Why Matt Rife’s Netflix comedy special — and his apology — is stirring controversy

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Comedian Matt Rife's Netflix special premiered last week, and the backlash for his opening sequence — that included a joke he said is about domestic violence — has been swift.

Rife, whose crowd work videos have gone viral on TikTok and catapulted him into the comedy mainstream, responded to his critics on Monday, Nov. 20, on his Instagram story, ensnaring him in further controversy.

"If you've ever been offended by a joke I've told- here is a link to my official apology," Rife wrote, also including a link labeled "Tap to resolve your issue." The link directed users to a website selling products described as "special needs helmets" for children and adults.

Matt Rife (@mattrife via Instagram)
Matt Rife (@mattrife via Instagram)

Social media users panned his response, with an X user writing: "Oh good. Ableism to chase the misogyny."

"Matt Rife posts a link to an 'apology' but it’s really just this……BIG YIKES," another X user commented.

Representatives for Rife did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment from TODAY.com.

Here's what to know about Rife and the controversy surrounding his Netflix special, "Natural Selection."

What did Matt Rife say in "Natural Selection"?

Rife, who has amassed more than 18 million followers on TikTok since starting to post his crowd interactions on the app last summer, went from self-producing and crowd-funding his own comedy specials to releasing "Natural Selection" on Netflix on Nov. 15.

The 28-year-old started his special, filmed in Washington, D.C., by calling nearby Maryland "so beautiful and so ratchet" and describing a time when he saw a hostess at a Baltimore restaurant with a black eye.

"A full black eye. It wasn’t like, 'What happened?' It was pretty obvious what happened," Rife said. "But we couldn’t get over, like, this is the face of the company? This is who you have greeting people?

"And my boy, who I was with, was like, 'Yeah, I feel bad for her, man. I feel like they should put her in the kitchen or something where nobody has to see her face.' And I was like, 'Yeah, but I feel like if she could cook, she wouldn’t have that black eye.'"

After receiving mixed reactions from the live audience, Rife said: "Testing the water, seeing if y’all are going to be fun or not. Just wanted to see. I figured we start the show with domestic violence, the rest of the show should be pretty smooth sailing after that."

Rife then went on to say she should have been carrying "protection crystals," before making jokes about what he called "crystal girls" and women who blame astrology on their "poor decision-making skills."

Matt Rife's comments about his fan base

Rife also caught heat before his Netflix special premiered, when he told Variety on Nov. 14 one of the biggest misconceptions about him online is that he only has a female fan base, and that he thought his new special catered to men.

“One thing 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,” he said. “I would argue this special is way more for guys.”

He added: “I wanted to make this special for everybody. I pride myself on making my comedy for everybody. It’s not for a specific demographic.”

How has the internet responded?

Matt Rife (Mathieu Bitton / Netflix)
Matt Rife (Mathieu Bitton / Netflix)

Users on X were quick to call his joke in "Natural Selection" and his subsequent apology "disrespectful and distasteful," among other terms.

"Matt Rife: my special is for guys... Immediately opens up with a domestic violence joke," an X user wrote.

"Matt Rife opens his special with a 'if a woman could cook she wouldn’t have a black eye' joke," another X user said. "Really?"

"The way women catapulted Matt Rife into popularity and the second he gets a comedy special on Netflix he immediately betrays them with a joke about domestic violence crazy innit," a user on X wrote.

"The girls and gays were Matt Rife's biggest demographic and he used his Netflix special to pander to toxic masculinity," another person said on X. "It feels like a betrayal."

"I’m crying at everyone realizing that Matt Rife isn’t funny after watching his Netflix special and coming to the realization that he’s only good at the crowd work he posts on Tiktok lmaoo," one X user wrote.

Rife previously spoke with TODAY.com about why he chose to only include his interactions with the crowd in D.C. during the credits of his Netflix special.

"That's like the No. 1 trash talk I get on the internet — people think I only do crowd work. I'm like, 'OK, cool. Well then, assuming you haven't seen my other two full hour specials before, here's a third one with no crowd work in it,'" he said. "We just fit (crowd work) in for fun in the credits. I mainly just wanted to show people that I do way more than that."

This article was originally published on TODAY.com