Greg Gutfeld has been knocking on the door of late-night television for a long, long time. For years he hosted Red Eye, which aired on Fox News at 3 a.m. More recently, he hosted The Greg Gutfeld Show for Fox at 10 p.m. on Saturdays. So it made sense that after finally getting a promotion to true late-night status—a brand-new nightly 11 p.m. talk show on Fox News—he took a moment to announce his arrival to his network TV peers. “As for those late-night shows we’re supposed to compete against: Why bother? Who do they offend?” Gutfeld asked in the opening monologue of the first episode of Gutfeld! “The only time Stephen Colbert ruffles feathers is in a pillow fight. The definition of risk to Kimmel is dehydration from crying too much. Fallon? That guy fawns more than a herd of deer.”
The implication was that Gutfeld was indifferent to the competition. And yet, having neatly dispatched his time slot rivals for being lachrymose wimps, he kept going. “They’ve got the market cornered in calling Americans stupid. To them, it was never about Trump. It’s Trump voters. It’s not about guns, but gun owners. It’s not just about destroying statues, it’s anyone who thinks math is real. It’s not the issue, it’s the easy targets. Meaning you,” said Gutfeld, speaking directly to his Trump-voting, gun-owning, math-positive viewers.
And if you did the math, then the answer was clear: that misanthropic libertarian Greg Gutfeld may well be America’s last best hope for fearless late-night TV. “Me, I like bashing creeps in power, those stupid talking piñatas in politics, entertainment, and especially the news media,” he said. “Because they’re all the same people. Or, in Zuckerberg’s case, things that look like people.” He paused briefly for a laugh that did not come.
A broad, visceral disdain of the elitist media. A smug and inaccurate sense of its own transgressiveness. A bushel of punchlines that hardly ever land. Welcome to Gutfeld! Fox News’ deeply strange new nightly talk show, which exists to offend and be offended by all the people who don’t watch while pandering to all of the people who do. On the surface, Gutfeld! could not be more different from the prime-time shows that precede it on the network: Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity, and The Ingraham Angle. At its essence, however, it is just as small and petty as its peers.
Gutfeld! debuted last week in the time slot formerly occupied by the news program Fox News @ Night, which has moved back an hour. Its host is a journeyman Fox News personality and professional obnoxious person who has been involved in various programs on the network since 2007, but who has not, before now, had the opportunity to do his solo thing at an hour when anyone is actually watching. The show’s exclamatory title can be read either as an odd command, a heartfelt cry of exasperation, or an expression of surprise that someone gave Greg Gutfeld a weeknight talk show. Say it with me: Gutfeld!
The show is the latest front in Fox News’ recent bid to remake its weeknight lineup with programs that are even more opinionated and less newsy than before, and it is the network’s first stab at a prominent comedy program since the halcyon days of the Glenn Beck Wacky Chalkboard Hour. It also continues Fox’s ongoing efforts to discourage its viewers from ever having to flip to some other channel. Before Gutfeld! Fox News viewers who liked to fall asleep to the sound of lighthearted late-night chitchat were forced to switch over to the broadcast networks to get their fix. Gutfeld! hopes to put an end to this nightly diaspora. It is the late-night talk show for people whose world begins and ends with Fox News.
I watched Gutfeld!’s debut episodes last week, and I am pleasantly surprised to tell you that it is not actually as bad as its various roasters on Twitter have said it is. To be clear, it is still very bad. The show is sort of like Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher, but for people who actually think that political correctness is the work of the devil. Each night, Gutfeld leads four rotating panelists through digressive discussions on various Fox-appropriate topics, such as the ostensible chaos in the streets of America’s Democrat-run cities and Hunter Biden’s drug problems and how much CNN sucks. The guests are a mixture of lower-leverage Fox News contributors, slumming right-wing celebrities such as Kayleigh McEnany and Eric Trump, conservative-curious comedians, and total randos. (The author Walter Kirn—that Walter Kirn!—was a guest on Tuesday night’s episode, during which he announced that “I think they do suffer from a psychiatric disorder at CNN.”) Kat Timpf is always there, and she has good chemistry with Gutfeld, who enjoys ribbing her over her ostensibly godless, dissolute lifestyle. Dan Bongino has not been on the show yet, for which we can all be grateful.
There are also comedy segments, about which the best that can be said is that they are often brief. These generally focus on mocking the Biden administration or people on other television networks. “Hello, this is Brian Williams, and I am a woolly mammoth,” went one sketch on Thursday’s show featuring a visual of the MSNBC anchor’s head pasted onto the body of a woolly mammoth. (This was by no means the only Brian Williams jab on Gutfeld! last week, for some reason.) Another recurring segment finds Gutfeld feigning to play a clip from CNN, but, surprise, it’s actually Fox News staffers pretending to be CNN guests loudly calling each other racist. This isn’t one of those bits that gets funnier through repetition, but that hasn’t stopped Gutfeld! from repeating it over and over again.
What else stinks? The show’s production design is cheap and unappealing (there’s so much orange you’d be excused for thinking the show was secretly sponsored by Tropicana), the subject matter is tedious, and the scripted dialogue is cringey. To his credit, Gutfeld seems to occasionally realize that his dialogue is weak. “Woke politics have infected sports, and Americans don’t want to play ball. How do you like that clever writing,” Gutfeld said on Thursday, and it was good to know we were all in on the same nonjoke. But also, it’s your show, Greg! If you think your lines are bad, get better lines! (If you think that you can indeed write better lines, good news: Gutfeld! is hiring.)
The host is also not as broadly irascible as he wants you to think he is. “I hate everybody!” Gutfeld ad-libbed in the debut episode. If he actually hated everybody, then Gutfeld! would be a better show. In practice, Gutfeld directs his bile almost exclusively at the standard Fox News targets: the Biden administration, the mainstream media, the activist left, and the supposed progenitors of cancel culture. But at least he seems to be having fun doing it, which counts for a lot in terms of watchability, and which is more than can be said for any of the network’s other weeknight hosts.
