Matt Rife is a comedian who I know primarily from TikTok. I’ll admit, the short clips he posts on the app are usually pretty good. He’s charming, generally funny. He’s known for his crowd work, and it’s hard to deny that he’s very good at it. He endeared himself quickly to many of us women with his quick whit and comedic banter. He seemed likable and safe.
But over time, he began saying things that raised the eyebrows of his (mostly) female fan base. It seemed like he kept showing up on some new alpha bro podcast with less than kind things to say about women. It started off as soft misogyny, benevolent misogyny. Many women blamed it on his youth and inexperience, hoping that a bit more media training would help him avoid the embarrassing gaffes he kept making. However, there were many of us who had seen this routine before and knew where it would inevitably lead. Knowing this, we stopped watching and engaging with his content.
Imagine our surprise when Netflix announced his new comedy special that launched last week. My husband asked if I wanted to check it out, and I said no, citing his blemished reputation with women. We watched something else instead. The next morning, the internet was flooded with clips from the opener of Rife’s show. It was, for lack of a better word, awful. The joke, which I won’t repeat here, was about domestic violence. It suggested that a woman had gotten a black eye because she couldn’t cook — an old and tired joke that is as unfunny as it is unoriginal.
Many of us spoke out about this. We said domestic violence isn’t funny. It’s inappropriate. Disrespectful. Dangerous.
What happened next shocked even those of us who create mainly feminist content and are accustomed to angry men in our comment sections. All of us received, by the hundreds, comments from angry men deriding us for not enjoying Matt’s humor. Although most of us had simply said, “this isn’t funny,” we were met with threats of violence and sexual assault, insults to our intelligence, assertions that we were being snowflakes, libtards, hysterical women. In the days since we first made these videos, the comments — which usually would have died down by now — have only gotten worse. The most common one in my own comment section being, “looks like you need a black eye, too.”
As I speak with other women who are experiencing this, we all agree that it feels a little more dangerous this time. A little more unhinged. Like I said, you can’t exist in the world or on the internet as a woman without men harassing and demeaning you. But this behavior from some men, over a comic of all things, is next level. Many of us have never experienced this level of threat, hate, and vitriol before.
We’re coming to understand that Matt Rife has found his target demographic in misogynistic men. Women do not find domestic violence funny. Most men don’t find it funny either. But misogynists love anything that validates and justifies their intense hatred for women. Their need to physically act upon that hate. They find Rife’s jokes about domestic violence funny because the jokes are like a pressure valve being turned, releasing pent-up anger and aggression that they felt, until now, prohibited from letting out. Rife’s “humor” gives permission for them to feel that rage, and evidently, to act upon it.
It’s impossible to say whether Matt Rife believes that domestic violence is funny. He may, like so many comics, be making carefully crafted jokes that he knows will appeal to his target demographic. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether he believes it is funny or not. His misogynistic base does, and that’s all that matters.
A joke is never a joke if it condones or justifies violence, particularly to a marginalized group. I am not a fan of the term “punching down,” as I dislike thinking of myself as being beneath any man. But the phrase is fitting in the sense that men have more power and are more physically threatening than we are. Making jokes about a more powerful and threatening party committing violence against one who is less-so is fundamentally wrong.
When we discuss human atrocities like the Holocaust, we tend to start with the biggest acts of violence. We talk about Auschwitz. Concentration camps. Gas chambers. We don’t talk about where that all began — with words. It began with a story that Jews were sinister, conniving, murderous people. It then moved on to the declaration that all Jewish people must wear a gold Star of David stitched to their clothes, identifying them as Jewish and therefore othering them. With time, German people began to see their Jewish neighbors as inferior. Inhuman. From there, it was not such a difficult thing to stand by and allow the horrific things that were done to them.
It is not my intention to compare threats of violence on social media to the Holocaust. What I do intend is to point out that a joke is not a joke, a gold star is not a gold star, if its intent is to take away the humanity of another person. Suggesting that a woman deserves a black eye — deserves to be assaulted — for being a sub-par cook absolutely robs her of her humanity. To suggest anything else is intellectually dishonest.
Women are sick of this kind of humor being made at our expense. We have had to learn how to be good sports to navigate this world. We endure blonde jokes, ditz jokes, jokes about our driving, our naivety, our vapid nature. We smile and laugh because to do anything else could put us in danger. But there can be no smiling and laughing at jokes about assault against women. That is over the line. Especially when such “jokes” have enabled and empowered men to make threats of violence against women with impunity.
Jokes are meant to be funny. Not to incite violence.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.