For more than eight years, Fox News has been broadcasting a 3 A.M. program called ‘Red Eye,’ an odd and often funny late-night show that is not exactly satire, and not exactly anything else, either. Its sensibility is snarky and surreal, thanks to its host, Greg Gutfeld, a former magazine editor who adopts a tone of half-sarcastic alarm, as if he can’t decide which is more annoying: the politician he is talking about, or the fact that he has to talk about politicians.
Last month, Jon Stewart declared that he would be leaving “The Daily Show,” after sixteen years. One of many writers who paid him tribute was Oliver Morrison, in The Atlantic, who used the opportunity to consider the relationship between comedy and ideology.
“From the beginning, ‘Red Eye’ was cheerfully repetitive, finding humor in a series of running gags. Gutfeld liked to introduce guests with absurd, sexually suggestive hypotheticals that were meant to be flattering. On Greg Proops, the comedian: ‘If hilarity were a telethon, I’d do him in front of a bunch of sick kids’.”
Stewart’s former colleague, Stephen Colbert, once joked that “reality has a well-known liberal bias.” Morrison wondered whether political satire, too, might have a liberal bias. He noted that liberal humor would live on, thanks to programs such as “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” on HBO. But he couldn’t identify an equivalent tradition on the other side of the political spectrum. “Why,” he asked, “hasn’t a conservative Daily Show found its own place on Fox?”
“Gutfeld probably regretted offending Canadian troops and their family members, but he was probably also pleased that his biggest scandal involved the phrase ‘gorgeous white Capri pants’.”
It wasn’t clear whether Morrison meant to refer to the Fox Broadcasting Company, which isn’t known for politics, or to Fox News, which isn’t known for comedy. (Why couldn’t a conservative comedy show air on Comedy Central, the ostensibly nonpartisan network that broadcasts “The Daily Show”?) But for more than eight years, Fox News has been broadcasting a 3 A.M. program called “Red Eye,” an odd and often funny late-night show that is not exactly satire, and not exactly anything else, either. Its sensibility is snarky and surreal, thanks to its host, Greg Gutfeld, a former magazine editor who adopts a tone of half-sarcastic alarm, as if he can’t decide which is more annoying: the politician he is talking about, or the fact that he has to talk about politicians. It sounds like faint praise to call “Red Eye” the funniest and most unpredictable program on cable news, but that’s what it is—or, rather, that’s what it was.
Last week, Gutfeld announced that he, like Stewart, would be leaving late night—in his case, to develop a new weekend program for Fox News. (“Red Eye” will continue, with a different host.) In his article, Morrison discussed Gutfeld in a dismissive paragraph, judging that his humor was often “hackneyed,” and “far . . . from working in prime time.” In fact, Gutfeld is a familiar presence on the network’s two highest-rated programs: he is a regular member of the panel on “The Five,” an afternoon talk show, and a guest and occasional guest host for Bill O’Reilly, at eight. Somehow, Gutfeld—the proprietor of a program whose continued existence once seemed like both a secret and a mystery—has become one of the most prominent faces on Fox News.
From the beginning, “Red Eye” was cheerfully repetitive, finding humor in a series of running gags. Gutfeld liked to introduce guests with absurd, sexually suggestive hypotheticals that were meant to be flattering. (On Greg Proops, the comedian: “If hilarity were a telethon, I’d do him in front of a bunch of sick kids.”) For a time, Andy Levy served as the show’s pesky “ombudsman,” delivering persnickety or off-topic corrections during a “halftime report” in the middle of the show. “You said we need to weaponize space,” Levy told Gutfeld, one night, deadpan. “Actually, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prohibits the U.S. or any other signatory nation from installing any kind of nukes or weapons of mass destruction in space, and limits the use of the moon and other celestial bodies to purely peaceful reasons.”
“…Red Eye” was often “nauseating”—not to mention inane, ramshackle, mindlessly sarcastic, sneakily smart, patently absurd, and generally refreshing. But he would be quick to point out that the show never had anything like twenty million viewers…”
Sometimes, Gutfeld tweaked cable-news conventions, as when he purported to address banking reform by convening a sixteen-person panel of experts, including familiar Fox News personalities such as John Bolton, and markedly unfamiliar ones, such as Rosie O’Donnell. As he introduced them, they appeared (or seemed to appear) live, forming a four-by-four matrix of pundit redundancy—by which point it was time, of course, for Gutfeld to thank them all, by name, and then end the segment. Other times, the show came joyfully unmoored from those conventions, as when Levy, throwing the broadcast back to Gutfeld, suddenly began quoting “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”:
GUTFELD: Thank you, Andy.
LEVY: Get you gone, you dwarf; you minimus, of hindering knot-grass made; you bead, you acorn. Greg.
GUTFELD: Why rebuke you him that loves you so?
LEVY: I apologize for nothing.
This last line was Levy’s catchphrase, and it also served as a constant reminder of the time, in 2009, when Gutfeld was obliged to apologize to the Canadian military, after a particularly irreverent discussion. The head of the Canadian land forces had said that the Army might need “a short operational break” lasting “at least one year” following its engagement in Afghanistan. Gutfeld had wondered whether this might not be “the perfect time to invade this ridiculous country,” adding, “The Canadian military wants to take a breather, to do some yoga, paint landscapes, run on the beach in gorgeous white Capri pants.” Gutfeld probably regretted offending Canadian troops and their family members, but he was probably also pleased that his biggest scandal involved the phrase “gorgeous white Capri pants.”
For all his seeming clumsiness, Gutfeld had a remarkable knack for saying ridiculous things without getting himself fired. (When one guest, a musician, set his electric guitar ablaze, Gutfeld was afraid that he might face punishment; he concluded, when no punishment came, that none of the executives stayed up late enough to watch his show.) On Friday night, during his final broadcast, he revisited some favorite old segments, including an excellent clip of Mick Foley, the former professional wrestler, mistaking Chris Barron, a co-founder of the gay conservative group GOProud, for Chris Barron, the lead singer of the Spin Doctors. (“I looked you up, man,” said Foley, sounding embarrassed but also disappointed—he had prepared a zinger about “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.”) “I dare you to find one boring moment,” Gutfeld said, sounding uncharacteristically earnest. “Excluding this one.” Read the rest of this entry »