Seven questions with the Central Ohio native and competitor from NBC's new comedy contest

On the first-ever episode of NBC’s Bring the Funny, which pits 40 stand-up comedians, sketch troupes and variety acts against one another to win $250,000, stand-up comic Matt Rife took about 30 seconds to begin flirting with model Chrissy Teigen, a judge on the show. It was a bold move for the  Central Ohio native—especially considering Teigen’s husband, John Legend, was on the set—but it paid off for Rife, who earned the approval of Teigen and her fellow judges, Saturday Night Live’s Keenan Thompson and comedian Jeff Foxworthy, and moved on to the second round.

Bring the Funny is a chance not just for a big payday but a big break and national exposure for Rife, who lives in LA but is originally from North Lewisburg, 10 miles west of Marysville. (“No one has heard of it,” Rife says via email.) He’s had some success already at age 23, appearing on the MTV improv show Wild ’N Out among several others, and he’s been active in the comedy scene for about eight years. He’ll appear next on Bring the Funny in the second round; the third of four episodes showing the first round of cuts airs tonight at 10 p.m.

In the meantime, Columbus Monthly asked Rife some questions about his comedy career, his aspirations and his flirtations.

When did you first realize you wanted to get involved in comedy?

I realized I wanted to get into comedy at the age of 14 when I saw Dane Cook live at Nationwide Arena with my mom.

I read you started doing comedy at 15. Where were you performing? What about those experiences got you hooked on comedy?

I got my stand-up start at 15, at the Columbus Funny Bone in Ohio. I started doing the open mics there each week. My mom and grandpa would drive me each week, and it was just so much fun to be able to make jokes the way I wanted and not get in trouble at school. And of course there’s just an adrenaline rush when you get a big laugh from a crowd—it’s pretty addicting.

How would you describe your style of stand-up?

I’d describe my style of stand-up as charmingly naive, but very real and a bit dark. I have a very dark or dry sense of humor. It’s the style of humor I most enjoy.

Do you think competing with sketch troupes and variety acts will put you at a disadvantage as a stand-up comedian? Or is your style better suited for TV audiences?

I’m definitely at a disadvantage competing against sketch and variety acts. First off, you can’t appropriately compare the three; they’re all extremely different styles of entertainment. And my stand-up isn’t exactly the most PG/family-friendly (haha). So I’m having to condense and clean up a lot of my great material to fit network standards, and that, at least to me, makes some of my material less funny. So I’m really competitive with the B version of my materials.

Who do you see right now as your biggest competition among the other acts?

I’d say my biggest competition in the show is Ali Saddiq. I’ve known him since I was about 17 years old, and he has been crushing stand-up ever since then. He’s a beast of a comic, a true veteran of performing, has had a killer Comedy Central special—he’s the real deal.

You made some headlines for your flirtations back and forth with Chrissy Teigen on the first episode. Was that a preplanned strategy to get a little more attention for your set?

Me flirting with Chrissy Teigen wasn’t really planned because I didn’t know she was going to reciprocate the interaction. She could have not been into me, and I would’ve looked ridiculous hitting on her. But she seems to like me, she’s stunning and very funny, so now it’s game on.

Win or lose, where do you see your career five years from now?

I hope to be touring the country, headlining my own shows, starring in my own developed projects and movies.

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