Come Sunday, Greg Gutfeld will have the opportunity to do something very different at Fox News Channel. He will launch a program that depends as much on humor as it does the headlines.
Gutfeld, who has one of the more eclectic resumes in the business, could blaze new paths at the 21st Century Fox-owned outlet, but he’s not getting ahead of himself. His “Greg Gutfeld Show,” billed as a “comedic news hour,” is something that is not the norm at Fox News or any other cable-news outlet.
“I have a very low bar,” he says during a recent interview. “I don’t want to throw up.” Viewers will get to see if he accomplishes that feat this Sunday at 10 p.m.
Fox News Channel is often the subject of critique by hosts of satirical programs like “The Daily Show.” Now, the network will debut a program that could contain parodies and humorous monologues, elements that a younger generation of viewers prize as a way to gain insight on current events.
Viewers who expect to see a new Jimmy Fallon or Jon Stewart lancing at obvious targets will be disappointed, Gutfeld cautions. “I don’t sing. I don’t dance. I don’t do comedy bits. I don’t tell jokes,” he says. “Basically, what I do is talk.”
A lot. In a single conversation, he illuminates the differences between satirical magazines “Mad,” “Cracked” and “Crazy”; reveals his love for “Get A Life,” the early 90s Fox sitcom that starred one-time David Letterman foil Chris Elliott as a 30-year-old paperboy; and gives props to Faith No More, the eclectic hard-rock band whose best-known single, “Epic” was a hit on MTV in 1989.
Yet Gutfeld’s steady patter can’t distract from the fact that the launch of his program shows Fox News willing to test new waters, trying something that pushes its boundaries on Sunday evening. The network typically relies on Harris Faulkner to lead the evening at 7 p.m., and has been recently featuring “Legends & Lies,” a documentary series executive-produced by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
“While it’s a departure from our regular primetime line-up, we think there’s room for a show that provides a new twist on current events and commentary,” says Roger Ailes, chairman and chief executive of Fox News, in a statement provided via email. “Greg is a sharp talent who can transition seamlessly from his quick wit to more serious topics. His new program will be a bit of a surprise even to us at Fox News.”
The network tested humor earlier in its history. In 2007, Fox News ran more than a dozen episodes of “The ½ Hour News Hour,” a Sunday-night program that had fictional anchors making fun of headlines. Comedian Dennis Miller made contributions. The program was produced by Joel Surnow, a co-creator of the popular spy serial “24.”
Others have grown interested in using laughs to probe the news. On HBO, John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” blends investigation and jokes. At Fusion, the cable network owned by Univision and ABC News, a host of characters created by Jim Henson Productions discuss the issues of the day on a show called “No, You Shut Up.” CNN has unveiled plans to feature former FX and FXX latenight host W. Kamau Bell in a road-trip documentary series in 2016.
Gutfeld says he has no intention of emulating the “Weekend Update” segment from “Saturday Night Live.” Instead, he expects to hone monologues and conduct interviews. “If it’s funny, that’s great. Sometimes, it’s not funny, though. Sometimes, it’s just entertaining, and I always think something has to be entertaining first and funny second, and if it’s both, well, that’s pretty awesome,” he said. “When people call me a comedian, I always correct them. I’ve never done stand-up in my life. That’s an amazing ability, and I’m a writer.”
He has plied his craft in some interesting places. He worked as a writer at Prevention magazine, a writer and editor at Men’s Health and an editor at Stuff and the British edition of Maxim. In 2003, he generated headlines of his own by hiring three little people to attend a seminar backed by the Magazine Publishers of America on how to generate buzz, instructing them to answer cellphones that rang loudly and crunch on potato chips. Gutfeld was also one of the earliest blogging regulars at The Huffington Post
More recently, he hosted another envelope-pushing program at Fox News, the wee-hours gabfest “Red Eye,” whose chatter has been likened to hanging out at a bar. Howard Stern has sung his praises. Gutfeld is expected to continue as co-host of the Monday-to-Friday talk show “The Five” and to make appearances on Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor.”
Gutfeld definitely has some things he wants to talk about. He expects to call out certain kinds of media coverage and commentary. “I can mock the predictable assumptions of the established media. That’s what I like to do. That’s where parody and satire come in,” he says.
He’s also eager to explore why many people are eager to label an opinion that isn’t to their liking as evil instead of having a rational discussion about various issues. “There is a breaking point where somebody has to create a forgiveness period where we can all take back all the stuff we said about each other,” he says, “We aren’t all really evil.”
As for the program itself, Gutfeld seems like he’d be happy if the thing became a cult classic. He cites “Fernwood 2 Night” and “America 2 Night,” the syndicated 1970s talk-show parodies featuring Martin Mull and Fred Willard, as potential models. “It made you feel special because you got it. You felt like you were part of the club because you were watching it.” Another example? David Letterman’s fondly recalled but short-lived morning talk show featured on NBC In 1980. “It was an incredible fish out of water, but you know, there was something special there,” Gutfeld says.
Perhaps Gutfeld’s name is in the show title not because he’s the host, but because the show will largely be about what’s occupying his brain each week. If something ticks him off or blows his mind, he says, it will be fodder for the program And if viewers like his thought process, they’ll want to watch the show.
“I have an amazing opportunity to speak my mind about stuff that interests me,” he says. “That’s what the show is.”