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So What Do You Do, Greg Gutfeld, Host, Red Eye?
The subversive satirist of late-late-night discusses his show- May 7, 2008
Greg Gutfeld has spent a lifetime in the media industry, and he has the stories to prove it. Beginning his career in magazines, he traversed a career path through various publications from the US to the UK, from Prevention (while smoking heavily) to Stuff (where he hired several little people to cause a commotion and create buzz at the 2003 Magazine Publishers of America conference). He's a published author, with his newest book, Lessons From the Land of Pork Scratchings, detailing his time in England (and now out in paperback). He's a regular blogger at The Daily Gut, his own site, and formerly of The Huffington Post. But the shock jock of the magazine world's current gig may be the most surprising -- host of Red Eye, on Fox News Channel. The program, airing weeknights at 3 a.m., allows Gutfeld and his varied cast of characters to discuss the news in a way unseen in any other arena. It's the counter-est of counter-programming, but 300 shows in, Red Eye's still going strong, providing an outlet for Gutfeld's brand of humor, bar chat atmosphere, and a place for FNC anchors including Julie Banderas, Alan Colmes, and Brian Kilmeade, to show a different side of their personalities.
We caught up with Gutfeld last week in his Fox News office, a spot littered with books and magazines, a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor and, yes (for fans of the show), some stuffed unicorns.
Name: Greg Gutfeld
Position: Host, Fox News Channel's Red Eye
Resume: Former fitness editor for Prevention, editor-in-chief at Men's Health, Stuff, and Maxim UK, author, and TV host.
Birthdate: September 12, 1964
Hometown: San Mateo, CA
Education: "Serra High School, home to Barry Bonds and Tom Brady, Lynn Swann. I'm going to say them all. And UC Berkeley."
Marital Status: Married
First section you read in the Sunday Times: "I don't read the Sunday Times, I read the New York Post."
Favorite TV Show: "Could I name like three? Right now Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares is awesome. He's the most hypnotic, magnetic character on television. He goes into a restaurant and he looks how things have gone wrong and he gives them three pieces of advice: Simplify the menu, fresh ingredients, affordable. These three things are integral in everything you do in life, whether it's a magazine or a meal. Fresh, cheap, simple. I love The Wire but that's such a clichï¿½. I love Project Runway but that's because my wife forces me to watch it. Plus you get to see those guys walking up and down Ninth Avenue, wandering around looking for work. There's one on the O Channel, Nighty Night. It's probably the darkest TV show ever made. It's probably my favorite show of all time."
Last Book Read: "I'm reading Michael Yon's book Moment of Truth in Iraq because I got it for free. I read it on a plane."
Guilty Pleasure: "It's so easy to say unicorns and houseboys. I like hearing people staple things. I like the sounds of shuffling papers and stapling. I'm probably the only person that enjoys Kinkos. Going in there and just hearing that is kind of an ear orgasm. It's not really a guilty pleasure, it's more of a disorder."
You've spent the majority of your career in media in the magazine industry, first at Men's Health, then at Stuff, and finally at Maxim UK. Can you describe your experience in that world?
Well you left out the most important one of all which is my first, Prevention, which is the largest health magazine in the world aimed at middle-aged divorced women with four cats. Prevention was my first writing gig, and I did nothing but serious health news, generally focused on women problems: estrogen, endometriosis. I knew everything about it. And I knew that the only way I could do that, I had a picture of my mom on the desk, because you have to write for your audience. How do you write health stuff for a 70-year-old lady? So every time I'd look at her and go, "Okay how do I explain hemoglobin? It's this stuff in your veins." You actually have to write like that. It was an amazing way how to learn to write concisely. I was a fitness editor at Prevention, that's when I started smoking heavily. The high point was I did a fitness cruise. You know how magazines do cruises? They get their fans on a cruise, they last like three days -- this one went to the Bahamas. So I had to do fitness seminars, where I'd do stretchbands, do curls with like 30- or 40-year-old people, and I was drunk the entire time, because that was the only way I could get through it. That's when I decided it was time to leave. I went from there to Men's Health, which was an interesting contrast because it's a very straight magazine and I'm a little skewed in my point of view. But it helped because I was able to translate really boring health stuff into something that's unique and unusual. Then I left to go to Stuff, which was, for 18 months, I think the greatest magazine ever. It was a magazine that pretended to be something that it wasn't. I mean you thought it was a girly mag, but when you opened it up it was the most twisted creation, a mixture of homo-eroticism and deviant humor. And when people got it they'd go, "Oh my god I can't believe this exists."
|"Television is like a completely different planet -- you have to know what you're doing, and I don't know what I'm doing."|
It sounds like Red Eye.
