The Right Still Sucks at Comedy

Late night talk shows stink. That’s kind of their whole appeal. They almost all consist of PG jokes and celebrity interviews set to couched studio audience laughter. Sometimes there’s social media or filmed bits thrown into the mix. But during Donald Trump’s presidency, late night talk shows got too political for conservatives’ taste. Hosts like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel regularly made jokes at the president’s expense. The right has been dying for an alternative for years.

Unfortunately, Greg Gutfeld is the answer.

Gutfeld is a longtime Fox News host, best known for his unhinged rants on The Five. He began hosting his own show in 2015 (The Greg Gutfeld Show), which Fox recently moved from Saturday nights to weeknights at 11. The network also renamed it Gutfeld! and began marketing it as the conservative alternative to late night television. It premiered last night, and the results were as dismal as you’d expect.

In all fairness, this isn’t Gutfeld’s fault. He’s not a comedian. He has no sense of rhythm or timing when it comes to jokes. Odds are he’s got a bunch of hacks writing for him, too. Late night talk shows are created using a pretty foolproof formula, but they do require some level of talent and comedic chops. Cheesy rants and corny political jokes can work if the person delivering the material is able to make it stick.

Gutfeld is arguably Fox News’ edgiest host, but being edgy at Fox is like bragging about sitting at the head of the kid’s table. Lukewarm audience (and producer) laughter doesn’t help. You can feel Gutfeld’s bits and monologues dying as he delivers them. And no matter how funny he tries to be, Gutfeld can’t separate form from function. His job is to talk about conservative “issues” like Coke’s corporate training and Major League Baseball’s all-star game decision. And while Gutfeld’s accidental communism here is entertaining (“screw all corporations!”), but those things just aren’t funny from a conservative perspective.

Late night shows work mostly because of large network television audiences and dull senses of humor. Fox has those mostly built in, so functionally it doesn’t matter how unfunny Gutfeld actually is. His show will get ratings simply from the stagnant Fox News audience, people genuinely looking for conservative comedy, and dumb bloggers watching to make fun of it. Perhaps that’s the ultimate destiny for conservative personalities trying to be comedians, at least until Fox lures someone with actual talent. Gutfeld is basically a slightly more polished version Mike Huckabee cosplaying as a late night host. The writing will be bad. The delivery will be worse. But the show must painfully go on.