Interview by Jana Letonja

Comedian and actor Matt Rife released his highly anticipated second stand-up special ‘Matthew Steven Rife’ on on 14th February. Matt has exploded as one of the fastest-growing comedians through his viral content on TikTok, where he has amassed over 7 million followers and more than 300 million views globally, making him the most viewed stand-up comic on the platform.

Matt, you released your highly anticipated stand-up special ‘Matthew Steven Rife’ on 14th February. Tell us more about it, what’s the story of this special?

This special was very interesting because it was gonna be completely different two weeks before we filmed it. It was gonna be a bit of different material, different theme. Then two weeks before the taping, my grandpa passed away. I already had a decent chunk of material in the special about him, like a very funny story about him. And he was really looking forward to coming out to Austin, where we filmed the special. He was really looking forward to getting on a plane and coming to see me. When he passed away, I was in such a low place that I almost thought about not doing the special at all. 

In the end, I thought this could actually be an opportunity to give tribute to somebody who had such an impact on my life. He was a father figure to me and honestly, the whole reason I have a sense of humor and who encouraged me do stand-up in the first place. So doing this special was then built to have a theme enveloping his and mine relationship, from beginning to finish. And there’s a thank you at the very end of the special that kind of ties it all together. His name was Steven and my middle name is Steven. I was named after him, so it felt like the appropriate title for a special. 

This special was taped in Austin, Texas and is dedicated to your biggest role model, to your grandfather Steven, who recently passed away. Why was your grandpa your biggest role model?

My dad passed away when I was about one and a half and I ended up getting a stepdad later on, but he and I never really had a connection. So my grandpa really was my father figure. I spent every single weekend with him from the moment I was born. My mom and I lived with him for the first five years since I was born. Every single weekend I wouldn’t go out and hang out with friends and stuff like that, even through being a teenager. I would go to his house every weekend. He was a very funny guy, just a raunchy old man. Our big thing was watching movies together every weekend. He would have five or six new DVDs that he went to the store and picked out. And a lot of them were comedies, like Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, David Spade, Jim Carrey. That was who I grew up on, that’s what he was a fan of and that was kind of our connection. Watching those films and being around him all the time, helped me develop the sense of humor I have now.

You’ve exploded as one of the fastest growing comedians through your tikTok, where your content went viral. How surprised were you by the reaction of your followers and your videos going viral?

Incredibly surprised. It’s still crazy to me. I started posting just to see what would happen. Everybody else was doing it, so I thought I should probably get on board. I posted some videos and they did pretty well. And then a video I didn’t even really want to post, as I thought it wasn’t funny and nobody’s gonna like it, got 20 million views in like a day and a half, two days. It made every other video on my page go viral as well. They were all doing millions of views. Now everything I post does between three and 40 million views. It’s absolutely insane. I never would’ve imagined this many people liked my comedy. But social media and especially TikTok make today’s life and career so much easier for a lot of people. So many careers get started because of social media.

What’s your view on the impact of social media starting careers for so many people?

It’s definitely tricky. I was lucky enough to be in a position that I was kind of ready for this. This April will be 12 years of me doing stand-up comedy. I learned how to do comedy well first and then I gained an audience versus a lot of comedians that find success on Vine, TikTok, Instagram, whatever it may be. They blow up because of a couple of very unique clips that they post, when they don’t have the material built into their set to maintain that success and that audience. A comedian that blows up on the internet might be able to sell out a show or maybe a couple shows in a city. People are gonna come because they know their face, they saw a couple of clips that they did, but they get there and they see this guy doesn’t have an hour long worth of really good materials, so they’re only gonna come back to see them one time. I feel like a lot of people who blow up on the internet comedically aren’t quite ready for it.

I mean, there are people who do turn it into a fantastic career. And for a lot of people who have been doing it for a long time, this is a chance to get in front of a new, younger demographic a lot of times. It’s a worldwide app, you get fans in London, Australia, Japan. You have no idea who’s gonna see your stuff and when it could pop off. So it’s a definitely a viable tool, but you definitely have to be prepared for the success that can come.

Besides all the comedies that you watched with your grandfather, what made you interested in stand-up comedy as a career?

I was just a huge fan of it as a kid. Around bedtime, I would always put on a very popular thing. When I was growing up, it was Comedy Central presents, which would be half hour specials of a lot of up and coming comics that weren’t big at the time. This was usually their big TV break and I just loved it. There were so many funny comedians. I would watch it pretty much every night. And then Dane Cook and Dave Chappelle both kind of exploded around the same time. I was so obsessed with stand-up comedy and one day my mom won tickets on the radio to see Dane Cook at a nationwide arena in Ohio. We went, it was like nosebleed seats, it was terrible, but it was such an amazing experience that I was like “This is what I want to do”. So I think that kinda solidified it for me.

What are the topics and themes you love to include the most in your stand-up performances? And what topics do attract audiences the most from your experience?

I think it changes all the time. Every new hour that I build is a little bit different. A lot of my material is story-based, so a lot of it comes from life experience rather than being a certain topic that I want to tackle. Dating and relationships is probably the number one most relatable thing that everyone has their own unique experiences and some of them are very funny. It’s something everyone can relate to. Everyone’s been through a relationship or dated a crazy person. When you have a very general concept like that it’s all about making it uniquely your story, like something that nobody else could duplicate. If you’re just talking about dating in general, that’s been done a thousand times.