[Laughs] Exactly, exactly. And I had my mom, both at Men's Health and Stuff, as a columnist. Then they converted me to director of brand development -- that was after the midget incident at the Magazine Publishing Association. There are always these little turning points and the midget thing was the thing that, three weeks later, I was promoted. Stuff was very successful, we nearly doubled the circulation, but still I think I was considered a bit unpredictable, because of the midget thing. So they made me director of brand development which meant "send me as far away from the magazine as possible to LA" where I pitched TV shows and got a few done and then the Maxim job came up in London, and I moved out there.
The first day on the job I met my wife -- she was the photo editor for Russian Maxim. When I went there, the Lad Mag thing was over, I mean it was going down, and I knew it. So I decided to do a magazine that was kind of so subversive and so non-Men's Mag that it basically shocked the hell out of people and it was so much fun. I really enjoyed it.
It was when I was writing my book that I flew over to meet John Moody and we talked about a show, and they liked me and there wasn't much about the planning or how this was going to look or the staffing or anything like that. I guess that's how it's done. I wrote up a proposal, I don't think anybody read it, and the next thing you know, I showed up. It scared the living hell out of me because I had absolutely no experience. Television is like a completely different planet -- you have to know what you're doing, and I don't know what I'm doing, and it was clear, I think, it still is clear. But they didn't care, they liked something in me, so they said, "Call up people you know," and we started doing rehearsals in a tech lounge. We were allowed to smoke, and we drank, and we did these really primitive rehearsals that were called "Wasteland," and it transformed into Red Eye. Now we've done 300 shows, I don't think I've done anything 300 times. [Laughs] I just gave you the quickest rundown of my life, it's like reading Wikipedia.
Yes, but, if I was reading Wikipedia, or another article about you, it may have gone a little differently. According to reports, it went "fired, fired, contract not renewed..."
Oh I don't dispute anything, but I prefer to say, "promoted" because I was. After Maxim, my contract wasn't renewed, but that to me wasn't being fired. I will not dispute the fact that the numbers went down at Maxim, as they did with every single monthly, and it was just because, once the weeklies came in it made monthlies irrelevant. I took the biggest risk, which was changing the magazine to humor-based, subversive, rather than breasts, breasts, breasts because the weeklies, Zoo and Nuts, were selling them for a pound a week and they're really good magazines in terms of delivering what the average punter wants and likes. When you're a monthly, you can't do sports. They're getting all the girls. It was basically no matter what you did, you just saw your audience go away. I had to find a new audience. The unfortunate thing about it is we never told them. So that was a shame.
It seems like the nature of the industry. Especially now, you're seeing cuts all across. Do you think it's still getting worse?
Oh it's horrible, I mean, the thing is a magazine has to be about something or it's gone. That's kind of been the innate success of Men's Health, and service oriented magazines. You look on the cover and you go, "I'm going to get stress, sex, a better body, abs." You don't need an editor, you just need a marketer, and that's what you did every month. All those Men's Health cover lines had been written for the last 10 years, the exact same. If your magazine is kind of this vague collection of, "Isn't it great to be a guy?" you don't really need that, and I think you have to stake out a territory and deliver this really unique perspective.
Red Eye is certainly pushing the envelope for all of cable news, but when I've talked to people who have seen the show, the almost universal initial reaction is, "How is this on Fox News?" So, how is this on Fox News?
I've got to tell you, this is the most subversive, surreal piece of programming ever to be on TV, and it's on Fox News. Now, what does that say? It says that Fox News has more balls than any network, and it can only be on Fox News because if it was on any other network, they would be diluting it. If it was on Comedy Central, you'd have to have comedians; they would have to put their own imprint on it. This is how Fox launched their network, I think they launched Fox News in six months. They go, "We're putting out a news network and we're going to find the people that want fair and balanced." They figure if you put out a show, see how it works, if it doesn't work, eh, if it works great and that's how you got this show. It's the gutsiest thing I've ever seen. I am surprised and eternally grateful that I got this opportunity, it is pretty amazing. I mean the first review we got was from Troy Patterson at Slate, and he writes this glowing review saying this is the most surreal, abstract piece of media ever on television. And he's right. It's such an unusual beast. I will say this, the show has challenges. When people first come to Red Eye, it's a three step process: confusion, revulsion, then love. And you see this in the letters, because the letters are basically, "What the hell is this doing on Fox," "I hate you," "I get it." That's how it works. You will get it. It's a different way of talking; it's a different way of presenting news. Everything about it is different.
One of the things, if you're a regular viewer is, it's different every night, but, like the rapport you have with Andy Levy and Bill Shultz, you're sort of a part of getting the "in" jokes. How do you know Bill Shultz and Andy Levy, and how did they become involved?
