While we’re holed up, nestled in our echo chambers, it might be tempting to see how “the other side” is entertaining themselves. And based on the ratings, one way they’re doing it is by watching Gutfeld!, the new nightly comedy program hosted by Fox News staple Greg Gutfeld. It’s Fox’s revenge for the cringey “orange man bad” genre of Trump-era liberal comedy that became ubiquitous on late-night TV after 2016, except now the go-to themes are “Joe Biden old” and “you can’t say anything without being called racist.”
The latest entry into late night comedy is disturbing, both for its low effort and disingenuous framing of its host as an ordinary guy. Though Fox describes it as “satire,” it’s indistinguishable from any other Fox News program except for the lack of turd polish applied. The high ratings for this show are hopefully a rubbernecking phenomenon, because anyone so committed to their political beliefs that they’d sit through Gutfeld! regularly is unlikely to return to reality.
In Wednesday night’s monologue, Gutfeld pulled up a clip of a CNN reporter live from the Daunte Wright protests. Wright was killed by Minnesota cop Kim Potter, who allegedly mistook her pistol for her taser, despite 26 years on the police force. Potter has been charged with second-degree manslaughter.
Gutfeld called the police killings-to-protests-to-media-coverage loop “as familiar as a rerun of Friends except it’s the one where Rachel sets Central Perk ablaze.” The most audible laugh comes from a recurring Fox personality, Kat Timpf. The flat joke making light of state-sponsored death, an outdated reference, and weak response is a tidy encapsulation of the show.
Probably for the first time in Fox history, Gutfeld responded to a Black protestor by saying, “I love him.” Gutfeld astutely asked if media presence does in fact help, “Like adding Baileys to a cup of coffee, or does it make it worse, like adding anchovies to a pizza?” This is one of the very few discernable jokes in the monologue. Another is that CNN President Jeff Zucker has more home surveillance than El Chapo. Gutfeld called the shooting “unacceptable” but then goes on to talk about how mistakes like these are unavoidable in the act of traffic stops, though more politically imaginative people know this isn’t true.
There is no clear need Gutfeld! serves that isn’t better serviced by Tucker Carlson Tonight or a visibly intoxicated judge. The former is more transparent than Gutfeld; the latter is funnier. Gutfeld! is exactly like any other Fox News programming, save for its scattering of pre-recorded bits that have the production value of a high school conservative sketch troupe. Carlson’s show runs three hours before Gutfeld’s, and is much more to-the-point with its schtick of peddling right-wing talking points. Most recently, Carlson has been laundering white supremacist statements by talking about white replacement in America, to the delight of at least one popular white nationalist website.
Despite the show’s main thrust being Gutfeld regurgitating baby-birded Carlson monologues, the show is new. This is ostensibly why it’s doing so well, ratings-wise. Fox News issued a press release proclaiming that Gutfeld “crushed” Fallon and “nearly tied” Jimmy Kimmel with an average of 1,570,000 viewers, a fact that is difficult to find any utility in, besides providing a mental image of a large number of dumb people.
“Me, I like bashing creeps in power, those stupid talking piñatas in politics, entertainment, and especially the news media,” Gutfeld said in his first monologue on the show’s April 5 premiere, blasting cancel culture with a straight face, and promising to do so nightly at 11 p.m. “It's democratized media destruction, putting a joker mask on reality,” he said of Twitter and cancel culture, as he glared into the camera. The Joker wore makeup, not a mask, and it’s this sloppiness in technical construction that makes the show both an aesthetic and ethical disaster.
Yet somehow, Gutfeld! is packaged as hovering above simple red-blue lines. “The point of this show is to pull you and I out of these destructive us-versus-them narratives,” Gutfeld said to explain his new program. In a way, he delivered on his bipartisan appeal: comedy critics of all political orientations and Gutfeld!’s in-studio audience are equally unable to tell where the jokes are. In a rather us-versus-them statement from another monologue, Gutfeld said, “Turns out COVID is the best thing to happen to criminals since Democrats. Welcome to Clown World.”
Of course, there are liberal late night TV shows that flub; see Jimmy Fallon recently shutting down his guest, John Oliver, when he asked an Amazon Alexa device what union busting is. But the usual late-night hosts don’t make bold pronouncements of their brave, take-no-prisoners mentality. For all the faults of the Kimmels and Fallons, they don’t bark into the camera about their monologue being a treatise testing the bounds of humor and free speech. But Gutfeld appears to have taken the approach of “Tucker Carlson with a spinning bowtie,” making for unpalatable television.
On the first show, Gutfeld checked in with some colleagues for a performance review. Since his logo looks like Garfield’s, Fox commentator Dana Perino joked, “You’re 25 minutes into your first show and we already have our first lawsuit.” Actual lawsuits filed against Fox News include a $1.6 billion defamation suit from Dominion Voting Systems, and multiple sexual harassment lawsuits against its hosts. Two of those hosts have appeared on Gutfeld, and one of them—Tucker Carlson— was on that same segment. That’s comedy.
Pointing out hypocrisy on Gutfeld! is like ridiculing a guy’s white robe and hood for its ketchup stains. But there are so many examples. In one panel, Gutfeld and his guests talk about the liberal media’s obsession with former President Trump, as the camera occasionally cuts to panelist Eric Trump. On Wednesday night, Lara Trump was a panelist on Gutfeld!, reminiscing about her father-in-law’s interactions with the press, saying “He used to love to walk out there, ‘Alright, let's go, the fake news!' Everybody loved that.”
For those who want to be the change they wish to see in conservative comedy, the show is currently hiring a freelance writer. If you want the opportunity to be paid to squeeze out a laugh instead of cringing in silence, Fox is looking for audience members on Eventbrite.