M. Smith: Rife’s ‘Natural Selection’ is a disappointing insight into what Netflix thinks is funny

Netflix and Matt Rife are setting back the comedy scene by years.
Netflix and Matt Rife are setting back the comedy scene by years.
Morgan Smith

Making a Netflix comedy special is an amazing career opportunity for any comedian. Having your performance eternalized on the world’s most popular streaming platform isn’t something to be taken lightly. Netflix’s viewer base consists of over 232 million subscribers, each of which is flooded with a surplus of content every time they log into their account. For comedians breaking into this space, it is essential for them to make themselves intriguing, marketable and extremely funny. So, with that in mind, why would comedian Matt Rife begin his first special with a domestic violence joke? 

In short, it was because he knew he could. While there are some prominent female comics on Netflix, including Taylor Tomlinson and Leanne Morgan, the space feels like a boys’ club. If you search for “Comedy Special” on Netflix, there’s only one woman in the first 10 results — a fact that makes sense when you take into account only about 19% of the comedians on the platform are women.

Additionally, among the male comics on Netflix, sexism and LGBTQ+ hate are normalized trends. Dave Chappelle made waves when he “jokingly” proclaimed his transphobia and status as a TERF throughout the 70-minute runtime of “The Closer.” This isn’t at all new for Chappelle, who has a long history of transphobic comedy. However, despite his repeated distasteful humor, he has still managed to produce six comedy specials and a two-season show on Netflix. There’s no sign of him stopping.

The solution to this problem is to ignore the no-name users who loudly proclaim at every given chance “women aren’t funny.” They really are, and by excluding them from both creating and consuming stand-up, Netflix and Matt Rife are setting back the comedy scene by years.

This is because Netflix outright supports off-color jokes. Its co-CEO Ted Sarandos spoke about this in an interview with Variety, saying, “With ‘The Closer,’ we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence, etc.) Last year, we heard similar concerns about ‘365 Days’ and violence against women. While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”

Despite the claim violence rarely jumps from the TV screen into reality, there are many examples of this very thing happening in the transgender community. Because TV contributes so largely to American culture, simple jokes can define how society views this diverse group of people. According to an article from The Washington Post, “How the characters and the storylines that define trans people are written matters in the greater context of how they are seen and treated in our society.”

The culture of violence encouraged by Netflix and Chappelle led to increased rates of violence against vulnerable groups. However, many comedians still claim their right to free speech trumps marginalized people’s right to living without constant fear of violence. 

With this culture prominently displayed and defended on Netflix, Rife felt perfectly comfortable breaking the ice by poking fun at a restaurant hostess he had seen with a black eye, which he explicitly said seemed to be a result of domestic violence. He joked they should put her in the kitchen to hide her face and jeered, “If she could cook, she wouldn’t have that black eye.” Immediately following, Rife justified his joke with the claim, “I figure if we start the show with domestic violence, the rest of the show should be smooth sailing.”

Needless to say, this insensitive remark has earned its fair share of criticism across social media platforms. A joke like this on its own is distasteful, but what I found more alarming was the proudly sexist attitude he held throughout the special. He complained multiple times he wished his audience wasn’t so feminine. Rather than being grateful for his success among a female audience, he spent 65 minutes purposefully alienating them. 

It seems the culture created by male comedians on Netflix drew Rife in. He saw it as an opportunity to show everyone, despite his large female audience, he’s still one of the boys. He can spread misogyny, too. Apparently, it makes him more of a man. 

The solution to this problem is to ignore the no-name users who loudly proclaim at every given chance “women aren’t funny.” They really are, and by excluding them from both creating and consuming stand-up, Netflix and Matt Rife are setting back the comedy scene by years.

Before you know it, we’ll be back to hearing “I hate my wife” jokes for hours on end. I can’t think of anything worse.

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    Les HowingtonJan 25, 2024 at 1:23 am

    OMG.. get over yourself. Groups like the trans community will go to any length to single themselves out and be seen as different or somehow special. It’s the same with any one of the many groups that seem to come about daily, from the new binary or non gender groups to BLM. Once they do manage to separate themselves from the rest of society, they then complain about being single out when society abides by their wishes.

    This country is becoming more divided every day and the worst part is the hate that comes with it. Whenever a certain group gets together claiming something in common, they will then come up with some type of negative narrative and blame another group who also has something in common for separating them from there rest of society. In reality, they separated themselves when they claim their difference from others and demand it be recognized.

    You did that very thing in the article you wrote. You singled out women comics and how they are not recognized the same as male comics on Netflix. You then blamed that on male comics. Again, in reality… It is not a male vs female issue, it is a comic issue. Comics both male and female are being “cancelled” all the time by these specialized groups claiming to be offended so there are very few who are willing to risk their careers doing a Netflix special. Chappelle and Rife just happen to be two that were willing. If there is a female comic willing to risk hers and find someone willing to back her with a special, I’m sure Netflix will stream it. As I said, it’s a comic issue but you singled the female comics from the males, made them to be neglected, blamed the males and cried discrimination.

    As far as Matt Rife’s joke about the waitress, Katt Williams as well as other black comics including Dave Chappelle make jokes about white people all the time. It’s the majority of their material. Should I as a white male be screaming about that? Mimicking and making fun of how a white man talks and acts, isn’t that in bad taste. No, it’s funny. It’s not personal. I may not talk and act that way but I know some that do and it’s funny. Saying the waitress wouldn’t have a black eye if she could cook was made up. That wasn’t why she had the black eye. The joke was not making fun of her, it was bringing to light the ignorance of a man who thinks he can hit a woman for not knowing how to cook. That’s the idiot who was being made fun of just like Dave Chappelle makes fun of idiots who wear sheets over their heads and burn crosses even though at one time that was a very serious issue in society.

    Learn to laugh and not take everything personal. Has anyone even bothered to ask the waitress if she thought the joke was funny? All the controversy is being caused by women who have never been involved in domestic violence yet were somehow offended for women that have.