Greg Gutfeld has never hosted the Academy Awards, done carpool karaoke with Ariana Grande or chugged cocktails with Lizzo. Yet he's become the hottest name in late-night TV by sticking to a simple, but smart, formula: Cater to a conservative audience tired of being beat up by liberal Hollywood.
Gutfeld, a former editor at Men's Health and Stuff magazines, has been part of Fox News since 2007. But it wasn't until two years ago that he became a force that can't be ignored with the launch of "Gutfeld!," which airs at 11 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. His program averages more than 2 million viewers a night, thanks in no small part to having Laura Ingraham as his opening act. But it's still impressive that he has more than five times the audience that "The Daily Show" can muster. On most nights, he has higher numbers than any of the network hosts, with Stephen Colbert as his closest competitor.
The fact that he does it with mediocre material and a minuscule budget shows just how hungry conservatives are for humor. Any humor.
"Gutfeld!" airs from an intimate New York studio with lights so hot that you could probably roast a chicken on stage. After a snarky monologue, the 58-year-old host turns to four panelists, often regular Fox contributors hot-footing it over from nearby sets.
The mix usually includes a stand-up comic, a marquee name like Sarah Palin or Kat Timpf, a 34-year-old libertarian commentator who often looks embarrassed to be sharing space with guests her parents' age. When Gutfeld tried to explain the plot of "Indecent Proposal" to her, she reacted like he was trying to revive the telegraph.
"I don't even know who Robert Redford is," she said.
The conversation is sometimes interrupted by taped comedy bits, like one that imagined a Zoom debate between Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Vice President Kamala Harris. The impressionists were so awful that I wouldn't be surprised to learn they were volunteers from the studio audience.
Gutfeld himself is the show's biggest draw. He may come from a print background but he's got the timing and delivery of a veteran stand-up. I could do without his habit of teasing segments with corny rhymes ("There's no disputing/ The downed drone was Putin?") but he seems to relish the fans' groans.
I wish he and his writers were more ambitious.
In mid-March, the war raged on in Ukraine, Silicon Valley Bank collapsed and Donald Trump inched closer to being indicted. But the show mostly ignored those issues, focusing instead on the threat of the woke movement.
Gutfeld routinely acts as if policies catering to trans people are the most divisive issue to face this country since the Civil War.
There's also a tendency to pick at low-hanging fruit way past its expiration date. A new Fox Nation documentary gave Gutfeld the excuse to once again go after Jussie Smollett, the actor who falsely claimed he was targeted in a racial attack more than four years ago. Gutfeld poked fun at Brian Stelter, who lost his high-profile gig at CNN seven months ago. The audience broke into applause when he compared Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Clintons.
Like a number of his Fox colleagues, Gutfeld seems to take particular delight in going after "The View," joking that Guinness World Records gave the panel the title of heaviest program in daytime TV.
An entire segment was dedicated to a recent conversation on "The View" in which Sunny Hostin admitted that she still has her groceries delivered to her home. Gutfeld and his cohorts reacted like she had sold classified documents to the Chinese.
After one particularly nasty joke, Gutfeld asked: "Did I go too far or not enough?"
Those who despise everything about Fox would answer: Too far. For those who would welcome a truly funny show from a conservative viewpoint, it's not enough.