by Oliver Bateman
Friday, 19
August 2022
Review
10:36

How Greg Gutfeld conquered American late-night comedy

Viewers are tired of Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon's liberal clichés
by Oliver Bateman
The late-night ratings king. Photographer: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

For now, Fox News Channel host Greg Gutfeld stands alone as the undisputed king of American late-night television. His show Gutfeld! lapped the field last week, outdrawing nearest competitor Stephen Colbert by 2.355 million viewers to 2.143 — and nearly doubling the numbers posted by NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (1.318 million viewers) and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! (1.084 million viewers). Not only that, but Gutfeld! also led all three competitors in the coveted “adults aged 25-54” demographic. In the midst a late-night landscape littered with lame Donald Trump jokes and garish vaccine pandering, how on earth is Gutfeld — marooned as he is on a partisan cable news network — outdrawing the highly-paid clowns on the major networks?

The phrasing of that question suggests part of the answer. Gutfeld, a University of California-Berkeley grad who moved from a career in the publishing industry to the late-late night Fox News show Red Eye in 2007, has never been quite in sync with loudmouthed, moralizing colleagues such as Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck. He is, rather, someone who “became a conservative by being around liberals” and a “a libertarian by being around conservatives”, he told Reason in 2009. “The worst part of each of them is the moralizing” — a sentiment with which many of us would surely agree.

Owing to its 2:00 a.m. time slot, Red Eye did things few shows on Fox News — or any major cable channel — would ever do, such as repeatedly inviting Mark Prindle, the socially awkward, chrome-domed king of bizarro 1990s web-based music critics, to comment on the latest in pop culture. There was something about Gutfeld’s persona — smarmy, slightly right-of-center hipster — that recalled the epically apolitical David Letterman of the host’s NBC years, before his epic CBS meltdowns when debating the likes of Bill O’Reilly, and bearded, arch-liberal Netflix phase, rendered him extremely uncool.

While Gutfeld has had his occasional controversies, they’ve usually been along the lines of something that contrarian liberal Bill Maher might do, like joking about wanting to build a Muslim-friendly gay bar near the Ground Zero mosque. By the time Gutfeld launched Gutfeld! on Saturday nights in 2015, he was already a fixture on Fox News and the author of best-selling books such as The Bible of Unspeakable Truths and The Joy of Hate. When the program moved to weeknights in March 2021, he was primed to start shooting fish in a barrel. Colbert, Kimmel, and Fallon, whose earlier careers were all considerably more eclectic and heterodox, have converged on the generic anti-Trump, believe-the-science liberalism, with which Saturday Night Live has sustained itself for the past half-decade. 

Even if there were five or six million potential viewers for such material, three shows were vying for that audience (and some of the political audience have surely grown weary of the clichéd sameness of the material). Gutfeld, meanwhile, had a more or less captive audience waiting for him, with two million viewers — 400,000 of them in the “key demographic” — receptive to hearing anything else, anything at all. The cornball consensus that unites the three network television late shows has led to numerous risible moments, like Colbert’s ridiculous “vax-scene” sketch — insufferable, paint-by-numbers propaganda so lacking in redeeming artistic value as to alienate even those who dutifully received their vaccinations.

At the end of the day, the audience drawn by Gutfeld’s competition just about doubles his own. But the golden age of late night —and perhaps even of comedy — connecting all elements of society is long over, replaced by a scolding, take-your-medicine popular culture that likely retains a large, vestigial audience simply because it’s there and because watching it is what one still does. Gutfeld, by comparison, offers “a choice, not an echo” in the marketplace of ideas. To watch him in 2022 is, if nothing else, a very different act of resistance than the #resistance peddled by an increasingly mainstream monoculture from which there are otherwise few avenues of escape.

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Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
1 month ago

I Watch clips from his show on YouTube. He is a shock jock with an acute sense of irony – an element which long ago disappeared from mainstream American late-night comedy as they embraced the liberal and conformist monoculture.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 month ago

Me too. Greg, Tyrus, and Kat start my day off Right!

