The 1/2 Hour News Hour is widely regarded as one of the worst TV shows of all time. It premiered on Fox News on Feb. 18, 2007, as an explicitly right-wing take on The Daily Show, a news satire made by and for diehard consumers of conservative media. The first episode featured “jokes” about 2008 presidential candidate Hilary Clinton filling her administration with “angry lesbians”, a fake ad about the ACLU fighting for the right of pregnant woman to get their unborn babies addicted to drugs, and a bit where Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter were the president and vice-president. It was less interested in being funny than in owning the libs, which has been the guiding mission of right-wing media for about as long as it’s existed. Although it was officially picked up after the second of two pilots aired in March of that year, it didn’t last long; 13 episodes trickled out between May and September 2007 before it was cancelled and quickly forgotten by everybody except those who like to reminisce about historically bad TV. It was a disaster, an embarrassment, and a black eye for everybody involved. And now, 14 years later, Fox News is basically doing it again.
Gutfeld (the real title has an exclamation point, although two or three disbelieving question marks would make more sense) is the latest attempt at an overtly right-wing late night show, starring former lad mag editor and would-be comedian Greg Gutfeld. If you’ve ever watched Fox before, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Gutfeld; he’s a co-host of their panel show The Five, and has hosted other late night shows for the network, including Red Eye and The Greg Gutfeld Show. (Weirdly enough, he actually has solid music taste—he’s hosted bands like Mogwai and Fucked Up on Fox in the past.) Gutfeld is essentially a direct continuation of that second program, only now it airs every weeknight, like most network late night shows, instead of once a week. Like The 1/2 Hour News Hour and the host’s previous shows, Gutfeld proves something that’s been obvious for years: “right-wing comedy” is an oxymoron, and pretty much the most terrible “comedy” imaginable.
Comedy needs to be based in the truth. Even the most absurd comedy should have roots in something that at least tries to resemble the real world. Right-wing media has spent the last few decades building its own parallel reality, though, one divorced from the world that most of us live in, with its own beliefs, assumptions, and opinions, and all part of a rigidly ideological worldview whose defining feature is utter contempt for anybody who doesn’t buy into every aspect of it. Shows like Gutfeld operate wholly within that parallel reality, with the most basic foundation of its humor predicated on ideas most viewers won’t recognize or understand. And when Gutfeld does operate from a place of shared experience—as in the first episode’s jokes about the lies told by NBC newscaster Brian Williams all the way back in 2015—it’s incapable of saying anything fresh, smart, or funny about it. (Seriously, one of the first bits of the very first episode of a show that launched this week was devoted to a news story from six years ago.)
A lot of progressive and left-wing comedians fall prey to something called “clapter.” The idea goes that, instead of trying to get laughs through actual jokes, these comedians will just spout off opinions that they know their audience shares in order to get easy applause. Gutfeld, and all of right-wing comedy, is based entirely on the same concept as clapter. It’s not about being funny, or crafting a smart joke, but flattering the audience’s beliefs—beliefs fostered and reinforced by the constant dissembling and distortion of right-wing news operations like Fox. You’ll hear scattered light laughter after most jokes on Gutfield—it’s always a feeble, awkward response—and it sounds like a combination of clapter from the ideologically aligned and officially enforced laughs from the show’s crew. That laughter only underscores how humorless and dimwitted the writing on this show is, and how the single most important factor to enjoying Gutfeld is ideological compliance.
There’s more that can be said about Gutfeld—for starters, about how Gutfeld’s anti-corporate monologue in the first episode highlights the increasing rift between corporate America and the Republican party, which, in turn, underlines how radical the GOP has become, and how far the right-wing’s pandering on social issues has separated it from mainstream America. When simply looking at the show at the most elemental level, though, at the comedy that is supposedly its main reason to exist, Gutfeld is an abject failure. It’s not comedy; it’s just more propaganda.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.