I am starting to lean into more unique funny concepts that I don’t hear a lot of comics talk about, that are just passions of mine. In the new hour, I’m starting to talk about a lot of ghost stuff and how I’m afraid of dark and the monsters and stuff like that. So now I’m leaming into sillier topics that are just unique to me, but overall it’s a lot of dating stories. There’s a lot of roasting the audience, talking about my friends because that is really my whole life. My friends are just as much my family as my blood relatives.

Some people are describing you as the ‘Harry Styles’, the Heartthrob of Comedy. How does it feel being compared to one of the hottest musicians today? And how does it feel being named the Heartthrob of comedy?

I wanna know who’s responsible for making up this title. I’m incredibly flattered. I think he’s fantastic. I would love to go to a concert someday.

Who would you describe as your biggest idol and inspiration from the stand-up comedy world?

Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais I’d say are my two biggest influences. They’re both prolific comedians and writers and performers. And I would say they’re top three of all time. Both of their senses of humor and opinions and views on things are completely in line with how I think about things. And I think their style of comedy is definitely something I emulate, unintentionally. I feel like we are very similar creatively and how we perform. And I love that, cause that’s not a style that a lot of comedians can have or do, let alone have it be organic to who you really are. 

I’m not a joke teller. I like talking about things. I like for the show to feel like a conversation, one sided. Obviously I’m not always looking for retort to everything. I say everything is rhetorical. But those are definitely two people that I idolize, really look up to and would love to meet someday.

Recently, your 3 shows in Boston’s Wilbur Theater got sold out within 3 minutes of going on sale. How do you deal with such attention from fans and fame?

It still doesn’t feel real yet. Just because I sell out three shows at the Wilbur Theater in Boston within half an hour each, that doesn’t feel like that’s what the rest of my year is gonna be like. Doesn’t feel like that’s what the rest of my career is gonna be like. Which I think is a bittersweet mentality. I wish I could enjoy it more. Instead, there is kind of a thing in the back of my head that’s like “Hey, be grateful for this opportunity right now because it’s not guaranteed to last”. And people think I’m crazy for saying that.

People want to say this is the level that I’m gonna at least stay at or it’s only gonna get higher. But I’ve had highs and lows in my career already. I’ve been in positions that I thought were gonna change my life and they fell through or they didn’t last. So I think I’m just trying to take it all in, be present in the moment and enjoy this. And if it continues to build, awesome. If it falls back down a little bit, then so be it. At least we know this point is doable. 

I’m very grateful for meet and greets all the time. When I’m taking pictures of people after the show, they’ll be like “You gotta be so tired. I’m sure you hate having to talk to us and meet us”. And I tell them every time that for 12 years now nobody wanted to take a picture with me. This is what I worked so hard for, this is so flattering and so sweet.

This year, you’ll be going on your biggest tour yet. What excites you the most about performing on stage live?

I would say the thing I enjoy most about performing live is having fun. I have a career that I get to go on stage and just genuinely laugh. And I think laughter is the most powerful, important, fun thing in any person’s life. You have to do it, it’s so healthy for you. It’s scientifically proven. No matter how depressed you are, if you force yourself to fake laugh, your brain will trick itself into creating serotonin and you will genuinely cheer up a little bit. 

One funny thing that I get a comment on a lot of my TikTok is that I laugh at my own things. And some people are set that if I laugh, maybe the audience will laugh. But a lot of the times, the things that I say, I also think are funny. I wouldn’t say them if I didn’t think they were all so funny. So for me, to get to go on stage and laugh together with another group of people is so much fun. I love to create an atmosphere that feels like you’re just sitting around with your friends, having a drink or at dinner, and you’re just cracking each other up. You’re all laughing uncontrollably. That’s what I want my shows to feel like. I don’t want it to feel like I am a comedian standing front and center at the stage, there’s an audience of people and I go joke number one, joke number two. I want it to feel like we’re all just hanging out.

What are you most excited about this tour?

I’m getting to go to a lot of cities that I’ve never been before, which is very exciting. I’m also dipping my foot into theaters. I’ve never headlined a theater before, outside of maybe some college shows and stuff like that in an auditorium that’s a little bit different. I’m used to doing comedy clubs, which is between 250 and maybe 500 seats, so I’m looking forward to playing larger venues. Some of them iconic and legendary, that some of my favorite comedians and musicians have performed on the same stages, which I think is so much fun. I’m just overall happy about the fact that I have a year long tour. Now, I have a show on the road once or twice a month, maybe. And they’re booked two months in advance, so a lot of the time I have no idea what I’m gonna do. The fact that we have all the comedy club shows for this year sold out already through New Year is insane. And we’re gonna add theaters still to this year. 

Is the tour going to be only in the States?

We’re coming to the UK in April. We have three shows in London, one in Manchester and one in Birmingham.  I’m very excited about that. I love British audiences. The English sense of humor is so funny to me cause it’s so dry. That’s exactly my sense of humor and my personality type. And a lot of Americans just don’t get that, it’s not for them. I have so much fun when I go to UK.

Besides stand-up comedy, what are you also passionate about?

I’m very passionate about a couple of things. I’m very into going to the gym and playing sports as much as I can. That’s such a release for me. I mean, 23 hours out of my day is work. So if I get one hour a day to go to the gym and just relax, putting your body under stress, but still relaxing, eases your mind a bit. I love the outdoors, love hiking, love traveling and animals. I do a lot of work with American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). I try to bring as much awareness as I can to all that kind of stuff.