Greg Gutfeld, subversive.
Aug 2, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 43 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
The Bible of Unspeakable Truths
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.
Gutfeld himself has become a cult figure, which is why a legit publishing house like Grand Central has put out The Bible of Unspeakable Truths, a collection of his random writings—his feuilletons, as Gutfeld would never call them in a million years. Aside from the nightly interview with a talking copy of the New York Times and the earnest comments from the cherry-lipped lemon tarts brought in from the Fox newsroom, the highlight of Red Eye is usually the “Gregalogue,” a 90-second editorial, or rant, in which the host takes off after whatever news item or personage has annoyed him that day. Many Gregalogues are reprinted here, in revised, unexpurgated form, and only a handful would be appropriate for quotation in a Books & Arts section like this one. It turns out that George Carlin was wrong: There are more than seven words you can’t say on television, and they’re all here.
A lot of readers will object to some of these pieces—well, many of these pieces—most, actually—on grounds of aesthetics or taste. It’s worth mentioning, in rebuttal, that Gutfeld’s stuff is also an artifact of a degraded era. If the Atlantic Monthly, the magazine of William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, and E. B. White, can serve as a platform from which its senior editor writes—candidly!—of a “final orgasm that drained every last drop of desire or need from my body,” surely the conservative movement can tolerate a writer who toys in public with the idea of going to Thailand as a sex tourist. At least the conservative guy is joking.
Gutfeld’s conservatism is mostly negative—his catalogue of dislikes ranges from Doonesbury to Mensa to any tattoo not found on a longshoreman—but it’s not nihilistic. Flip it over and you’ll find a cogent, nontraditional defense of traditional wisdom. The closest he comes to a statement of principles is this:
Then he makes a joke about Tom Sizemore and bathrooms.
Gutfeld is often referred to as a conservative/libertarian version of Jon Stewart and Bill Maher. The comparison to Maher, an idiot, is an insult to Gutfeld, but Stewart’s style and skill bring him nearer the mark. As a conservative, the host of Red Eye doesn’t enjoy the limitless slack given the host of the Daily Show, who can flatter his audience, reaffirm their hidden assumptions, grovel before preferred presidential candidates, and still manage to be labeled daring and even subversive, a real teller of truth-to-power. Gutfeld’s stuff actually is subversive, a stink bomb hurled into every faculty lounge, mainstream newsroom, movie studio, and nonprofit boardroom in America. He’s the most dangerous man on television. And unlike Stewart, he writes his own material.
Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and the author of Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College.
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