Gutfeld!: A Monument To Lazy Conservative Comedy

Gutfeld! Is Fox News’ Answer To Colbert — But Doesn’t Try To Be Good At It
(TPM illustration/YouTube)

Gutfeld! is Fox News’ weekday late night show hosted by Greg Gutfeld that promises to “look at the news of the day through a satiric lens fused with pop culture” and “feature refreshing, light-hearted takes on the day’s top headlines” from various guests. The show debuted in April, and it’s been an undeniable success since then, rising above almost all other late night comedy programs in the ratings, according to Nielsen. It was also among the ten top rated cable news shows in November (all the other programs with higher ratings were also Fox shows, reinforcing the right-wing outlet’s status as the country’s most-watched TV network).

So, wanting to see why Gutfeld! apparently had so many people slappin’ their knees, I watched several hours of the show. I emerged with no answer, though I had a new question instead: Why does this show exist?

I’d already seen several painful clips of the show floating around Twitter before I watched it in full, so my expectations were appropriately calibrated to “pretty low.” And now I can safely confirm: Gutfeld! is indeed a bad show.

But what shocked me wasn’t just how bad it was. What shocked me more than anything was seeing how Fox doesn’t seem to care that it’s bad.

The show’s format is fairly bland: Gutfeld begins the segment with a monologue about a particular topic (almost always a tired culture war “issue” for conservatives, i.e. trans athletes and woke college students). He then turns to a group of panelists (usually made up of other Fox hosts and contributors) who are expected to serve up predictable anti-woke takes.

During Gutfeld’s monologue, you will be subjected to “jokes” like the following: 

  • “He churns out fake news like the Amish do butter.”
  • “They want their campus free of cops the same way their brains are free of thought.”
  • “They fell as silent as President Biden looking for his shoes in the fridge.”
  • “These people are sending more mixed messages than a straight hairdresser.”

Those are all jokes that someone got paid with money to write. Those jokes are almost proud in their laziness, and even the live audience in the episodes I watched seemed to recognize that they were almost proud in their laziness because too many times Gutfeld would make a quip like the above, only to be met with a few polite laughs or even silence.

Gutfeld!’s brand of network-news friendly conservative humor isn’t brimming with quite the same toxicity as the kind of right-wing “comedy” you’ll find online. For example, you won’t see Gutfeld sell shirts on his web store emblazoned with “guns don’t kill people, Alec Baldwin kills people” or see him reenact George Floyd’s death like gleefully racist YouTuber Steven Crowder.

But in the post-Trump era, predictable cruelty is a mainstay of conservatives’ efforts to be funny, and Gutfeld!’s punchlines made no effort to break from that mold. A trans female athlete looks like a man and it’s hilarious she thinks otherwise! Alec Baldwin fatally shot someone and that’s a very funny thing that happened! College students are hypersensitive woke babies for protesting police brutality and those snowflakes need to get a job!

Also, weirdly, I don’t think there was a single episode I watched in which Gutfeld didn’t make a fat joke about CNN correspondent Brian Stelter.

Sometimes the show would spring a jokey “alarm” or bit on the audience depending on whatever Gutfeld was discussing, like this gem:

Extreme “Graphic design is my passion” energy here

To make the whole thing even more awkward, too often Gutfeld would attempt to volley to panelists who didn’t seem all that interested in hitting the ball back, and would even direct something like disdain toward poor Gutfeld for even trying.

In one episode, Gutfeld directed his snark at Bill Nye the Science Guy’s videos about President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan. But Gutfeld’s efforts to find a punchline fell completely flat when one of his guests, author Peter Boghossian, told the host that he was “being too hard” on the videos.

“I honestly don’t understand what the problem is,” Boghossian said. Kat Timpf, one of the regular panelists on the show, agreed, saying that “if they had fun” making the videos, “then I’m glad for them.”

Their earnestness poured a giant bucket of ice on the discussion, and in a particularly excruciating moment, Gutfeld sheepishly admitted out loud that the whole segment was a flop. “Let’s be honest, it was a slow news day. And you know, you always try to look for some funny video. That’s all it was,” he confessed.

Oh man. Few things inspire more second-hand embarrassment than watching a “comedy host” almost apologize to you.

Timpf really didn’t seem like she was getting paid enough to be involved in this mess. At one point, she expressed open disbelief at what the show was doing.

“I don’t know why we’re doing this topic,” she remarked when Gutfeld tried to discuss a former CNN producer who got arrested for inducing minors to sex. “There’s only one take on this, and that is that it’s bad … Is anyone else excited to talk about the pedophile?”

And there were moments in at least two of the episodes I watched when Gutfeld tried to get Timpf to engage with his corny quips that led her to stare at the camera like Jim from “The Office.”

“You know, Kat, I should be ‘Man of the Year’ for rescuing late night from the humorless left,” Gutfeld told the panelist.

Timpf:

Or take this moment with Tyrus, a wrestler who’s a regular on the show, when Gutfeld joked that Santa had to sit on Tyrus’ lap when he was a kid:

As I mentioned earlier, the guest panelists were usually other Fox hosts or conservative pundits. In one episode they had former Trump adviser-turned-Fox-Business-host Larry Kudlow — Larry Kudlow! — as a guest, during which he somberly opined that the Fox News Christmas tree arson was a “hate crime against Christmas.”

And occasionally there were dollar store SNL skits like this one:

Guys, this is Not A Good Show.

Some might say that comedy is subjective, but “Chris Cuomo is in more hot water than a package of ramen noodles” is an objectively atrocious joke, and I refuse to believe that whichever Fox producer allowed Gutfeld to utter that sentence didn’t know it was an atrocious joke, which brings me to my point.

The lazy jokes, the D-tier skits, the shallow discussion topics, the panelists who sometimes come off like a Fox producer’s waving a gun at them behind the camera — this show is not interested in being quality television. Nor is it really interested in “rescuing late night from the humorless left.”

Everything you hear Gutfeld and the panelists say is essentially what you heard for three hours before that episode; that is, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham’s shows, which line up before Gutfeld!.

Gutfeld! doesn’t try to be clever, but maybe that’s not why this show exists. Maybe it just exists to feed an aggrieved audience a watered-down Tucker Carlson, delivered with a smirk and less overt white nationalism. The audience is there, it’s still watching, and it wants more of the same. 

So why isn’t Gutfeld! a funny show? Because it doesn’t have to be, and Fox doesn’t have to try to make it one.

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