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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Comedy sensation Matt Rife is crashing the Fox Theater on Sunday

Buoyed by his online success, Matt Rife's tour is sold out, with more than 600,000 tickets purchased.  (Courtney Asztalos and Michael W. Hicks for The New York Times)

After a decade of commitment, comedian Matt Rife sat in a diner in Montreal last summer getting ready to attend a show, rather than perform in one, highlighting up-and-coming comedians.

Up until that point, the 27-year-old had experienced only modest levels of success throughout his 12 years of performing at open mics. He had been featured on NBC’s comedy competition “Bring the Funny,” played a guest role on Nick Cannon’s improv show “Wild N’ Out” and was even on an episode of the hit sitcom “Brooklyn-Nine-Nine.”

But Rife was only selling around 70 tickets per show, sometimes cashing in less than $150 a night.

Then came that pivotal moment in Montreal when he decided to post a less than 2-minute clip on TikTok from one of his shows where he joked with an audience member about her ex-boyfriend.

He told New York Times reporter Steven Kurutz that he remembers posting the clip and thinking, “What am I doing?”

Less than three days later, the video amassed 20 million views. His TikTok page went viral – and so did his career.

Over the next few months, Rife racked up over 15 million followers on TikTok and over 5 million on Instagram. Now, his TikToks regularly attract upwards of 20 million views each – some even reach upwards of three times that.

But this June, Rife announced his most profitable endeavor yet: the ProbleMATTic World Tour.

And guess what? Spokane is on the list.

His 2023-24 world tour features more than 120 shows, most of which sold out within 48 hours. The rush to buy tickets caused the Ticketmaster site to crash, and by the end of the week, every single one of his shows were sold out across North America, Europe and Australia.

Rife’s Spokane shows are at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday, the fourth show since the tour started in Bend, Oregon, on Thursday.

Though the Fox doesn’t sell through Ticketmaster, their system wasn’t able to handle the local demand any differently – the two shows sold out in less than an hour, faster than almost any other in the theater’s history.

“There were so many people online trying to buy tickets at the same time that it crashed our ticketing,” said Fox’s marketing director, Kathy Gustafson. “It brought the whole system down.”

“It’s pretty unheard of, and it doesn’t happen very often … it happened one other time a few years ago with a different comedy show, and that one sold out in about an hour or two. But it didn’t crash our ticketing system.”

At face value, tickets sold for around $57. Now, resales for Sunday’s shows range anywhere from $180 to $720, depending on how close your seat is to the stage.

Rife’s success is fairly new – and though much of his popularity is thanks to his social media savvy, his rise to stardom must also be credited to something a bit more superficial.

Matt Rife is comedy’s very own, certified heartthrob. And he knows it.

The official poster for his world tour features a shirtless, tattooed Rife dropping a mic in such a way that flaunts his biceps and square jawline. He attracts a largely female audience, so Rife is not afraid to use his good looks to his advantage – his shows are often described as “raunchy,” and “buzzing with a fevered energy.”

“I was so ugly for so long,” he joked on one of his YouTube specials. “I spent the first 22 years of my life building a personality. For what? You think I need to be funny now?”

His youth and confidence are what allow his TikToks to resonate so effectively with younger audiences in a way that older comedy veterans struggle to do. He straddles the line between millennial and Gen Z, which gives him the required perspective to stand out online and extend his reach to both generations.

A big social media presence is a give and take, though. Like all internet stars, and certainly all comedians, he has faced his fair share of controversy for jokes made on TikTok posts, podcasts and specials.

“I hate social media,” he told the Times. “I get canceled at least three times a week.”

His Instagram bio even reads, “stop taking the internet so seriously.”

It may seem strange for a comedian whose career was so directly influenced by his online success to reject the hand that fed him, but any backlash Rife received hasn’t slowed him down.

“This time last year, I couldn’t sell out one show in town,” Rife said in the Times report. Now, he’s playing as many as 10 shows per weekend to keep up with the demand.

Whether he is a product of virality and luck or years of perseverance, Rife is a sensation and success.

“There are all these young comics now who think they’re going to do what he did with TikTok,” fellow standup comedian and comedy host John Campanelli told the New York Times. “But you’re not 12 years in.

“You’re not Matt Rife.”

Isabelle Parekh's reporting is part of the Teen Journalism Institute, funded by Bank of America with support from the Innovia Foundation.