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The Indiana Daily Student

arts community events

Not all students are as enthusiastic for comedian Matt Rife’s two May 29 sold out shows

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“The fact that somebody chose to portray people who disagreed with him to individuals who already struggle in the world, it tears that community down,” Abe Shapiro said. “It’s an insult to those who advocate for individuals with autism and frankly, it’s an insult to the disability community as a whole.”  

The words from Shapiro, IU alumnus, founder of The Neurodiversity Coalition at IU and WFHB “Disabulletin” reporter, were in reference to comments made by comedian and actor Matt Rife, scheduled to perform on May 29 at the IU Auditorium. 

“An insult to the community of individuals with autism is an insult to me because I’m someone who has Asperger’s,” Shapiro said. “When any comedian makes a comment or joke like that, it’s a step back for society.”   

Rife opened his Netflix comedy special, “Natural Selection,” released in November 2023, with an account of his experience at a restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland which he describes as “ratchet.” The waitress had a black eye and, after implying that the restaurant should keep the waitress in the kitchen instead, Rife suggests she wouldn’t be a victim if she did know how to cook.  

Five days after the release of “Natural Selection,” Rife went upon social media to post a mock apology via his Instagram story after the comments sparked discourse and controversy amongst viewers.  

“If you’ve ever been offended by a joke I’ve told – here’s a link to my official apology,” Rife said. 

A hyperlink labeled “tap to solve your issue” redirected users to a website which sells special needs helmets.  

Rife’s May 29th performances at the IU Auditorium, originally scheduled for Feb. 14, were announced months prior to the Netflix special release and the response which came after it. Both shows, 7 and 10 p.m., are completely sold out.  

“If he’s willing to learn,” Shapiro said. “Then he should absolutely be welcome. But if he’s not willing to learn from what he said, then he has no business being on a campus like Indiana University. We need to put our best foot forward and that starts by vetting who we invite onto our campus.”  

The Ohio-native has been building a platform as a comedian for over 10 years: touring alongside renowned performers, spending time as a cast member for several seasons of various MTV series and making appearances on sitcoms such as “Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and “Fresh Off the Boat.” Within the last few years, Rife exponentially rose to fame by fabricating his presence online, amassing over two-million followers on Tik Tok and over 18 million subscribers on YouTube. His flirty stage presence has rewarded him with a dominantly young and female fan demographic.  

Rife explained in an interview with Variety in November 2023 that the Netflix special was an attempt at catering to a more male demographic than his social media does. He says later in the show that his joke on domestic violence was him “just testing the waters.”  

In the same Variety interview, Rife says that “(As a comedian) You have to be yourself and not worry about offending a certain amount of people. You might miss out on a joke that you’re worried might offend somebody but might make you a million new fans.” 

The IDS reached out to Rife’s team for comment but received no response at the time of publishing.  

IU junior Sasha Ramos is a member of the “Ladies’ Night Comedy” group at IU, a space for underrepresented voices in the male dominated industry. The student-governed-organization fosters friendships amongst members and hosts monthly comedy shows. 

“If you’re trying to cater to men by making a joke about domestic violence, that’s how you know you should not be in comedy,” Ramos said.  

“IU has the right to do whatever they want,” Ramos said. “But they also need to recognize that they are a host for so many different marginalized groups and that their students make up those populations. Giving someone a platform that has said so many problematic things about women and other groups as well, it’s disheartening but not really surprising.”  

Josie Aronoff, an IU sophomore and member of the “Ladies’ Night Comedy” group also commented on Rife’s performances.  

“I think real humor is humor that can make everybody laugh and not offend a group of people,” Josie Aronoff said. “That’s what makes a talented comedian and Matt Rife can’t do that.” 

The style of comedy which Rife adheres to is called “crowd work” where comedians, instead of preparing an entire show, will interact with the crowd and make jokes out of members in the audience. The style has become more widely respected in the industry within the last few years and has consequently dominated the standup genre.  

“Audience members think that every stand-up show uses crowd work,” Aronoff said. “So, the audience will sort of chime in, especially with female comedians. Men think they can say whatever they want when they’re in this audience. His style of comedy is not great for this community.”  

The two “Ladies’ Night Comedy” members explain that they’ve had previous difficulty building an audience for their shows, with individuals having the preconceived notion that women aren’t funny or only make stereotypical jokes about “periods” and that “all men suck.”   

Matt Rife was also the subject of controversy in 2016 and 2020 for tweets using racially motivated and derogatory slurs.  

For United States IMDb users who left reviews for Matt Rife’s “Natural Selection” comedy special, a dominant 30.2% were one-star ratings. Still, Rife is selling out shows all around the United States from Washington D.C. to Salt Lake City, as well as 13 sold-out nights in Canada.   

In a statement from the IU Auditorium, “The IU Auditorium is committed to upholding campus-wide policies around free speech and free expression.”  

After the rescheduling of Rife’s performances, the IU Auditorium is offering refunds 30 days from the ticketholders original date of purchase.

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