Sad Details About Matt Rife

This article includes references to mental health issues, suicide, and domestic abuse.

With his robust TikTok following and his sold-out "ProbleMATTic World Tour," you might imagine that Matt Rife's problems are as rare as fans of his comedy who don't find him attractive. But it took years of hustling in Hollywood for the comedian to get where he is today, and he's experienced a lot of self-doubt and career dissatisfaction along the way.

On the "Dropouts" podcast, Rife shared that his inability to secure his own comedy special after a decade of doing stand-up was especially disheartening for him. "After a while, you start to go, 'Dude, do I f***ing suck at comedy?'" he said. He's also suffered for forsaking his art by branching out and pursuing other work within the entertainment industry, such as hosting "TRL" in 2017. "It was a miserable experience," he said of the MTV gig during an "Unlicensed Therapy" interview. "... It was the first time I realized money didn't buy happiness."

Unfortunately, he's had to learn another hard lesson: how unhappy it makes you when single-mindedly pursuing your passion doesn't pay the bills. When Rife experienced a career drought in 2019 and found himself in desperate need of funds, he even considered seeking employment outside of the entertainment industry. "I applied for my contractor's license. I was about to start doing construction on the side," he said. By the time the harsh realities of Hollywood had Matt Rife ready to trade his mic for a hard hat, he'd grown well-acquainted with hardships and heartbreak.

Matt Rife's opportunities for advancement were limited growing up

The small town where Matt Rife grew up, North Lewisburg, Ohio, was no place for an aspiring comedian to find ears for his stand-up material — but there were plenty of ears of corn that needed harvesting. Farming was so popular there that his alma mater had a "drive your tractor to school day," Rife said during his "Only Fans" special, quipping, "The rich kids [would] pull up and just f***ing flex on us, John Deere-style."

Rife's family didn't possess any of that agricultural affluence, and one of those tractors probably could have hauled their home away. "It was just a trailer full of beer cans everywhere," he shared on the "Sharp Tongue" podcast. Expectations for Rife were not high since none of his family members had previously pursued higher education, and his employment options were limited if he decided to remain in his hometown. On "Brandon's Comedy Bomb Show," Rife said he likely would have ended up getting a job at a local Honda plant if he hadn't discovered stand-up at a young age.

Rife first realized that he could make people laugh at school, but he had a biology teacher who didn't view this ability as a valuable attribute. His free comedy show in her class was rewarded with an in-school suspension and a prediction. "She was like, 'You're going to end up working the rest of your life at McDonald's,'" he recalled on "Riffin with Griffin."

The comedian's dad died by suicide

Some of the funniest stand-up stars discover their aptitude for their craft when they experience something painful and begin using humor as a coping mechanism. On the "Cancelled with Tana Mongeau" podcast, Matt Rife mentioned this comedian commonality after revealing that he grew up without a father. "It's the key to success, absolutely. You have to have some trauma," he said.

Rife was just a baby when his father, Michael Eric Gutzke, died by suicide at age 21, so the comedian never got to know him. "I'm older than my dad ever was," he said on the "Bertcast" podcast. "It's crazy to think about. It's very weird." Rife revealed that he spoke to his mother about Gutzke's mental state before his death and learned that he'd likely been struggling with depression. He was also told that Gutzke's own father basically dared him to kill himself after Gutzke said that he was feeling suicidal.

On top of all of this, Rife learned that his late father had been uncertain that he was his biological son and demanded a paternity test. The comedian explained that this is because his mother and Gutzke had split up before his birth. "I don't think I ever got a definitive answer of how it came back," said Rife of the test. "... Maybe I have a dad out there somewhere."

Matt Rife was insecure about his smile

When Matt Rife looks out at the audience during a stand-up set, he wants to see his stage lights reflected in a sea of pearly whites. But for a long time, he didn't feel comfortable laughing along with his fans. On "Bertcast," Rife said he got veneers using money he made while touring with late comedian Ralphie May. By then, he'd already filmed two seasons of "Wild 'N Out" with what he described as "Ohio teeth." Among Rife's dental issues was a gap between his front teeth, and it stung a bit when a high school friend named Brendan joked about it while brutally roasting him. "Brendan said some s*** like, 'You're the only person I know who can eat food without opening their mouth,' and 15-year-old me was shook," Rife said during his "Only Fans" special.

On "Off the Vine," Rife revealed that his insecurity about his appearance was one reason he sought solace in making others laugh. "You get bullied or something like that, you're like, 'Well, rather than everybody see it hurts me, how about we just make a joke about it,'" he said.

Rife got his mouth makeover from Dr. Kourosh Maddahi, DDS, and he was so thrilled with the results that he filmed a testimonial for the Beverly Hills-based dentist. "I was very insecure about my teeth before," Rife said. "... If you look back in time, there are no pictures of me smiling with my teeth in existence."

His stepfather was physically abusive

On "Bertcast," Matt Rife shared that he was 5 years old when his mother got remarried to a man with three daughters from a previous relationship. His mother and stepfather later had a daughter. Rife doesn't mention his stepfather often but did tell Very Good Light that he was working as a mechanic in 2017. Rife's mom, meanwhile, had a job at an Amazon warehouse. "We didn't really have a lot while growing up anyways. So I just really followed my dreams because I really didn't have any other options," said the comedian.

