The family Rhabdoviridae contains important pathogens of humans, livestock, and crops, including the insect-transmitted vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) and the neurotropic rabies virus (RV), which is directly transmitted between mammals. In spite of a highly similar organization of RNA genomes, proteins, and virus particles, cell biology of VSV and RV is divergent in several aspects, particularly with respect to their interplay with the cellular host defense. While infection with both rhabdoviruses is recognized via viral triphosphate RNAs by the cytoplasmic RNA helicase/translocase RIG-I, the viral counteractions to limit the response are contrasting. VSV infection is characterized by a rapid general shutdown of host gene expression and severe cytopathic effects, due to multiple activities of the matrix (M) protein affecting host polymerase functions and mRNA nuclear export, and by rapid and high-level virus replication. In contrast, RV spread and transmission relies on preserving the integrity of host cells, particularly of neurons. While a general cell shutdown by RV M is not observed, RV phosphoprotein (P) has developed independent functions to interfere with activation of IRFs and with STAT signaling. The molecular mechanisms employed are different from those of the paramyxovirus P gene products serving similar functions, and illustrate evolution of IFN antagonists to specifically support virus survival in the natural niches.