“Hi my name is Matt Rife,” the then 17-year old said in his squeaky teenaged voice to a packed crowd.

He was debuting his foray into comedy at Los Angeles’ famed comedy club, the Laugh Factory. The club is legendary, known to have catapulted the careers comedians like Aziz Ansari, Dave Chappelle and Matt’s childhood hero, Dane Cook. So it’s understandable that the crowd was and still is a tough sell. They’d seen it all.

“I’m not Justin Bieber,” Matt clarified, the crowd silent. “My hair is cool and virtually sperm-free!”

Today, Matt Rife is a bona fide comedian who is a regular on MTV’s “Wild ‘N Out” with Nick Cannon. And yes, this means that he somehow made it out alive at the Laugh Factory that night. Two minutes into his performance that night, nervous, sweat dripping down his back, he confessed he forgot his material. He smiled mischievously. He improvised a little. Using his good looks and natural small-town charm, he won the audience over. He left with a roar of laughter, comedians backstage giving him a thumbs up.

We’re sitting inside Matt’s North Hollywood apartment today, and he’s using his charm with our team today, including our photographer, Grace. He’s wearing a casual pink sweater and jeans and grins ear-to-ear when he speaks. He has porcelain-white teeth, what he says are veneers. It’s hard not to like him.

“I’m not Justin Bieber,” Matt clarified, the crowd silent. “My hair is cool and virtually sperm-free!”

Matt’s a little jet-lagged this afternoon from a trip to Hong Kong he just got back from, but he’s still attentive with answering questions. His blue eyes shimmer in the afternoon light. His stature is of a man, his shoulders broad, his chest strong. But his face reveals just how juvenile he is – there isn’t a single hair yet on his chin. He barely uses any grooming products. A little Old Spice here, AXE there. He splashes water on his face to wash it. He’s at an age where youth is working for him, where collagen seems to be replenished without any creams, where his hair is naturally perfectly bedhead ready. Which has helped him land teenage roles like that on the Disney Channel, but has detracted him from getting roles that are more mature.

Matt is now 21, an age when young Hollywood stars are already jaded, or just getting started. Matt seems to be in the latter camp, having had toured the country for sold-out comedy clubs and has been a part of a few Disney Channel shows. He’s already a veteran, the youngest person to have performed at the Laugh Factory, a huge feat and accolade he still seems surprised about.

As he’ll tell you, this entire life he now has happened so quickly, maybe too quickly. At 17, barely a senior in high school, Matt came to the City of Angels, glassy-eyed and hungry to pursue his dreams. Fresh from his hometown of Ohio, he was a country boy brought up in a small town of no more than 4,000 people. He’d just gotten a one-way ticket to LA where he decided to sleep on a friend’s couch and try this whole comedy thing.

“I had nothing to lose,” he tells me. “My mom works in an Amazon warehouse and my stepdad is a car mechanic. 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.”

But living in a small town also made Matt unaware of the bigger world outside his own. Like many teenagers who live without thinking about the consequences of tomorrow, he tweeted without caution. He’d use the words “faggot” casually. There were some racial jokes he’d make. Some others too crude to mention here. This was a time before Twitter had heavy surveillance, years before being “woke” was a thing, before #blacklivesmatter was even born. There’s certainly no excuse for this behavior, but then at 15, as a mere child who doesn’t know better, it’s difficult to judge someone’s character, especially when said person hasn’t even come into his own as an adult.

But no matter the case, these old tweets would come to haunt Matt in his adult life. It was a summer’s day when he received a tweet from a fellow comedian. The two had never met each other, but Matt said he was taunting him for the longest of times.

“It was Twitter beef,” Matt says. “He was mad at me for some reason. People on the Internet who live their whole life online have a lot of free time on their hands because they don’t have s*** going on.”

After a little tit for tat, said individual proceeded to dig up Matt’s past tweets, utilizing an army of his online friends to gang up on him. In a matter of seconds, Matt became the biggest trending term on Twitter. His phone buzzed to the point he felt he needed to turn it off. The tweets accused Matt of being homophobic and racist, two terms he claims he isn’t. It was worrisome and stressful, but Matt says he tried to shrug it off.

“I was like, is this really happening?” he recalls. “For people to have a lot of free time on their hands to talk crap about a person was really disappointing. I was offended that this person was in the same industry and community as I am and lives locally around me. This person is miles away from me and I’m probably going to run into him at some point.” As Matt says is, it was “bad for business.”

“Dude, I’m going to see you at some point, why would you go out of your way to bash a peer?”

Matt seems to have moved past the issue, though it’s still an uncomfortable subject to bring up, especially because he claims he’s the furthest from being homophobic or racist.

“For people to have a lot of free time on their hands to talk crap about a person was really disappointing.

“Those are the dumbest things I’ve ever heard,” he says. “Racist? That absolutely makes no possible sense. I have a black roommate. I’m on the blackest TV show of all time all my costars are black. And homophobic? At 15 I maybe was. I lived in a small town of 4000 people. Now, living in LA some of my best friends are gay. My roommate works at the Abbey and I visit him all the time. Also, there’s no one who boosts your ego as much as a gay person. If I’m having a bad day somebody will buy me a drink and somebody will say oh you have nice lips, what do they do? I’m like okay, that’s enough. It’s amazing.”

Matt’s tale is cautionary for anyone who’s too careless about their social media.

“Be careful with social media,” he says. “It’s a powerful powerful machine. Don’t let people get to you. Try to brush it off, it’s not easy.

And homophobic? At 15 I maybe was. I lived in a small town of 4000 people. Now, living in LA some of my best friends are gay.

These days, Matt’s using his social media as almost a thirst trap. There are shirtless photos here, modeling photos there. But he does so savvily to keep his fans interested, though he admits he’s not the biggest fan of it all.”

“I’m not a fan of the social media game,” he says. “But it’s a game I have to play. It gives a lot of attention to wrong people. Like if you are a great actor or comedian but your followers are not a lot, you’re not gonna be given a break as oppose to those people with a millions of followers but are terrible.”

And it’s social media that’s dictating what roles someone in Hollywood gets. At a recent audition, he says a casting director came by and blurted that if anyone didn’t have at least 20,000 followers, they had to leave.

“My friend didn’t have that,” he says. “I was like really? You guys are depending on us  to get your viewers like the industry has become lazy. Back in the day, they would look for someone with potential, good looks, good skills and they will make him a star. Now, you have to be a star and then it’s ‘come be on our tv show.'”

It’s become a love-hate relationship with not only Matt, but many influencers online. But he continues to create that content, thirst traps and all. It’s part of his and other Hollywood types’ new reality. Feed. That. ‘Gram.

“My shirtless photos are because a lot of my fans are like, 12-20ish,” he says. “You have to know your crowd and have to play with them. Sometimes when i post a funny, genuine pictures, I get like a thousand likes but a shirtless photo gives me a seven thousand Likes and i’m like, ‘Really? I gave effort thinking about those!'”

Of course, the Internet doesn’t care about anything too cerebral.

“They’re like shut up and just show your abs!”

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