Comedian Matt Rife’s success may have happened overnight, but as viewers learned on Wednesday’s Tonight Show, he’s no overnight success. It wasn’t until he was over a decade into the business and on the verge of quitting that one “reluctantly” posted TikTok video changed his life forever.
Rife went from struggling comic to viral video star to having his own Netflix special and world tour over the course of a year, and he told host Jimmy Fallon all about his remarkable story.
Rife’s comedy career started at just age 15 when his grandfather — whom Rife credits for his comedy career — would take him to the local comedy club in Columbus, Ohio and buy up enough tickets and drinks that would allow Rife onstage.
The 28-year-old Rife said that he had no idea what a comedy set was early on, but that even at a young age he steered away from kid jokes and always aimed his material toward adults. That’s something he said helped him later on as the novelty of being so young wore off when he got into his early 20s.
But after working in the comedy business for 11 years, including a decade in Los Angeles, Rife was getting beaten down by all the rejection. He said not being able to get a special anywhere, or get on a TV show — he even submitted for The Tonight Show a few times — brought him to a breaking point.
“All of these things just weren’t adding up, and at a certain point you go, ‘am I delusional? Maybe I’m not funny. Maybe I’m not supposed to do this,’” Rife said. “And then just one random video kind of changed everything.”
Rife said that he always hated social media because of the negativity that comes with it. But after accepting the fact that he needed to change up his approach because whatever he was doing wasn’t working, Rife “reluctantly” began posting videos on TikTok at the beginning of 2022.
Later that year, an improv comedy show he started with comedian Paul Elia was invited to the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, but without Rife. Organizers told him he could perform, but they wouldn’t pay him for his work or pay for his travel at all. But he sucked up his pride and went anyway.
While he was there he had an edited video called “The Lazy Hero” ready to post, but was feeling pretty down and starting to wonder what the point was. But a friend told him to go ahead and post it since it was already edited, and they would go off and have a fun night.
Then that video unexpectedly went what Rife called “insanely viral” over the next couple of days to the tune of 20-30 million views, which in turn blew up many of his other videos as well and ended up being a “life changing” moment.
“The irony of something you dreaded doing changing your entire life. So take more chances,” Rife said. “It’s been unreal, my entire life has changed in a matter of 14 months, I’m so grateful.”
The quick wave of success for Rife has led to a Netflix special that will premiere on Nov. 15 called Natural Selection. He chose Washington, D.C. to film it at the historic Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall, where Eddie Murphy’s Delirious was filmed along with specials by Robin Williams and Katt Williams.
Along with the special, Rife has announced his ProbleMATTic World Tour, which recently sold over 600,000 tickets in its first hour of being up.
“Going from playing clubs for 35 people who got free tickets to, we broke Ticketmaster, which is insane,” Rife said.
Despite the whirlwind success he’s currently experiencing, Rife disputes a common claim from onlookers that he’s an overnight success, given his 12 years in the business.
“You have to look back at those moments and all those times you thought you were ready for a certain opportunity, you probably weren’t,” he said. “I’m in a position right now where there’s a lot of pressure to stand behind what I build on social media in my live performances. And had I not had these years of training leading up to it, these shows might not be as good as they are. Now I feel like I’m in the proper position at the proper time.”
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon airs weeknights on NBC.
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