel like they should put her in the kitchen or something where nobody has to see her face” which Rife claimed to reply–

“Yeah, but I feel like if she could cook, she wouldn’t have that black eye.”

It’s a dark joke. A mean-spirited one at that, but does Rife deserve to be cancelled for it? I don’t think so.

Rife, who came to prominence through TikTok, and has often been dubbed the "world’s hottest comedian" by his, surprisingly, mostly female fanbase, has refused to backdown from those calling for his cancellation.

In fact, not only has Rife refused to apologise, he has doubled down trolling his haters by linking them to an online store that sells special needs helmets. I can’t help but laugh at his brazenness.

So, why am I commenting on the Matt Rife controversy at all?

Well, because this topic of holding comedians to account for their jokes has come up a lot in the age of social media whinge-baggery. I am a huge fan of stand up comedy and I don't like this direction of social puritanism trying to dictate something so innately human as a sense of humour.

Comedian Iliza Shlesinger frequently riffs on keyboard warriors taking her material too literally and launching a tirade on the platform (formerly known as) Twitter to deride her and other comedians for their “reprehensible” commentary.

Much like the people currently attacking Rife, it’s clear they have missed the point of what comedy is supposed to be about. It is meant to provoke and make you think. It’s a mirror to society filtered through the lens of the comedian.

It isn’t meant to be taken literally nor does it necessarily represent the views of the comedian. To paraphrase Pete Davidson, it would be a different story if these comedians were standing in a town hall saying “hey, I have some ideas”.

As Ricky Gervais, a comedian who is often maligned for his risqué jokes, has said–

“just because you’re offended, it doesn’t mean you’re right”.

Just because the topic of a joke doesn’t fit your style of humour or goes to a place that you disagree with, it doesn’t cease to be a joke. Humour is subjective, some people enjoy dark humour, some people do not.

Gervais goes on to say–

“some people are offended by equality, we’ve seen that more and more in the past few years” are they right to be offended by a joke that is LGBTQIA+ friendly or would that make the offence moot?

The truth is all jokes are at the expense of someone or something. That is the nature of jokes. This means that all jokes will inevitably hit too close to home for someone.

If you feel entitled to laugh at someone’s pain because “it doesn’t affect you personally”, but try to shut down jokes that do, you’re a… rhymes with schmypocrite.

I often hear that jokes on Modern Family have received negative criticism, especially the more racially-centred ones. For example, the ones that imply everyone in Gloria’s extended family is part of a Colombian cartel.

Like where they attend a wedding in Mexico and multiple guests buy the couple a machete for a gift. I probably laughed about that for five minutes because of how silly it was.

To me, the Latin jokes are some of the funniest in the show and make me respect Sofia Vergara and Rico Rodriguez so much more because they’re able to poke fun at their own stereotypes.

Rarely anyone objects to Claire being depicted as a neurotic nagging Karen, a pervasive negative stereotype for white women of a certain age, nor that Jay is a cantankerous, bigoted old white man.

Which, when taken seriously, don’t exactly paint my people or culture in a good light.

We laugh at these jokes because we know that they are ridiculous and exaggerated.

Anyone who thinks they are a true reflection of those cultures likely already thought that — a joke isn’t going to change their opinion. You don’t get to police jokes based on what you find funny or inoffensive.

Either it’s all allowed or none of it is.

I’m not immune to finding certain jokes offensive. I will admit that I find comedians like Bill Burr and Shane Gillis unwatchable. To me they are incredibly sexist, and make sweeping generalisations about women based on flawed logic, which I find frustrating at times.

However, I will also happily laugh along with Katherine Ryan, who is very prone to man-bashing, which she has admitted in her own specials that a lot of men don’t find funny.

While I do think Ryan takes her jokes a little too far sometimes, it doesn’t stop me cringe-laughing all the same.

If we’re willing to participate in jokes bashing men (or any other community), which I’m certain a lot of the people stirring up this controversy are, we don’t get to take umbrage with the likes of Burr, Gillis or any other comedians we dislike.

We have to accept that sometimes jokes won’t be to our taste, nor should they be.

The way I solve this problem is to simply not watch content from comedians who annoy me. We all have the power to do this but for some reason act like we are forced to consume content from people we don’t like.

What you don’t realise is that by complaining about a person you find objectionable you are actually causing something known as the Streisand Effect.

The Streisand Effect, so named for an incident in 2003 where Barbara Streisand tried to sue a photographer to get a photo removed from a website, but unintentionally caused far more people to see it.

Now the term is used to mean–

“an unintended consequence of attempts to hide, remove, or censor information, where the effort instead backfires by increasing awareness of that information” – Wikipedia.

Similarly, the objection to Rife’s joke has only served to increase his visibility and help him reach a wider audience. I did not really know or care much about Matt Rife before this whole controversy blew up.

I’d seen him floating about on Netflix but his special never really jumped out at me as something I’d watch. Now I find myself contemplating watching it just to see what all the fuss is about.

To me, personally, I see comedy as a great unifier that allows us to poke fun at each other. I understand that certain communities are oppressed and so joking about them can be particularly painful, but I don’t think attacking comedy is the solution.

In the act of being offended, you are giving the offending thing more power than it deserves, when it could have simply flown under the radar.

While I appreciate some people worry that jokes like this might “encourage bad people”, I don’t believe anyone has the power to encourage someone to think a certain way purely because of a joke.

As much as I don’t believe violence in movies and video games encourages violence. Those people were already considering violence and wanted an excuse to absolve them of blame.

So, returning to this whole Matt Rife debacle, was his joke off-colour? Definitely.

Was it funny? Meh, debatable.

Should he be removed from Netflix and cancelled? Definitely not.

If you don’t like what he has to say, don’t watch his content. You are responsible for managing your own triggers, it is not the responsibility of the world to bend as to not trigger you.

If you’re unable to treat the subjects of jokes impartially, and instead think jokes should only be allowed if they suit your tastes and sensibilities, then please check out of comedy.

It sounds like this isn’t for you…


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