It’s not the greatest thing for a comedic talk show when your funniest opening-week moment is unintentional.
“Gutfeld!,” Fox News Channel’s new late-night entry whose conservative/libertarian take sets it apart from talk-show competitors, explored an intriguing topic on its second night last week: the inability of some national media to get over the departure of former President Donald Trump and the mountain of material – and ratings – he provided.
So it was LOL funny when host Greg Gutfeld turned to critique “post-Trump stress” with the night’s marquee guest: Trump’s son Eric. And that was one night after former Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, the new co-host of Fox’s “Outnumbered,” was the premiere episode’s big get.
Now who is it exactly that can’t quit Trump?
Greg Gutfeld gets comfortable on the new set for his Fox News late-night show, 'Gutfeld!' (Photo: Photo provided by Fox News Channel)
Maybe “Gutfeld!” (weeknights, 11 EDT/8 PDT) sees Trump obsession only in terms of those who are critical of the former president. That points to what may be the biggest contrast between “Gutfeld!” and its late-night competitors. It’s less about structure – Gutfeld and guests riffing on the news more resembles “The View,” minus the long desk – than lead-in programming on a network intertwined with Trump and his supporters.
While Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel come on after scripted dramas and local news, “Gutfeld!” follows three hours of Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham hammering the left. It may be lighter in tone than those shows, but it serves the same red meat: criticism of the media, liberal cancel culture and Hunter Biden.
As a political chatfest, “Gutfeld!” spends much time rehashing Fox talking points. As comic relief, it’s not very funny.
Its late-night rivals, who range from apolitical/centrist to progressive, haven’t been all that tough on President Joe Biden or New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo while suffering occasional bouts of embarrassing fawning (See Fallon and “Cuomosexuals”). However, they do make jokes about both of those Democrats and others.
“Gutfeld!,” by comparison, didn’t go after right-wing sacred cows, including a huge Republican target: scandal-plagued U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. Of course, “Gutfeld!” viewers who get all their news from Fox might not even know Gaetz has a problem.
“Gutfeld!” appears boxed in by its opinion lead-ins, a contradiction for a show that cultivates a subversive tone but a potential path to ratings success. In its first four nights, “Gutfeld!” averaged 1.6 million viewers, up 400,000 from the hour’s previous average with news programming. It outranked CNN and MSNBC, tied ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and fell behind only CBS’ “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” (although both talk shows start 35 minutes later).
“Gutfeld!” was disingenuous Wednesday when its host, a regular panelist on Fox’s “The Five” and host of a former weekend show that is similar to “Gutfeld!,” laid out his credo: “The point of this show is to pull you and I out of these destructive ‘Us vs. Them’ narratives by trying to show you how the media creates false stories to keep us engaged and angry.”
That’s a point worth discussing, but it’s ludicrous coming from a host on Fox, where Us vs. Them could be the network’s motto.
Greg Gutfeld hosts the Fox News Channel late-night show, 'Gutfeld!' It premiered April 6. (Photo: Fox News Channel)
And while you’d expect “Gutfeld!” to tilt conservative, it shouldn’t make “Cancel Culture Just Got Cancelled!” its slogan if it’s going to ignore intolerance on the right. Perhaps last week’s biggest attempted cancellation was Trump’s proposed boycott of a broad swath of corporate America – Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines and others – over opposition to the controversial Republican-passed Georgia voting law. Kimmel did a fun bit on Trump’s statement; nary a word on “Gutfeld!”
At the same time, “Gutfeld!” presented multiple segments targeting baseball and other businesses protesting the new law, which critics say will make it tougher for many to vote. The show’s conversation focused more on people being called racist than the actual problem of racism.
If Gutfeld is really committed to his slogan, he could take a lesson from HBO’s Bill Maher, an old-school free-speech liberal who savages the censorious left as well as the right.
Screen grab from Republican National Convention of Eric Trump speaking. (Photo: Republican National Convention via USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
A different political perspective is a good addition to late night: The field has shown a tepid sameness at times, partly the result of gorging too long at the Trump trough. Establishment politicians and media can be condescending, so a sharp voice willing to puncture pompous egos would be welcome.
Jabs aimed at competitors, from ABC’s Kimmel to MSNBC’s Brian Williams, are fine – a little rough-and-tumble among the media elite is entertaining – but Gutfeld needs much better material.
If “Gutfeld!” takes on topics others won’t, that would be a plus, too. But so far most of the choices are obvious. Cuomo is easy to mock these days, and the program already needs time in comedy rehab after overdosing on Hunter Biden drug abuse jokes.
As president, Joe Biden is a necessary comedic target, and there’s room for a harder-edged take, but “Gutfeld!” so far has been weak. An actor impersonating Biden as a doddering old man seems like an even staler version of what Hannity has been trotting out for months. Colbert, hardly a conservative, did better last week commenting on Biden’s awkward conversational tangents, which offer plenty of good material.
Kayleigh McEnany will co-host Fox News' "Outnumbered." (Photo: SAUL LOEB, AFP via Getty Images)
A skit Wednesday featuring a faux Jen Psaki taking a Rorschach test, which skewered the Biden press secretary’s semantic approach to immigration questions, showed more promise. Thursday’s show critiqued media coverage of the summer protests that followed George Floyd’s death and Democrats’ expanding definition of infrastructure, topics likely to receive less comment elsewhere in late night.
Comedy programs take time to gel. Gutfeld has a way with self-deprecating humor and an easy rapport with regulars Kat Timpf and Tyrus, who moved over from Gutfeld’s weekend predecessor series. There was more amusing conversation on some of the less polarizing topics, such as a report on robotic dogs, but the show needs wittier guests and more focused discussion. Some of last week’s rambling discourse should give “Gutfeld!” pause about mocking old men.
But that’s just tweaking around the edges. “Gutfeld!,” judging by its first week, doesn’t seem interested in establishing a distinctive voice. It seems more comfortable just being a sheep in Fox clothing.
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