Comedian Matt Rife built an 18 million-strong fanbase on TikTok by posting funny videos that garnered endless shares and likes, but he saw a problem he seemed to think was insurmountable: his fans were mostly young women, probably more keen on his boyish good looks than his comedic potential.
As the release date for a Netflix special celebrating Rife's foray into the stand-up world loomed, he seemed desperate to cast off his reputation as a heartthrob — in particular, during a wide-ranging interview with Variety about his burgeoning career.
"One of the biggest misconceptions of things I get ridiculed online for is people are like 'oh, he only has a female fan base'," said Rife. "And that's one thing that I wanted to tackle in this special, was showing people that despite what you think about me online, I don't pander my career to women."
Why Rife felt that a primarily young, female fanbase was problematic was a mystery to many, particularly considering the demographic is a favourite of advertisers, and the sweet spot when it comes to rabid fan engagement (see: Barbie, Taylor Swift). But instead of harnessing the power of his followers to propel him into a successful career in comedy — and perhaps even break the stereotype of the typical misogynistic, white, male comedian — he instead decided to open his Netflix special with a domestic violence joke. And not a particularly good one at that.
Rife's special, Natural Selection, kicked off with a story about a waitress who was serving him and a friend in a Baltimore restaurant. As the story goes, the waitress had a black eye. "If she could cook," says Rife in the first five minutes of the show, "she wouldn't have that black eye."
After being met with a mixed reaction from the audience, Rife goes on to declare he is "just testing the waters, seeing if y'all are gonna be fun or not," adding that "I figure if we start the show with domestic violence the rest of the show should be smooth sailing."
Predictably, the joke generated controversy on social media, with many calling for his "cancellation", which was likely the point. But in his attempt to reinvent his persona and appeal to a different demographic, it seems Rife has made a fatal error. Those guys he was aiming for? Well, they just didn't think it was funny.
In the wake of the controversy, Rife's declaration that the special was "way more for guys" hasn't seen him make good with the lads. In addition to his public skewering by the female demographic he once had the eye of, Rife has also earned the ire of the male fans he so desperately seeks, with criticism blowing up on Reddit in the wake of the Netflix special's premiere.
One commenter said of Rife's fanbase flip: "He's spent a good portion of his career posting thirst traps and/or Blue Steel pics on Instagram and doing nothing BUT catering to women via his looks. And there was nothing wrong with that. But it's incredibly disingenuous for Rife to suddenly act as if that's not what he was doing." But the criticism didn't end there; the special has earned a paltry 15% on ratings website Rotten Tomatoes, with a swathe of one-star reviews labelling it as "unfunny", "insufferable" and "disgusting".
He appeared to apologise on social media earlier this week, posting the following message to his fans on Instagram: "If you've ever been offended by a joke I've told, here's a link to my official apology." His fans were duped, however, with the "apology" link leading to a health website selling helmets for disabled and special needs people. Classy.
As The Simpsons quip (and now meme) famously declared to a group of Springfield citizens digging themselves further into a hole, it's probably time to dig up, stupid. Your comedy career may not be long for this world.
Never miss a thing. Sign up to Yahoo Lifestyle's daily newsletter.
Or if you have a story idea, email us at email@example.com.