Matt Rife is seemingly everywhere these days – from his popular crowd-work clips popping up on TikTok and Instagram to gracing the marquees of venues across the country on his massive “ProbleMATTic World Tour” to even being name-dropped on the Hinge dating app with one user explaining that a life goal of his is “making you my plus-one to see Matt Rife.”
To the uninitiated, one might think that the comedian/actor known for his often raunchy, no-holds-barred humor came out of nowhere, perhaps blowing up thanks to his Abercrombie model good looks. Although Rife’s recent rise to fame was boosted because of the power of social media, the 28-year-old, who grew up in a tiny town “surrounded by cornfields” an hour outside of Columbus, Ohio, has been putting in the work performing stand-up for 13 years.
After sharing some jokes during a school talent show at 14 and then “really falling in love with stand-up” by age 15 – with Rife citing Dave Chappelle and Dane Cook as the comedians he grew up studying and who inspired him to get his own start – he started going to the Columbus Funny Bone every Tuesday or Wednesday after school for their open mic.
“It’s been nonstop ever since the first week I tried an open mic,” Rife tells Pollstar. “I’ve performed probably every week of my life since then. I had fun doing it and then people started asking me to do their shows around town and that led to other open mics and gigs out of state and then hosting at comedy clubs and then eventually headlining. It’s just been a nonstop snowball. I’ve been doing it, God, two years from now will be half my life.”
Rife credits his late grandpa Steve – who was a father figure to Rife and who fans know from a bit shared on social media about buying his grandpa a sex toy for Christmas – for “every ounce of comedy in me,” having introduced him to Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey and Robin Williams and all the greats he grew up watching. The comedian notes that while he’s “incredibly thankful for all the success he’s having right now, I would have liked for him to have been around to see it and really show him that everything paid off. … I mean, up until a year and a half ago, I wasn’t selling any tickets at all.”
And now Rife is ranked No. 14 on Pollstar’s Top Comedy Tours chart, with a gross of $15,679,711 off 198,765 tickets sold from 83 shows, based on data from Oct. 16, 2022, to Oct. 15, 2023.
During a recent appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” Rife recalled how he had paid his own way to attend Montreal’s Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in July 2022 and was feeling “depleted and depressed, being at a place I wasn’t even invited to perform” – and was even questioning whether he was supposed to be doing comedy after performing for so many years. He decided to post a clip on TikTok called “The Lazy Hero” from a show he did in Phoenix, Arizona, in which Rife showed off some crowd work with an audience member who had broken up with her boyfriend who worked in the E.R.
“That video over the next couple of days went instantly viral, like 20 to 30 million views. And then that made every other video on my profile go viral and then everything just kind of exploded out of nowhere,” Rife said,
Though Rife was a reluctant social media user – noting that he finds it in general to be “incredibly toxic and damaging” – the comedian says it changed everything for his career.
Rife has continued to share crowd work on his social media, showing off his quick wit and knack for interacting with fans, including a recent clip of a fan with epilepsy who had a seizure during a show and then proceeded to ask for a selfie because he was her “hall pass” (with Rife quipping “All that for a picture, you fucking faker!”)
As CAA agent Matt Frost (who represents Rife with Ari Levin) says of Rife’s stage presence: “His charisma and charm are like no other comedian. He challenges himself and his audience. He has incredible stage presence and storytelling! Rife is a total perfectionist and is always trying out new material that his fans can’t get enough of.”
Rife only started doing crowd work a few years ago, explaining that every comedian gets tired of telling their own jokes and that “you don’t want your performance to feel stagnant.”
He adds, “Crowd work is something that’s a very unique circumstance that doesn’t happen at every show and it happens in different ways that are usually never duplicated. They’re fun and surprising for me. … It is all just the entire circumstance – it’s who I’m talking to, what I’m talking to them about. I mean, I definitely can’t just make anything funny. … I do a lot of crowd work that ends terribly. I did some last night that didn’t go well at all. Sometimes the person you’re talking to gives you absolutely nothing. So it’s definitely a risk but with a very high reward.
“[It] blows my mind when people think I only do crowd work for an hour long. I’m like do you have any idea how fucking hard that would be? The odds that that would go well for an entire hour is insane. That’s why you can’t rely on it because it definitely can not go according to plan.”
For evidence of Rife’s skills outside of crowd work, check out his 2021 one-hour comedy special, “Only Fans,” he self-produced and distributed through YouTube. The special begins with Rife thanking fans for attending the show and then asking “You guys ready to be offended?” – before launching into material that tackles white guilt (“White people, sitting in the back, how does it feel? … Did you say sorry to a Black person today?”).
Rife also discusses how he’s still coming to terms with his status as a hottie: “I was ugly as shit for the first 22 years of my life. … It’s still so new to me that I don’t quite grasp it – I don’t see myself that way. I know I look like every fuckboy ever but I do identify as an ugly person. I think that does technically make me trans – trans-handsome. Transome. Wait until we get our bathrooms. It’s going to all mirrors. A bunch of pretty people doing cocaine. It’s going to be dope. And y’all can’t come.”
Earlier this year Rife released two more specials, “Matthew Steven Rife” in April and “Walking Red Flag” in June, devoted to fans’ favorite “red flag” themed crowd work.
Rife signed with CAA in late 2022 and in June he announced dates for the Live Nation-produced “ProbleMATTic World Tour,” featuring more than 100 shows across North America, Australia and Europe through 2024.
When plotting out the routing Frost explains, “We first discussed as a team what size venues Rife wants to play – knowing that it could be as large as arenas – but he wanted to start with 2,000-3,000-plus theaters and build from there. We also took into consideration he was working on material for his new comedy special.”
The tour was instantly a success.
“Matt’s tour sold 600,000 tickets across 256 shows worldwide in two days, making it one of the biggest comedy tours of both 2023 and 2024,” says Andy Levitt, VP, Booking Live Nation Comedy. “Matt has worked tirelessly to get here and has always believed in himself. It’s been so rewarding to work alongside him and his team to bring this tour to life and watch it continue to grow.”
The tour broke a record for the number of consecutive sold-out comedy shows at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, with four shows lined up Feb. 22-25, 2024. Rife also sold out three performances at the Mohegan-operated OLG Stage at Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, Ontario, selling 14,910 tickets and grossing $959,346 Aug. 4-5.
Plus, Frost points out that Rife broke a comedy attendance record at Ovation Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, when he played five shows on Aug. 18-20, selling 20,204 tickets and grossing $1,498,446.
“Last July he performed in an 8,000-seat amphitheater in Bend, Oregon, and he realized that his comedy plays just as well – no matter the size of venue he is in,” Frost says. “We have exciting venues up to twice that size that will be announced shortly for 2024.”
Plus, Rife’s new comedy special “Natural Selection,” will debut on Netflix Nov. 15, and look out for him to appear in movies.
“We have a lot of irons in the fire, more exciting news coming soon but I’ll leave that for Rife to share when the time is right,” Frost says.