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The Tyranny of Hotness

A beautiful person is so often a confrontation. Even in silence, symmetrical features announce their presence and elicit a reaction: desire, admiration, curiosity, resentment, belittlement, rage or envy. The response is rarely neutral.

In this way, beautiful people are different from comedians who have to work for a crowd’s attention. Comics choreograph their lines, pauses and gestures to get a laugh. Then they practice, and fail, and practice more. Why would an attractive person toil for a reaction if they don’t have to?

This is why my colleague Jason Zinoman, The Times’s comedy critic, recently chose to disclose a bias of his: He is skeptical of attractive men in comedy. And he isn’t alone. The conventional wisdom is that male comics need to be relatable, not hot, lest their beauty distract from the bit. But that may be changing.

Stand-up stages are crawling with beautiful men. Chris Rock is showing off his abs. Jimmy Fallon smiles boyishly on late night. Trevor Noah and his dimples date actresses. An industry once known for nerdy, affable guys — Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Newhart, Jim Gaffigan — is becoming another venue for charmers. One annoyed late night writer complained to his peers: “You’ve let the popular kids appropriate the very art form that helped you deal.”

No one represents this shift better than Matt Rife, a cartoonishly hot man who became famous by posting his comedy on TikTok. The platform’s algorithms, which funnel attention toward people who could be in perfume ads, led to more viral videos. On Wednesday, he made his comedic debut on Netflix, with a special entitled “Natural Selection.”

Rife leans into his sex appeal. He styles his hair like a member of BTS, posts workout clips online and uses a shirtless photo on his website.

But his beauty doesn’t only explain his popularity; it’s become part of his act. In the trailer for “Natural Selection,” he smiles for photos with screaming women and is mock arrested by police officers who, like Zinoman, are skeptical of his mixing of cheekbones with comedy. “Why did the algorithm choose you?” one asks. “I heard he got lip filler,” another replies.

In another video, Rife laments his good fortune: “I can’t even hang myself because my jawline will cut the rope,” he said, adding a curse word.

Like a tyrant, Rife’s beauty rules his comedy. But he’s not a victim — the day after his special was released, it became the No. 1 TV show on Netflix in the U.S. Royalties have a way of taking the sting out of envy.

Read more of Jason’s critique and our story on how Rife blew up.

  • U.N. workers who visited Al-Shifa, the major Gaza hospital that the Israeli military stormed four days ago, called it a “death zone.”

  • The team said several patients had died because of a lack of medical services, and reported signs of gunfire inside the hospital.

  • Israel’s seizure of Al-Shifa is central to its plan to eradicate Hamas. So far it is not clear the strategy is working, write Eric Schmitt, Ronen Bergman and Adam Goldman.

  • Parts of southern Gaza were hit by airstrikes, according to the U.N. and a Palestinian news agency, even as the Israeli military warns residents to evacuate from the north to the south.

  • President Biden used an opinion piece in The Washington Post to call for an end to extremist violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. He said the U.S. was prepared to issue visa bans against attackers.

Students are experiencing a learning loss crisis. All levels of government need to devote substantial resources to make up for lost ground, the Times editorial board writes.

Here are columns by Maureen Dowd on David Axelrod vs. Biden and Ross Douthat on Nikki Haley.

The Sunday question: Is the Supreme Court’s ethics code a step in the right direction?

Recent reports about the justices’ conduct caused many Americans to lose trust, and the new code they have adopted will allow the court to regain that trust if they “show they are following the new rules they have set,” The Washington Post’s editorial board writes. But no one besides the justices themselves can hold them accountable, and “‘trust us’ is never an adequate answer, especially when dealing with matters of ethics,” Erwin Chemerinsky writes for The Los Angeles Times.

Earlier this year I spoke with Emma Chamberlain, a pioneer of YouTube virality, about the psychological costs of online fame.

Do you think there’s a natural shelf life to being a YouTube star? Both in terms of the star’s ability to keep doing it and the audience staying interested?

Yes. This schedule that YouTubers put themselves on is rigorous. There’s pressure to be producing at a level that is unrealistic. Inevitably people burn out or they become too obsessed with being consistent, and they never take time off to evolve their creative side, so it becomes stale.

Your life is different from what it was when you started on YouTube: You’re in Lancôme campaigns. You’re at the Met Gala. Do you worry that the rarefied circumstances of your life now might chip away at your relatability?

I have thought about this a lot. And guess what? People who have one follower on Instagram? There is no difference between me and those people. I think a lot of celebrities don’t feel that way. There are some who have this experience, and they feel immortal, unstoppable. I know that’s not true.

Unlike movie stars or reality-TV stars or even online influencers, the YouTube celebrity is still such a new phenomenon that we don’t have much in the way of templates for what a career that started in that space tends to look like. But do you have any sense of what your arc might look like?

I have vague ideas of things that I might want to pursue when I’m older. Also, if I want to quit, maybe I quit! Maybe when I’m 30, I’ll be like, I’m done. I’m going to open up a tiny coffee shop and work there and get married and have babies. No one knows!

Read more of the interview here.

If you have a frozen turkey, allow one day of thawing in the refrigerator for every four pounds of bird, and choose from our best turkey recipes. Today is a good day to plan your table setup and pick out serveware, napkins, unscented candles and drinking glasses.

Get ahead with this mashed potato casserole, which can be made two days before Thanksgiving.

Stop bedbugs from coming home with you from vacation.

Add warmth to your home with these Christmas lights.

What to Watch For

  • Argentina is holding a runoff presidential election today.

  • Biden will turn 81 and pardon two turkeys tomorrow.

  • The Netherlands has elections on Wednesday.

  • Thursday is Thanksgiving.

What to Cook This Week

Fresh ricotta is one of those magic ingredients that elevate a dish, Emily Weinstein writes in the Five Weeknight Dishes newsletter. She recommends mixing it into a pasta bake, dolloping it on a charcuterie board or using it as a cloudlike base for squash on toast — a great Thanksgiving appetizer.

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