The Magazine

Fox’s Nightowl

Greg Gutfeld, subversive.

Aug 2, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 43 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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The Bible of Unspeakable Truths
by Greg Gutfeld
Grand Central, 304 pp., $24.99

Fox’s Nightowl

When people close their eyes and think of Greg Gutfeld—more people do this than you might realize—they probably see a beefed-up dude dressed in Downtown black commanding the set of his own late-night TV show. When I close my eyes and think of Gutfeld, by contrast, I see a slenderer and much younger fellow with a thick head of tastefully moussed hair and a fifty-pound mail sack slung casually over his shoulder, hoping to impress the (female) interns and failing. How the Gutfeld of my memory—the wild man who ran the mail room at the American Spectator, where we both worked in the 1980s—became the much-fawned-over and much-reviled Gutfeld who hosts Red Eye, Fox News Channel’s weirdest and coolest broadcast, is something I’ll never be able to figure out.

In the introduction to his new book, Gutfeld refers to his “unique and somewhat perplexing career,” so he can’t figure it out, either. He came to the Spectator from UC Berkeley, which did not normally operate as a franchise in the Spectator’s farm system, and after he had mastered the trade of fielding faxes and slinging envelopes, he moved on to a series of magazine jobs that accelerated in importance and implausibility. At Prevention, Rodale’s health-and-fitness bulletin, he once captioned an illustration with the deathless (to me, anyway) sentence: “Abs are this year’s biceps.” He went on to edit Men’s Health, filling the office air with Marlboro smoke and frightening the natives. From there he became top dog at Stuff, then as now a girly mag designed to be read with one hand by pimply teenage boys. 

Having grander ambitions, Gutfeld brought Stuff to grander heights, managing in the meantime to keep the teenagers sated—and in large numbers: Subscriptions increased by more than fifty percent under his editorship. The greatest of his achievements, though, was not specifically commercial, or even editorial. But it did get him fired. At a Manhattan gathering of magazine editors, held annually so they can award prizes to one another and ponder their indispensable contribution to the nation’s cultural life, a panel discussion was convened on the topic of “Buzz”how to get it, how to keep it, how to make it pay. Gutfeld hired three dwarves to attend the session, take seats in the front row, munch loudly from bags of potato chips, make calls on their cell phones, ridicule whatever the participants said, and break wind. The “buzz” that followed was teeth-rattling, but it was the wrong kind of buzz. He was fired from his next job, too, at Maxim, for running an article called “The Ikea Sex Party.” I guess Ikea objected.

This isn’t the usual professional path to an on-air job at Fox News—although if you told me that Sean Hannity once wrote the words “Abs are the new biceps” I wouldn’t fall over in a dead faint. (I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that Bill O’Reilly had hired three dwarves once upon a time, either.) In the early days of the Huffington Post, Gutfeld briefly served as the house conservative blogger, and his inspired, lunatic ridicule of his leftwing fellow Huffers may have led Roger Ailes, the founding father of Fox News Channel, to hire him and give him a show. The larger question is how a man could be sufficiently elastic in his tastes to find both Greta van Susteren and Greg Gutfeld appealing. Maybe Ailes figured that because Gutfeld’s show would air during the graveyard shift, at 3 A.M., the network didn’t have much to lose. If the idea was to keep the show on the QT, however, it was a bad idea. Despite the absurd hour, Red Eye has acquired a large and intensely loyal audience, thanks in part to the magic of TiVo. I’ve met several Washingtonians who go to bed at a normal Washington bedtime—eight-thirty, nine—and watch the previous night’s Red Eye while downing their GoLean the next morning. 

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