Jhe first thing you notice about Gutfeld!the ratings of Greg Gutfeld, Colbert-beater, have-some-of-that-The Don-Lemon phenomenon of a late-night political-satirical talk show on Fox News is the silences. Dead air pockets. Gutfeld cracks a joke, one of his terrible jokes reliably and knowingly, and you hear not well-fed joy but crickets, tumbleweeds, a nightclub vacuum cleaner: maybe a few reluctant yucks from his guests, perhaps a cry or a moan from some hollow depth beyond the whole. It’s like he bombs his own show.
You notice, of course, because like me, you’re a simpering liberal raised on toothless consensus comedy. Were used to The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Last week tonight with John Oliver, where a one-liner on Ted Cruz’s facial hair will be bathed in enthusiastic applause. Applaud as ideology, level after level, a herd affirmation orgy.
Not for Gutfeld. His gags die of exposure, they proudly perish in a chill of horror, while the very charming Gutfeld shines and smiles and does a heavy job with his eyebrows.
Because it’s currently one of the most popular late-night shows on television, it consistently beats Jimmy Kimmel live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in the audiences and has even, on occasion, supplanted The Late Show with Stephen Colbert-I watched Gutfeld! for a week, more and more fascinated as the days went by. Here is Gutfeld on Monday. “I hope you had a good weekend,” he said. “I know I did.” A cheerful look into the camera. “Although the last thing I remember is Larry Kudlow putting on the leather mask…” Cue a split-screen with Kudlow, Donald Trump’s former economic adviser and one of Monday’s guests, cackling and rocking squeaky in his chair. What?! What is happening?
But that’s the Gutfeld vibe, and you have to get used to it. He’s not a Fox News supervillain like Hannity or Carlson; he is rude and on purpose, with a deplorable private life. It’s vanity, anyway. Now he launches into his monologue, lambasting Joe Biden for his confusing/confusing statements about Vladimir Putin. “For us,” Gutfeld says in his muscular, semi-wry WrestleMania voice, “reversing diets worked as well as dating a stripper. At least for the people I dated when I was stripping. You know what I mean?
It’s post-Trump, all of it, in the sense that Trump – the worst comedian in the world, with the weirdest timing in the world – introduced huge uncertainty into the culture about what was actually funny. And it had to happen, didn’t it: a late-night bubbly space where the pieties of all the other late-night bubbly spaces are reversed, where the jokes aren’t about Trump being orange but about the fact that Joe Biden is senile, where the lost gospel is not the Mueller report but Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Gutfeld, however, isn’t just Seth Meyers through the looking glass. The writing on Gutfeld! is goofier and more hostile, and the riffs meaner, because he has a job to do for Fox News. “When I was a kid, I had a dog named Chipper… And every time the dog went out, you’d think he was running to the park to pee or poop — you know, like the vagrants in towns run by the democrats. But no, he was still walking up the street towards the traffic. He (torturously) makes a point about liberals, but Jesus Christ – vagabonds in Democrat-run cities, peeing and pooping in the park? Nowhere in the universe is this funny. But it’s good for some of those twinkles, giggles Trumpian anti-laughter.
Gutfeld, former editor of men’s health and spent many years on the Fox Cemetery talk show Red eyes, is a proud metalhead. On the back of the clipboard containing his show notes, you can see the Horror-punk skull icon the Misfits. He has a friend (he mentions it on Tuesday) whose name is Buzzo, he’s King Buzzo, of the absurd crunch gods of the Melvins. This is important, because the love of metal gives you a sophisticated relationship with emphasis. And a sophisticated relationship with emphasis is what Gutfeld – or the character he plays on television – is all about. He’s serious/not serious, loud/empty, running errands around his own personality: “I’m never morally outraged,” he says, “because I’m so disgusting.
Once Gutfeld finished his always dreadful monologue, once the guests start talking and giving their opinions and being invited to a late night talk show, the atmosphere changes. Gutfeld is a great host. Now we have fun. Now we learn something. Did you know that Eric Trump has opinions on the state of American cinema? Could you have guessed that they involve going after left-handed celebrities and complaining about Hollywood’s obsession with representation? Maybe you could. “They don’t do good things anymore!” said Trump on Tuesday. “I mean, go back 10 years, with Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator, and, you know, those great movies…” “All white people! Gutfeld screeches in mock indignation, then smiles his dear, devilish, but oddly vulnerable smile.
Along with Gutfeld himself, two of the show’s regulars are libertarian podcaster Kat Timpf, who wears deadly looking high heels and playsfields of plenty of Gutfeldian jokes, and Tyrus, a National Wrestling champ. Alliance who sits there in a backwards baseball cap with his championship belt slung over his left shoulder, stroking it with a huge tattooed hand. They are both excellent panelists, very watchable. Tyrus’ statements in particular have a cutting, final quality to them, even when they don’t make 100% sense.
Guests are mostly Trumpers and renegades, all in bubbly mode late into the night. On Friday, Piers Morgan points out the hypocrisy of vegans drinking almond milk because the process of growing almonds is detrimental to the bee population. Why, asks the panel, should bees be less important than cows? “We attribute consciousness to size. So we assume that bees don’t think,” says the whimsical Gutfeld. “But they have their own little thoughts.” “Of course they do, yes,” says Kayleigh McEnany, former Trump press secretary. “Like Jim Acosta. He has his own thoughts.
I appreciate the doggerel: the vigorously coarse rhyming couplets with which Gutfeld opens a new segment. “Is Will Smith out of favor at the Oscars / Because he left his cool prints on Chris Rock’s face? Or – my favorite, introducing McEnany – “When she was behind the catwalk / The media needed Imodium!” And Biden’s in-house impressionist — Tom Shillue, who speaks with raspy, nonsensical reams of Biden bluster while his head, seemingly via special effect, throbs around the edges like a stubby toe — is very good.
But a week of Gutfeld! wore me out, in the end, because the messaging is relentless. “Hey there, my friends Friday friends! So how do you know you’re living in a delirium? I mean, other than Joe Biden thinking he’s president. I mean when people suddenly believe that something is going on. happens when it really isn’t. Gutfeld!, there’s no eclipse of the republic, no rising fascist slime, no QAnon nibbling at the roots of reason, and hardly any racism — or at least not as much as everyone says. There are only regulars, Gladiator-the cow-loving, cow-eating Americans, and the venomous wokery that constantly seeks to burn them. “The left in this country,” says Gutfeld, “is like this mentally ill homeless man who yells at someone on the sidewalk, but there’s actually no one there.”
East Gutfeld! a completely cynical operation? It would be cynical to say so. Gutfelders love to say naughty, unliberal things; they energetically beat the suffocating jargon of the left; and they contagiously enjoy each other’s company. But there’s a tough sell going on here. This new law on parental rights in education, for example, in Florida by Ron DeSantis, is not anti-gay. No no no. It’s not even controversial. “Like my extra nipples,” Gutfeld says, “the bill feels pretty benign to me.”
So join the program. As punk-rock gadfly Jello Biafra said in 1987, “Don’t try to think, or depression may set in.” Don’t be a growler, don’t be a complainer, don’t be a finger-wagging elitist, don’t be an eco-borer, don’t be a mentally ill homeless. Relax and spend time with Gutfeld!where the comedy will die.
This article appears in the June 2022 print edition with the title “Fox News Does Late Night”.