Is gameness enough to elevate such shoddy material? Sometimes! “A new poll finds that one-third of Americans are watching less professional sports because of increased social justice messaging in the games, but also mostly due to the success of Gutfeld!” Gutfeld said on Thursday night’s show, with a big grin on his face.
“That’s right, Greg,” a reverb-drenched voice boomed from offstage, as Gutfeld feigned surprise. “Your show is the best thing on TV. Congratulations.”
“Thank you, God,” the host said, and I actually laughed. (“God” is a recurring character on Gutfeld!) Complaining about how sports have become too woke is a classic, deathless Fox News pastime. But this tired old topic at least becomes momentarily tolerable when wrapped in a bizarre bit.
I also laughed on Monday night when Gutfeld invited three of his fellow Fox News hosts to come on the show to roast his debut performance. “I can’t believe that I stayed up three hours past my bedtime to watch this,” said Dana Perino, who co-hosts The Five with Gutfeld. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade was also underwhelmed by Gutfeld’s debut. “I had such high hopes for the show. I went up to you last week and I said, ‘Greg, you’re going to do great.’ And then I watched it, and I’m thinking to myself, What was I thinking?” Gutfeld was delighted.
I didn’t disagree with Kilmeade, but I also appreciated that Gutfeld was willing to roast his own show during its debut episode. Can you imagine Laura Ingraham doing that? (For the record, on the debut episode of The Ingraham Angle, Ingraham interviewed Gen. John Kelly about the so-called Uranium One scandal and announced that Democrats had left America “with a border more wide-open than Harvey Weinstein’s robe.” She did not bother remarking on the lameness of that line.) Can you imagine Sean Hannity convening an entire segment on the topic of free will, as Gutfeld did on Friday night? (“Let’s get this over with, Kat. … Free will or no free will?” Gutfeld asked Timpf. “I obviously don’t know, OK?” Timpf replied. Good answer!) Gutfeld! is weird and self-aware enough to be occasionally surprising and entertaining. It does not, on the surface, feel like a standard Fox News program.
Greg Gutfeld is an unusual figure on Fox News in many ways. He came to the network after a controversial career as an editor of several men’s magazines. In a 2003 profile in the New York Times, Warren St. John described Gutfeld’s tenure at the helm of Stuff as “a three-year campaign to annoy, harass, mock and traumatize, well, basically anyone he could think of, most especially editors of rival men’s magazines.” He parlayed a stint as an early contributor to the Huffington Post—where, according to a 2009 Reason interview, he chose to treat the website “like a message board for criminally insane shut-ins”—into a gig as the host of Red Eye, which aired during the zombie hour on Fox News. From there, he found his way onto The Five, where he has cultivated a persona as almost a parodic Gen X guy, distrustful of all authority except, it seems, the Republican establishment. (In 2015, he got his Saturday night program, The Greg Gutfeld Show, which was similar to Gutfeld! and ended last month.)
I find Gutfeld legitimately amusing when he is speaking off the cuff, riffing inappropriately about sex or drugs or religion. He is a reliable font of sputtering contempt on The Five, Fox’s popular late-afternoon talk show, and his interplay with the show’s more sanguine panelists actually can make the hour entertaining.
But although Gutfeld presents as a loose cannon, he tends to profess standard Trumpist dogma about the iniquities of the illiberal left and the mainstream media—a combination that explains why Fox News would trust him doing late night. The host’s orthodoxy is most clearly demonstrated in his nightly opening monologues, which might feature more jokes than you’d find on Hannity or The Ingraham Angle, but which are just as resentful, reactionary, and focused on media criticism as a means of reinforcing conservative tribal identity.
On Thursday, Gutfeld kicked things off by arguing—somehow—that the media are the real villains in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and its aftermath. Of the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin (whose name he conspicuously botched), Gutfeld said: “What happens if that outcome doesn’t go the way the media planned and hoped for? The expectations are that the cop is found guilty of murder. But are you sure that’s gonna happen? If not, what happens then? Remember the riots and the looting from last year? It’ll be back, except it’ll be way worse. The media just set the table for more ungodly mayhem.”
Blaming the media for riots that haven’t happened while pretending not to know how to pronounce the name of the cop whose actions touched off worldwide protests isn’t funny or insightful or risky—it’s just ignorant. So is constantly impugning one’s media rivals while feeding the risible persecution complex that animates modern conservatism. “The point of this show is to pull you and I out of these destructive ‘us versus them’ narratives by trying to show you how the media creates false stories to keep us engaged and angry,” Gutfeld said on Wednesday night, not bothering to dwell on what business he and his colleagues are in. “I don’t hate Dems. I don’t hate liberals. I hate the media for wanting us to hate each other. That’s their game. It’s a terrible one.”
Loudly and unceasingly criticizing “the media” as a means of fomenting distrust of all news sources except itself is Fox News’ precise game, and it’s one that all of the network’s opinion hosts have agreed to play. Greg Gutfeld the man may well be an equal-opportunity hater, but Greg Gutfeld the host of Gutfeld! knows where his paychecks come from. Gutfeld! may well be the best, most imaginative show on Fox News. But it is still a show on Fox News, which is why, at heart, Gutfeld! risks nothing. Its odd segments and occasionally funny asides are all decorative. While Gutfeld! deviates on the margins, it conforms on the stuff that actually matters to Fox News. For as long as the show exists, it will keep on pandering to viewers whose outrage about the left must be stoked and tended, professing disdain for creeps on the left while omitting all mention of creeps on the right, and advancing the culture wars one weird bit at a time.