On April 5, Fox News debuted a weeknight show called Gutfeld! in the 11 o’clock hour, a slot that other networks reserve for the likes of Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and Stephen Colbert. Hosted by a longtime Fox contributor named Greg Gutfeld, the new show promises to take on the liberal late-night hosts who have “the market cornered in calling Americans stupid.” The show was a crowning achievement for its host, and it logged high ratings on its first night, but Gutfeld’s presence in the Fox lineup mostly just underscores how far the conservative media has drifted from anything that can remotely be called comedy.
Greg Gutfeld has been around for a long time, and he has always been a conservative, but his career has been more picaresque than partisan—more Tucker Max than Tucker Carlson. In the early 2000s, he cultivated a reputation as a media industry prankster, once hiring three dwarfs to invade a magazine conference. He later did a short stint overseas as the editor of the British men’s monthly Maxim before returning to the States in 2006 to become the sole conservative blogger in the Huffington Post dugout. All the while, he pumped out the kind of books sold in airport bookstores: In The Scorecard, he established a tally system for heterosexual relationships (a man who picked up the dry cleaning scored three points), while he exposed “the hipster elite and their war on you” in Not Cool.
In 2007, Gutfeld landed a spot as the anchor of the late-late-late-night Fox News show Red Eye, an insane comedic farce that mixed the vitriol of Rush Limbaugh with the giddiness of a tween high on Mountain Dew. Gutfeld speculated about fornicating with roadkill, said we should invade Canada, and chatted with a hand-drawn creature named Fluffy McNutter. His mother sometimes called in as the “senior correspondent.” When he left the show in 2015, even The New Yorker praised his unorthodox sense of humor.
The new Gutfeld! has some traces of the bizarro humor Gutfeld perfected on Red Eye—he features a sonorous “God” voice that bellows encouragement from offstage—but for the most part, it offers a more self-deprecating version of what Carlson and the other Fox News doomsayers are already selling. There are jokes about Kamala Harris putting kids in cages; there is a segment that roasts CNN; there is an interview with Eric Trump. Even Gutfeld seems to sense that there are now better vehicles for communicating conservative talking points than comedy, pausing awkwardly after he delivers one-liners.
How to explain this malaise? Even if Gutfeld were right that the left had sacrificed its sense of humor on the altar of political correctness, something comparable has happened on the right in recent years. The current Fox News lineup is a dark place, a litany of rants about catastrophic immigration and socialist apocalypse. There is no way to make these things funny, and Fox has never really tried to; it’s no accident that Gutfeld! only debuted once the network was rid of Trump, the one subject about which its hosts were not permitted to joke. Their real mission is no laughing matter.