Rife's home life was apparently another incentive to do whatever it took to build something better for himself. When describing what his stepfather was like on the "Sharp Tongue" podcast, Rife said, "I ended up with ... the stereotypical movie stepdad, where it's like, white trailer trash alcoholic abusive stepdad." Rife also shared that his stepfather frequently abused him physically. "It's so normalized to me it's not even a triggering subject," he stated. According to the comedian, his mother and stepfather stayed unhappily married for years after their relationship fell apart. "It was one of those circumstances where neither of them could afford to leave each other," he explained.

The couple eventually got divorced, and Rife remains close to his mom. On "Cancelled with Tana Mongeau," he revealed that he planned to buy her house, and he said that he'd likely spoil his half-sister and her child a bit as well.

The tragic death of his good friend Ralphie May

In 2017, "Last Comic Standing" star Ralphie May died at age 45. He'd played a crucial role in Matt Rife's stand-up career by providing him with opportunities that gave him some invaluable comedy cred, including offering Rife a guest spot when he was still a teen and later inviting his eager young apprentice to tour with him. But first, May broke Rife's heart.

On "Jeremiah Wonders," Rife recounted how he reached out to May on Twitter and convinced the comedy vet to let him perform a set during one of May's stops in Ohio. But Rife's fretful mom kind of ruined it for the then-16-year-old. "She's making me ask him all of these questions: What time do I need to get there ... do my parents need to do anything," Rife recalled. This made May realize that Rife wasn't quite ready for the big time, and he rescinded his offer. "I was devastated. I don't think I talked to my mom for like two weeks," said Rife.

But May offered Rife another guest spot when the younger comedian was better prepared for it. "He hands me a hundred dollar bill, and it was the first time I'd been paid for a show ever," Rife recalled. May also bought meals for Rife during his lean early days in L.A. when he was crashing on couches, and he gave his friend some generous bonus pay during the holidays. "I miss Ralphie May," Rife tweeted in 2021.

How an old friend let Matt Rife down

Instead of following the same career blueprints of the comedy greats that came before him, Matt Rife has often had to make his own opportunities. He's crowdfunded money to produce his own specials; organized socially distanced comedy shows during the pandemic; and used social media as an effective promotional tool. 

But in 2022, Rife was still trying to raise his profile by building a professional relationship with a platform that can greatly increase a comedian's outreach: Netflix. On the "Sharp Tongue" podcast, Rife said that he'd made arrangements to perform at one of the venues that hosted the "Netflix is a Joke" comedy festival that year. Weeks later, his agent received an email saying that Rife couldn't perform there after all. "Come to find out, a friend of mine who I have known for 10 years, since I was 16 years old, was in a power position at this venue recently, and they said no to me," Rife said. When Rife wanted to discuss the matter with this former friend, he refused to speak to him.

Rife wouldn't name names in that instance, but on "Bertcast," he also revealed that he and Dane Cook had a falling out when he released his 2021 "Only Fans" special. Rife didn't elaborate on what went down, but this had to be tough for him; the comedians had been tourmates, and Rife told 1883 Magazine that seeing Cook perform live is what inspired him to pursue a comedy career. 

He's experienced panic attacks

Matt Rife has been candid about his mental health issues, even informing his fans that he has anxiety and clinical depression during his "Only Fans" special. But he joked that nobody feels compassion for him because he's physically attractive.

During the pandemic, Rife also began struggling with panic attacks, which can cause startling symptoms such as an extreme feeling of terror, difficulty breathing, and an increased heart rate. Sometimes, sufferers fear that they're experiencing a heart attack. "It's the scariest thing I could possibly imagine anybody going through," Rife said on the "Sharp Tongue" podcast. According to Rife, his first panic attack was so frightening that it caused a vicious cycle. "Now, most of my anxiety and panic attacks come from my PTSD of having another panic attack," he said. 

His therapist determined that one of Rife's issues was the stagnant lifestyle he was suddenly forced to adopt when COVID hit and the entertainment industry pretty much shut down. This inspired Rife to find a way to keep performing. But when he and his friend, Paul Elia, brought their socially distanced "Lowkey Outside" shows to the live comedy-starved masses, the masses didn't always show up. "We would lose money doing shows," Elia told Deadline. Still, Rife even enjoyed performing for a crowd of 18 people under cheap tents that had to be hastily assembled because it was about to rain. "We were able to find gratitude and positivity in that time," he said.

Matt Rife's grandfather's death hit him hard

Matt Rife gives his late grandfather, Steve Rife, a lot of credit for his comedy career. On "Dropouts," he shared that the two of them loved watching funny movies together, and that it was through Steve that Matt was introduced to comedy icons such as David Spade, Adam Sandler, and Jim Carrey as a child. Matt compared Steve to Robert De Niro's "Dirty Grandpa" character and revealed that his grandfather was one of the first people who appreciated his own burgeoning talent for comedy. "He thought I was the funniest person in the entire world," said the comedian.

Sadly, Steve died in November 2022 — just two weeks before he was supposed to watch his grandson film the special named in his honor: "Matthew Steven Rife." Matt got emotional while speaking about his devastating loss during the special. "He was my absolute best friend, and I love him and miss him so much," he said. Matt also told the audience that his grandpa supported his comedy career when he was a teenager by buying five tickets for each of his shows, which is the number of people a comedian had to bring with them to be allowed to perform.

On the "About Last Night" podcast, Matt shared that he had given his grandfather a necklace, and he died clutching it in his hand. Now, Matt wears it. He also bears a tattoo of the nickname his grandpa gave him long before he ever dreamed of doing stand-up in Los Angeles: Hollywood.

If you or anyone you know needs help with mental health, is struggling or in crisis, or is dealing with domestic abuse, contact the relevant resources below:

The Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Call or text 988 or chat

Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.