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Making People Laugh: A Conversation With Matt Rife


The following is a compilation of short excerpts from Dr. Jordan Peterson’s conversation with Matt Rife. In them, they discuss the intention behind Matt’s comedy, the critical aspect of timing, deflection as a defense mechanism, healing by exposure, cancel culture’s goal to garner attention, and laughter as evidence of help. You can listen to or watch the full podcast episode on DailyWire+.

Start time: 2:33 [et al.]

The Intention Of Making People Laugh

Time: 2:59

Jordan: One of the things I have noticed is that people who are harassed by sensorial-minded nell wits almost always back down and apologize. My sense of that is that a mob comes after them first, for whatever hypothetical sin they have committed, and then they apologize, and the second mob comes after them for that. Then they lessen their own character by the false apology, and they embolden these idiot accusers. So when this blew up around you, why did you decide to take the strategy that you took? Why were you not wracked with guilt and apologetic?

Matt: Because it’s just comedy. I’m just doing what’s funny to me. It’s never any deeper than that, nor should it be for anybody. I’m saying things that my imagination drums up that makes me happy, releases endorphins in my head, and makes my life happier. And all I do is share those thoughts with other people in hopes that it makes their life easier.

Jordan: Well, I have been watching what you do on your specials, and you are continually interacting with the audience, which, correct me if I have this wrong, but a lot of the comedians that I have spoken to spend a lot of time preparing their sets and practicing. But what you are doing seems to be something that is much more akin to spontaneous wit. That is a dangerous thing to do because you could easily be not funny.

Matt: Oh, high risk, high reward.

Jordan: Well, and it is also that because you are doing that, you do not have a lot of time to exactly think through what you are going to say. If something strikes you as amusing, you pretty much have to go for it. And if your head is full of censorship-related thoughts, you are going to be not funny in about 15 seconds.

Matt: You have to let the intrusive thoughts win in comedy. You have to. If you’re a naturally funny person, the first thing that comes to your mind should be the funniest thing to you most of the time in a comedic situation. 

Jordan: It has to be the first thing. You know, if you are taking a multiple choice test, if you second guess your intuition about the right answer, you are more likely to be wrong with the second guess. 

Matt: Is that true? That makes complete sense. 

Jordan: Yes, that immediate response tends to be better. It is a weird thing because that thing that is comical inside you, that is providing you with the intuition for the jokes, it has to be in quick relationship with the audience.

Matt: Timing is everything.

Jordan: Yes, timing is absolutely everything. You want to say the most pointed thing at exactly the right time. So, first of all, how broad-scale do you think this rebellion against what you said actually is? How many people do you think are behind it? And why do you think it has become such a big deal?

Matt: It’s probably a few dozen thousand, which sounds like a lot until you remember there’s 8 billion people in the world. And I would say 90% of the small majority that is upset with me doesn’t go to comedy shows anyway or wouldn’t vibe with me as a person anyway, which is fine. … Whether you enjoy what I do or not, you don’t even have to know it exists. If I’m your problem — if you and I are face to face and you have a problem with my comedy that I tell that I admit to the world, right — if you just remove yourself from me, if you do something as simple as just turn around, there is an entire planet behind you for you to go explore and live the rest of your life. You don’t ever have to think about me. You don’t have to talk about me. I don’t like screamo heavy metal music. Guess how often I think about it and talk about it? Zero percent of the time. You just remove yourself from the situation. I see no harm in trying to make people laugh as a general intention.

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Comedy As A Sophisticated Defense 

Time: 27:22

Jordan: How do you keep yourself from focusing on whether or not you are being funny, for example, when you are interacting with the audience?

Matt: It’s purely confidence, whether it’s real or fake confidence. I think when I was younger, I did develop a fake confidence. I was bullied a lot in high school, not like getting shoved into lockers, but to the point where I wasn’t anybody in anybody’s group. You know, I was class clown. I was the butt of a lot of people’s jokes, which didn’t hurt, at least I tell myself. But I think that’s where you learn. You learn to deflect. Right? You have two options in a moment when somebody makes a joke at your expense. You can either laugh along and play into it and go with it, or you can be embarrassed and everybody sees you’re embarrassed, which is even more embarrassing.

Jordan: Yes, you are right. That just invites abuse. Yes.

Matt: So I think growing up I developed this sense of false confidence where I went, hey, if I also make fun of myself and I get in on your guys’ joke, it won’t hurt. Or people can’t tell that I’m upset. People think it doesn’t bother me.

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Jordan: I am going to challenge your supposition that that was false — because the thing about being funny is that if you are false, you are not funny. And if you are not funny and you are being bullied, you are just going to get bullied worse. So it seems like you were able to generate responses that were witty and that were funny.

Matt: But purely a defense mechanism I think. It wasn’t for the point of like, oh, I hope I get a good joke off here. I think it was, I have to deflect them saying a mean thing with me saying a funny thing. 

Jordan: I would say that is a very sophisticated defense.