Well, first of all, I think it lends itself more to a radio thing. It's like a morning radio, when you had Stuttering John and Howard Stern. Howard Stern is really the genius behind a lot of this. I think he's the first guy to kind of create a community with the people on his show and with his viewers, so they got the joke. He's a genius for that. I think you also run the risk of getting too insider-y and turning off people. Bill was one of the first people I met at Stuff, I think he was my associate editor or features editor, and the first time I met him he said, "I'm the guy you're going to fire," which is what I liked about him. And he had long hair, and I think he had like 16 beers in the span that I had four, and I thought "Who is this crazy person?" And then Andy, when I was blogging at The Huffington Post and eliciting all this rage, he would be leaving comments that would actually kind of fuel it but in a really weird way by agreeing with them, and I thought it was really clever what he did. When I started doing The Daily Gut, I had him blogging there, and I met him and I realized, well he's not deformed, I can actually put him on TV. I mean how rare is it that there's a blogger who's not hideously ugly, because 95 percent are mostly just hideous people who live in their basement. I kid.
I guess I'm headed that direction. Actually you brought up Huffington Post, and you obviously left a different impression than other bloggers there. You had a post asking when fellow blogger John Seery would die, with the line: "He's asking you to submit a number -- the larger the better -- which is perfectly appropriate for The Huffington Post -- where hoping for the worst is the only hope allowed," and you ended with a July 2007 post suggesting we eat Al Gore. Can you tell me about your time at the The Huffington Post?
Well it was something that kind of happened purely by accident. Matt Labash, who's a great writer for the Weekly Standard, had told me about it and suggested if I would be amenable, Arianna would email me and invite me to come on to The Huffington Post. I don't think she had any idea who I was, I'm sure she didn't. So the way I look at The Huffington Post, the way I thought about it was, these missives should be exactly like weird letters you get from your aunt. You know everybody has a weird aunt that writes about things and sends you 20 dollars, and I feel that's what blogs should be. So my first one was a lemon square recipe. I was the first of, I think, three bloggers on that day, and you had this serious thing about "Bush is stupid" and then something else about the war, and then I had a recipe on lemon squares. My next one was about finding a missing butt plug on my front lawn after a party that involved certain commentators at The Huffington Post, and I dropped their names so it created this universe that we all hung out together and did horrible things. And it was so confusing to the people there that I knew that it worked.
How about HuffPo Kidz?
Those were stories from a left-wing perspective that basically told you life sucked so you could read them to your kids so they're prepared about how sucky life is. That was fun. I also liked my abortion joke page, my Roe v. Wade joke page. They didn't get it, but it was good. I really enjoyed doing that, because you actually get to create a sputtering rage where people can't even respond and are threatening you, and I learned from that, but I kind of already knew because I went to Berkeley, that the most tolerant people on the planet are also the most intolerant. They talk about peace and love, but if you disagree with them, they'll kill you. And that was when I started to get really weird, sinister emails from people attacking me and my family, and I thought, "You know I don't need this crap," but I kept doing it anyway and I kept confronting them in blogs to watch them get angrier and angrier, and it was really fun. But then I had to stop because I had to write a book and I thought, "They're not paying me, I had my fun." Sometimes I think about going back.
Do you have any suggestions for The Huffington Post?
I think they realized that their own anger and intolerance towards other points of views was marginalizing them, they were becoming a joke. I honestly think it would help them to have a little bit more variety, but if they wanted that they already would have had it. I think they engage the lunatic left, and they're going to stay with it.
|"It's much harder to say something smart than say something shocking."|
Starpulse recently named you one of the top five most underrated hosts on television. What do you think of the compliment and what do you think of the time slot that may cause you to fly under-the-radar?
I was pleased. Like I said, I don't know what I'm doing, the only good thing is I've done it 300 times. It's like going to the gym, every day you get a little better, but... you could always do better I guess. Such a stupid metaphor, I have to come up with something better. Maybe it's like bowling; if you bowl 300 times you're bound to get better. Anyway, that was really cool. I was in between Chris Rock and Chelsea Handler, which is an interesting kind of sandwich, depending on who you're facing.
The time slot thing: During the summertime last year we were at 2 a.m. -- our ratings were really, really great. Because of the political season they moved us another hour because they wanted more political coverage which makes sense -- this is a news station. I really didn't mind going to three. But it is a problem, asking people to stay up from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. is one thing, but 3 a.m. to 4 a.m., you're asking a lot. And we have a lot of people that DVR it. We're one of the most DVRed shows. That's not a surprise. I think it is hard, and I would love to have a better time slot. However, at the same time, this time slot has allowed us to do stuff that no other show has done. So I have really mixed feelings. The freedom and knowing that you can just do this stuff, it's great, but then you're going, "If only more people could watch us," but then you can't do what you do. I think there's a happy medium we have to find.