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 month ago

the generic anti-Trump, believe-the-science liberalism, with which Saturday Night Live has sustained itself for the past half-decade.
I remember the original SNL with performers such as Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner and, of course, John Belushi with his samurai sushi chef routine. Their brand of humor wouldn’t be given a chance now. SNL has been coasting on its reputation for many years. Time to put it to bed.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
1 month ago

Gutfeld makes fun of everything and everyone, including his guests. The other guys are clearly Democrats who identify as comedians. That’s boring.

It isn’t like the left ain’t ridiculous.

Remember, only the government can protect pregnant men from climate change. If you don’t like being audited by Inland Revenue or the IRS, you’re part of the problem. Unless you discriminate against over qualified Asians based on their race, you’re a white supremacist, according to Critical Racist Theory.

Chris N
Chris N
1 month ago

… that made me giggle!

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 month ago

I once enjoyed the likes of Colbert but he comes across now as a man with a mission. Gutfeld throws things out in a stream of easy consciousness and gets an interaction. Guests often arrive without an agenda as if we were all in the room, chatting. Does remind of early Letterman before he too became a man on a mission.
Perhaps we are growing tired of the ever perpetual mission that is always one-sided.

Don Butler
Don Butler
1 month ago

The difference between Gutfeld and the other guys (all men, by the way…hmmm) is the difference between irreverent and reverent. And to paraphrase the WaPo, comedy dies in the darkness of reverance.

E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
1 month ago
Reply to  Don Butler

Gutfeld, although one may deduce from his name he is not a Mick, is contstantly taking the Mickey. Breath of fresh air.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 month ago

I’ve never seen him, but when most other comedians decide to stop telling jokes (for fear of being cancelled or worse) so they can virtue signal instead… it’s not hard to emerge on top.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
1 month ago

I appreciate your point, but we should note that Gutfeld has compared 35% of the market for late night comedy. Impressive, but puzzling, is it not, that most of the market (65%) still follows the humorless trash.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago

Those vax-scenes from Colbert are extremely dark and creepy after you watch a few of them.

Todd Kreigh
Todd Kreigh
1 month ago

FoxNews is “partisan”? Um, OK. But does the author think the major networks are not partisan?

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
1 month ago

So, the market for late night comedy was populated by three versions of vanilla. Someone got the bright idea of introducing chocolate to the market.
Chocolate went on to capture about 35% of the market. Vanilla still holds on to 65% of the market. Meanwhile, introducing chocolate to the market amounted to expanding the available options, and that alone may have expanded the entire market; much of 35% share may be made of up people who were not consuming any version of vanilla. But, it would be interesting to know if there had been any appreciable diversion of people from vanilla to chocolate.
The performance of Gutfeld is impressive. But, I will be really impressed if and when chocolate goes on to dominate vanilla in the market for late night comedy. Until then, vanilla still dominates. Even though it sux.

Neil Anthony
Neil Anthony
1 month ago

Love Gutfeld!!!!!
I watch him sometimes on the “five” too. I think he has a “thing” for the Judge… Maybe wrong , but he flirts AND looks at her. Hmnnn.

Simon Jones
Simon Jones
24 days ago

He is well supported by the just very likeable and funny Kat Timpf and Tyrus. It is just an easy show to watch, and he gets good value form his guests too. The early Gutfeld shows were always a little rough around the edges, with their home-made skits starring what looked like the production crew, but somehow that was part of the appeal. He is yet to register very much in the UK, because Fox has a low profile here. British media is very snobby about it, but it has an excellent news division, makes a fairly obvious distinction between news and comment, and the commentators it does employ do make entertaining television (even if you do disagree with the politics!). I see several UK attempts to try and create something of the vibe of the (also excellent) “The Five”.