March 7, 2015


In Praise of Fox News's Greg Gutfeld (KELEFA SANNEH, 3/07/15, The New Yorker)

From the beginning, "Red Eye" was cheerfully repetitive, finding humor in a series of running gags. Gutfeld liked to introduce guests with absurd, sexually suggestive hypotheticals that were meant to be flattering. (On Greg Proops, the comedian: "If hilarity were a telethon, I'd do him in front of a bunch of sick kids.") For a time, Andy Levy served as the show's pesky "ombudsman," delivering persnickety or off-topic corrections during a "halftime report" in the middle of the show. "You said we need to weaponize space," Levy told Gutfeld, one night, deadpan. "Actually, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prohibits the U.S. or any other signatory nation from installing any kind of nukes or weapons of mass destruction in space, and limits the use of the moon and other celestial bodies to purely peaceful reasons."

Sometimes, Gutfeld tweaked cable-news conventions, as when he purported to address banking reform by convening a sixteen-person panel of experts, including familiar Fox News personalities such as John Bolton, and markedly unfamiliar ones, such as Rosie O'Donnell. As he introduced them, they appeared (or seemed to appear) live, forming a four-by-four matrix of pundit redundancy--by which point it was time, of course, for Gutfeld to thank them all, by name, and then end the segment. Other times, the show came joyfully unmoored from those conventions, as when Levy, throwing the broadcast back to Gutfeld, suddenly began quoting "A Midsummer Night's Dream":

GUTFELD: Thank you, Andy.

LEVY: Get you gone, you dwarf; you minimus, of hindering knot-grass made; you bead, you acorn. Greg.

GUTFELD: Why rebuke you him that loves you so?

LEVY: I apologize for nothing.

This last line was Levy's catchphrase, and it also served as a constant reminder of the time, in 2009, when Gutfeld was obliged to apologize to the Canadian military, after a particularly irreverent discussion. The head of the Canadian land forces had said that the Army might need "a short operational break" lasting "at least one year" following its engagement in Afghanistan. Gutfeld had wondered whether this might not be "the perfect time to invade this ridiculous country," adding, "The Canadian military wants to take a breather, to do some yoga, paint landscapes, run on the beach in gorgeous white Capri pants." Gutfeld probably regretted offending Canadian troops and their family members, but he was probably also pleased that his biggest scandal involved the phrase "gorgeous white Capri pants."

For all his seeming clumsiness, Gutfeld had a remarkable knack for saying ridiculous things without getting himself fired. (When one guest, a musician, set his electric guitar ablaze, Gutfeld was afraid that he might face punishment; he concluded, when no punishment came, that none of the executives stayed up late enough to watch his show.) On Friday night, during his final broadcast, he revisited some favorite old segments, including an excellent clip of Mick Foley, the former professional wrestler, mistaking Chris Barron, a co-founder of the gay conservative group GOProud, for Chris Barron, the lead singer of the Spin Doctors. ("I looked you up, man," said Foley, sounding embarrassed but also disappointed--he had prepared a zinger about "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong.") "I dare you to find one boring moment," Gutfeld said, sounding uncharacteristically earnest. "Excluding this one." [...]

The central insight of "Red Eye" was its contention that cable news is driven as much by the demands of time as by the demands of ideology. Every show, every day, is another hour that must be filled with chatter, no matter the quantity or quality of the day's news. And while conventional cable news shows work hard to maintain a tone of urgency, "Red Eye" was often unapologetically slack: the joke was that Gutfeld and his guests had nothing better to do--and neither, apparently, did you, the viewer. 

Posted by at March 7, 2015 7:12 AM

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