Playing With Disaster — And Not Apologizing For It 

Time 32:17

Matt: I think comedy is purely down to intent. When people are bullying you, when high schoolers are making fun of something about you, that’s a totally different intent. Even though they are making a joke, their intention is that you’re going to feel a certain kind of way. That is what differentiates it from standup comedy. Every single thing I say on stage is said with nothing but the intention to make people laugh. And I understand it’s not going to make everybody laugh. Some people heal totally differently when it comes to certain topics. I get that and I accept that. I’m not for you.

Jordan: But getting touchy about that, even if you have been hurt, first of all, that is a sign that you still have some real work to do. And second, getting touchy about that and then shielding yourself from any exposure to that is not the way to being cured. Quite the contrary. You know, it is better if you have had a traumatic experience in your life not to protect yourself unduly from situations that might bring that back up, but to voluntarily expose yourself to situations where that is likely to be the case. So it might be understandable in that people have been hurt, but it is counterproductive even with regard to their own recovery. 

Matt: Oh, absolutely. 

Jordan: Comedy has this psychological function; it is sort of like a horror movie in some ways. It is a weird thing that people will voluntarily watch a horror movie because you might ask, why would you pay to be scared? But you are not. You are paying for the experience of the mastery of your fear. And then in comedy, you see the same sort of thing happening; the comedians are always toying with the forbidden. And in part, the reason the audience participates is because we often have to deal with the forbidden, and often some of the things we forbid are not things that we should be avoiding or forbidding. … The comedians have that function of putting forward unpalatable truths in a place where everyone is there to do that voluntarily. That is part of the game. How far can we push things? Then to get all bitchy about that and to try to cancel someone in consequence?

I saw this one guy on YouTube who was complaining about you. He said that you built your career as an ally of women. That was basically his point. Now you have betrayed them with your jokes about domestic abuse. So he was playing this, “I’m the friend of women” sort of game. But he is violating that contract, too, which is that everybody is there in a comedy club to play with disaster. And you know, you are essentially supposed to go along with that.

Matt: I just don’t understand how the environment isn’t taken into consideration. The environment is the context. Think of comedy like a restaurant. You go in there, the food’s not for you, you can leave. You didn’t have to stop in here. Comedy is such a niche field. I wouldn’t consider standup comedy a mainstream art form. It’s not film, it’s not television, it’s not music. It’s not as globally celebrated in every household, you know. It just blows my mind that people can’t just let it be. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you. 

Jordan: See, what is happening I think, even this guy that criticized you in the manner that I just described, I found what he had to say, and him for that matter, contemptible. I thought it was pathetic. But this is something social media does, is that his video, even though I do not think it redounds to his credit, has given him likely more exposure than anything he will ever do in his life. So one of the huge problems on the social media side is that we have put undue access to status in the hands of people who will misuse accusations to garner attention. … One of the massive problems with social media is that it provides people who are willing to do something like savage your reputation with way more attention than they could ever accrue, given their own status and abilities. What to do about that, I have no idea — although apologizing is a bad idea.

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Helping By Making People Laugh

Time: 45:15

Jordan: What you are doing, if you are a comic, is actually helping people, not hurting them. And you can tell you are helping them because they laugh. 

Matt: Oh, of course. And it doesn’t need to be for the masses. If you reach even just a few people, you’re doing the right thing. Like I said at the beginning of the podcast, everything I do is just to make people laugh.

Jordan: I am curious about that because the people who apologize for offending someone with their art or their comedy must have doubts about their own intent, right? So if someone comes along and jabs them and says, “Maybe you’re just a mean son of a bitch,” and they say, “Well, you know, maybe I should be more careful.” Maybe they’re feeling a bit depressed, but they do step back and doubt themselves. 

You could say that there are two reasons that someone called for their misbehavior might doubt themselves. One would be that they are narcissistic, and the other would be that they are actually confident in their intent. Now, you have indicated a number of times while we have talked that you are confident in your intent. 

Matt: Yeah.

Jordan: So if I was a persistent skeptic, I would say that you clearly offended 12,000 people — that was the number you came up with. Why are you so confident in your intent that your belief in your own goodness in relationship to comedy trumps the fact that 12,000 people are telling you that you said something offensive?

Matt: Because if 12,000 people are saying that, I would say 100,000 people are saying they loved it — and they’ve been through domestic violence situations and they found the joke very funny. But they are actually able to deal with that situation in a comedic light.

Jordan: Right. Right.

Matt: And I commend that bravery. I can only imagine what it takes to get through something like that. But if I can help in any way, even if it was on accident, I feel great about that. 

Keep The Funny Jokes

Time 51:15

Jordan: How do you determine which jokes you keep? What kind of response are you looking for?

Matt: The most amount of laughter is the best outcome.

* * *

To hear all of the rest of the discussion, continue by listening or watching this episode on DailyWire+

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant and then associate professor of psychology at Harvard. He is the international bestselling author of Maps of Meaning, 12 Rules For Life, and Beyond Order. You can now listen to or watch his popular lectures on DailyWire+.

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