Fox News host Greg Gutfeld is out with a new book entitled “The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph Over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage.” In full and fair disclosure, I haven’t actually read it. But I’m not going to let that stop me from weighing in.
Gutfeld is the host of “Red Eye,” Fox News’ rambunctious late night (actually overnight) talk show. “Red Eye” premiered in February 2007 to zero fanfare. There was a great deal of fanfare, however, for another show that debuted on Fox News that same month: “The ½ Hour News Hour,” which was supposed to be the conservative answer to “The Daily Show.” I had high hopes for “Half Hour.” Conservatives, of course, are constantly the butt of jokes from every corner of the popular culture. Finally, I thought, we’d have one show that would turn the tables: conservatives would be ridiculing the many liberals who deserved it. I so wanted the show to be funny. And it so wasn’t. I kept tuning in for several weeks, hoping against hope that the show would work out the kinks. I finally accepted that those weren’t the kinks; that was the show. The liberal monopoly on political humor was safe, at least for the time being.
Shortly after I gave up on “Half Hour” (and shortly before Roger Ailes followed suit), I accidentally stumbled upon “Red Eye.” After arriving home in the middle of the night from an overseas trip, I reflexively switched on the TV. I listened with half an ear while I unpacked, but the show quickly pulled me in. A panel with diverse opinions was discussing current issues, with the host’s conservative-to-libertarian views providing something of a center of gravity. What really grabbed me, though, was the show’s tone. The discussion was infused with the type of silliness you have to be smart to pull off — a feigned adolescence that was clearly satirical. It was quite unique and it made me laugh — not out of loyalty or obligation, as had been the case with “Half Hour,” but because the host and his guests kept saying things that were surprising and funny. I couldn’t believe I was watching Fox News. I couldn’t imagine that the suits at that network — or at any network, for that matter — would find the show remotely amusing. But I certainly did (and have since learned that I wasn’t alone).
After that first night, I looked forward to catching “Red Eye” when I could. There was so much that was unique and enjoyable about the show: its slightly amateurish feel, which actually enhanced the comedy; the bizarre videos that went on for way too long, but were funny precisely because they went on for way too long; the sly wit of the show’s “ombudsman,” Andy Levy; the silly inside jokes (including always referring to said ombudsman, a television novice, with the absurdly tautological moniker of “TV’s Andy Levy”). What I most enjoyed, though, was watching Gutfeld and others express conservative views in such a hip and entertaining manner. There were plenty of non-conservative views expressed on “Red Eye,” of course — that was part of the fun — but to see conservative views expressed that way was a stereotype-busting revelation.
With its motley assortment of guests — comedians, distinguished political types, underground music legends and everything in between — “Red Eye” manages to capture the vibe of a bunch of friends out for drinks at a local bar.
That vibe is fleshed out by constant playful banter, much of which has undertones that could only be described as, ahem, homoerotic. I don’t take kindly to the bashing of my gay relatives and friends, and usually don’t expect the combination of “conservative” and “gay-themed humor” to end well. Gutfeld, however, is one conservative who can be trusted to go there. With a healthy dose of self-deprecation, he somehow manages to steer clear of the hateful offensiveness without sacrificing the humor or the edge.
Over the past five years, Gutfeld has parlayed his unique brand of off-the-wall political humor into a position of prominence. Some conservatives believe that Gutfeld is our answer to Jon Stewart. But I don’t see much similarity between Stewart’s heavily written, heavily produced corporate comedy and the free-flowing, unforced humor that springs organically from “Red Eye.” Stewart is the stodgy establishment to Gutfeld’s subversive counterculture. Gutfeld is loose, Stewart tightly wound. Stewart is hugely talented and very smart, but not as smart as he thinks he is. Gutfeld, on the other hand, is clearly smarter than the character he often plays on TV. Beneath his clown mask, Gutfeld is quite an insightful commentator who, in my biased conservative opinion, grasps the inherent contradictions of modern liberalism in a way that Stewart can’t.
But the comparison with Stewart is valid in one respect: Stewart has become an important player in the liberal movement, and I believe that Gutfeld is on his way to becoming an important player in the conservative movement. Gutfeld speaks to the dissonance of conservatives, especially young ones, who are avid fans of a popular culture shaped by people who despise conservatives. (That’s why the spectacle of Chris Christie pining after Bruce Springsteen, as pathetic as it is, is also poignant.) Gutfeld, who is as hip to pop culture as they come, uses his hipness and humor as weapons to fight back on our behalf. He turns the comedic tables on the intolerant bullies of the left, helping us laugh at them just as hard as they laugh at us. No one is better at skewering the overfed egos and undernourished intellects of liberal celebrities. In eschewing “coolness” as it’s defined by the guardians of our popular culture, Gutfeld makes it cool to be conservative.
But while Gutfeld has strong appeal with conservatives, his greatest upside lies in his potential to cross over. His irreverent style is pitch-perfect for a younger audience, combining a righteous judgmentalism about people’s hypocrisy with a refreshing lack of judgmentalism about their lifestyles. It’s a style that can resonate not only with younger folks, but with others who have not traditionally welcomed the conservative message. A lot of Republican leaders have been moping around after the election, trying to figure out how to communicate our values to young voters and others who went for Obama. They could learn something by watching “Red Eye.”
Evidently, the brass at Fox News shares my assessment. They gave Gutfeld a co-hosting gig on another hugely entertaining show, “The Five.” And Gutfeld was tapped to guest host the network’s prime-time flagship, “The O’Reilly Factor,” last Friday. (It would’ve been great if Gutfeld had introduced his “O’Reilly” guests “Red Eye” style: “Please welcome Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. If political acumen were the speed limit, I’d violate him in my car.”)
As I noted at the start, I haven’t read Gutfeld’s new book. It’s not because I’m lazy, although there is that. Not having read the book allows me to review it with an objective distance that might elude other reviewers. But seriously, folks, I’m scheduled to pick up my copy at a book-signing event next week. So why did I write this column now? Because I don’t need to read the book in order to make the following statement: Greg Gutfeld is a uniquely gifted ambassador for the conservative cause, and we need to do whatever we can to support him. It is for that reason that I can, wholeheartedly and without reservation, give my highest recommendation to “The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph Over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage.” I even hope to read it one day.
David B. Cohen served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Representative to the Pacific Community, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He is the author of Left-Hearted, Right-Minded: Why Conservative Policies Are The Best Way To Achieve Liberal Ideals.