Let me ask you about one of the things you may be able to do since it's 3 a.m. You drew some heat recently for your comments about The Pregnant Man, Thomas Beatie, and your "apology" was actually an indictment of the PC Police. Do you think the media is too politically correct?
Yeah I could care less about Thomas Beatie. What pissed me off were the headlines calling him a pregnant man. I'm like, okay, are we now going to say we have the world's first pregnant man, because that's just an absolute lie and no journalist would ever use that same kind of thinking in any other kind of medium. It's clearly a woman, and if you're a journalist you can't just call it a man. And that's what I was getting at. I guess what they were afraid of was offending this transgender community. I'm talking about language. This is a really stupid step to take to just make this assumption and then try to explain to people, "Yeah, he's actually a man." Then how can he be a man if he has a vagina and he's having a child? Basically I asked Dr. Baden and said, "You're a coroner, and a body comes in, what do you mark on the sheet, male or female?" And he goes, "Well it's a female." I was interested in seeing how much outrage it would cause by actually saying the truth and I wasn't surprised. Everybody gets pissed off, however all the outrage had no argument with what I said, but the fact that I said it. So I was somehow wrong for actually saying the truth, but they didn't dispute what I said. And I love that. That makes me happy how idiotic people are in their own reactions. If they had to actually respond, they'd agree with me but they can't.
We talked about Bill and Andy, but your other sort of sidekick is your mother. As you talked about, she used to write for the magazines as well, and she makes frequent appearances on Red Eye. What was your childhood like, and what caused you to have her be part of your projects?
Well, I've been raised by women. I have three sisters and my mom. My dad died when I was young, so that probably had something to do with it. When I was in magazines, I noticed when my mom would fly out to visit, we'd go drinking with my mom and my friends always liked her more than they liked me. She's just more entertaining then I am. When you're an old lady, and you're a widow, you just don't care. You're happy to be around, you say what's on your mind, you don't give a rat's ass if people like you or hate you, and it comes out really clear with her. There's no filter.
Are there any topics that are off-limits for Red Eye?
I think that we have covered every single thing, from bestiality to incest. There has to be a central truth behind everything you do to make it worth covering. It can't just be a joke. I talk a lot about cannibalism, but I always tie it to rabid environmentalism. The underpinnings behind rabid environmentalism is the hatred of humanity and if you follow the logical course of environmentalism it would be getting rid of humans to help the earth, and that would be self-fueling by cannibalism. That's a pretty offensive idea, but it's got a moral underpinning. With Dr. Baden, we've talked about every single kind of criminal deviancy, but we talk the truth behind it. So I don't think there's anything off limits, I just try to stay away from stuff that's gratuitously filthy, because that's just too easy. I hate comedians that swear. I hate writers that swear. You see that a lot on Bill Maher. Bill Maher is painful because you have this audience of clapping seals. When anybody swears they're like, "Ah I hear a swear word, that's great." [clapping] And that's never going to be on our show. It's much harder to say something smart than say something shocking.
Well let's test the limits here. Your former boss Felix Dennis claimed, then unclaimed, to have killed a man. What's your take, and how excited are you to possibly be deposed?
Here's an interesting thing. In the Independent, Felix Dennis called me Darth Vader, in an interview he did two years ago. So how cool is it that a confessed murderer thinks I'm evil? That's like the most awesome thing ever. Uh, he's definitely not a killer, but he craves attention and when he drinks... During my job interview at Keanes in 2000 he confessed to me his crack addiction. I was with Andy Clerkson and Andy Turnbull, we're sitting at a table in Keanes. Felix didn't like me to begin with, and I don't think he wanted me to be the editor and he thought maybe I was a bad egg or troublemaker, and he started telling me about his crack addiction. How he'd hide in this room with hookers all day and do crack. And he leaves, and I look at the two Andy's and I go, "Wow that's really weird," and Andy goes, "Mate we've never heard that before in our lives." I'm like, "You're kidding me?" It turns out it's true. He has a desire to speak, he loves attention and he also drinks. So I think he was pushing the envelope with this lady and now he regrets it. I don't think it's going to get as far as a deposition [laughs].
Last one testing the limits here. Do you miss working with your former colleague Rachel Marsden, or are you having more fun following her life post-Red Eye ?
[Laughs] It's more fun following her life.
Steve Krakauer is associate editor of TVNewser.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
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