Greg Gutfeld is a rare breed. A conservative former magazine editor turned host of Fox News late night talk show "Red Eye," Gutfeld masterfully mixes keen political insight and scathing critiques of contemporary Amerian culture with a healthy dose of humor.
His new book, "The Bible of Unspeakable Truths" fits that M.O. perfectly. Gutfeld dissects thousands of "unspeakable truths" ranging from "for twenty million dollars, you'd sleep with MIchael Jackson (even now)" to "speaking truth to power means 'shouting at people who remind me of daddy'" to "squirrels are just sexier rats."
For avid "Red Eye" fans, the style of comedy will be familiar. Those who have yet to enjoy an episode will be fans by the time they put the book down. Occasionally vulgar, often provocative, and always funny, Gutfeld's absurd style has the potential to disarm even the skeptical, and then bombard them with political and cultural insights profound in their simplicity and logic.
Greg was kind enough to grant NewsBusters an interview. In it, he discusses writing for the Huffington Post, his view of "Red Eye," and his own political transformation (full audio and transcript below the fold).
NEWSBUSTERS: Now before you were at Red Eye, you were a blogger at the Huffington Post of course, so I thought you could just give us the inside scoop on what it was like working there as somebody who obviously has some conservative leanings.
GUTFELD: I can't really answer that question because I never worked for Arianna. I was living in London, working for Maxim, just posting at the Huffington Post, so there was no real relationship, at all. So it wasn't a job. I wasn't being paid. It was completely differently--it was a lot of fun, taking potshots at a group of self-absorbed semi-celebrities, you can't get any better than that.
But, yeah it wasn't in any way--you can't compare it to working at Fox News, because this is real work.
NB: Right. That rather than blogging, you mean.
GUTFELD: Yeah, yeah.
NB: So when you left, was it a clean break? I know there were rumors, well I don't know if they were rumors, but there were petition sites trying to get you off Huffington Post. Was it sort of, "Greg, we would appreciate it if you would stop writing for us?"
GUTFELD: No, not at all. It was just based on me not having the time anymore to do it. And they were always pretty good about posting my stuff until later when they started kind of disappearing off the front page. But I had just gotten to the point where I -- writing for free is only something you should do as an idle pursuit. You shouldn't devote a lot of time to that, unless you're trying to write a book for yourself. But writing for free for somebody else -- unless it helps promote you, and promote a product -- it's kind of pointless, you know?
NB: Right, yeah.
GUTFELD: All of a sudden I'm working 70, 80 hours a week, why am I writing for the Huffington Post for free, it made no sense.
NB: And now, of course, with Red Eye, it's sort of -- I hope you won't take offense to me making this analogy, but it seems to be filling a niche that the Daily Show and the Colbert Report filled on the left a little while ago, and it's turning into that rare breed of comedy that consistently appeals to conservatives. So do you see Red Eye as that sort of brand, as some weird hybrid between comedy and news, or is it all comedy, or is it a news show? How do you see it?
GUTFELD: The best way to describe it I guess is a mixture of inexperience and honesty. You can't compare the show to -- you can't say it's like a conservative equivalent of the Daily Show or the Colbert Report because, you know, they've got a million people working on their staff and they've got amazing sets. It's a pretty impressive atmosphere.
We're, as we've said before, we're like the sandwich you make at 3 am. We started this gig not having any idea what we were doing, and it was obvious when you watched the show how…embarrassingly bad we were. But it's a rule that I learned from the people at Fox News, they tell you, you do something over and over again and you're going to gradually get better. You may not notice it, but just by incremental amounts you get better and better. Sometimes you get worse, and then you get a little better, and then you get a little worse, and then you get a little better, but over time, all of a sudden you've done like 800, 900 shows, and it's like, gee whiz, maybe I can do this stuff.
The conservative, I guess, sensibility, that's just my sensibility. That comes through in my writing, and so naturally in Red Eye that would come through there. But Andy Levy, you know he's the libertarian with a conservative bent, and that creates that other element to it, and then Bill of course is just a reprobate with no morals whatsoever, and that adds the liberal balance.
So what you have, it wasn't orchestrated to be that way. It's like a band in a way. We came together and we created something that we didn't know what it was going to sound like. And it turns out it sounds pretty good, I guess.
NB: Well and there wasn't really anything like Red Eye when it came on, and now you have a show at 3 am that very often beats out CNN's prime time ratings, which I guess these days isn't saying that much, but hey for a show at 3 am that's quite an achievement.
GUTFELD: The thing that's kind of interesting about our story is that we created a core audience, a valuable audience of really smart people that are willing to stay up and watch it, or DVR it, which I would imagine is what more and more people are doing. We have a really dedicated, intense troop of people following us, and that's something you don't see in a lot of shows.
Again, it's like, you know, taking a big, horrible band like the Black Eyed Peas, which probably has a lot of generic fans, versus a band that's not as big or not as famous like LCD Soundsystem but has a dedicated following. You know, it's that kind of thing.
NB: So moving on to the book. One thing that I found interesting that you said in there, and obviously you went to UC Berkeley, and I don't know where you were in your transition from left to right but you mention that you were in high school, you were a brazen liberal. Actually, could we start with you briefly telling it? It's a great story in the book of how you sort of made that transition that I think people would love to hear.
GUTFELD: Yeah, you know what happened, in high school I already knew that the best way to win is just to make jokes. And the debate in high school was about nuclear power, or actually I think it was about nuclear weapons - mutually assured destruction. And I was, being a lefty, against nuclear weapons. This other guy Jeff, who was really smart and ended up being a really good friend of mine, was pro-nukes. He knew what he was talking about. I didn't, but I didn't care. I figured all I had to do was act cool in the debate, make fun of Jeff, and just undercut the whole debate, and I would win. And I was right.
But while the debate was going on, Jeff had convinced me that I was wrong, and not only convinced me, but convinced me that my entire world view was wrong, that I was shallow, that I was lazy, because the way he laid out his argument was so completely -- it literally changed my mind right there, and I think at some point I went -- I was able to get somebody to call me out of class so I could actually escape from the debate. Some kind of phony reason, like I had a problem at home. I can't remember how we did it. I might have gone to the bathroom and then told somebody to call the principle's office and say there's an emergency. I did something really sleazy to get out of it. And then I still won, because I came back and I was more popular than Jeff was. But in my heart I knew Jeff was right.
NB: So is that an allegory for our current politics in that it's the popular kids, the smooth talking kids who get the most attention, who get listened to, while the gets with the best ideas sort of fall by the wayside?
GUTFELD: I think it has a lot to do with it. I think that -- I wrote something on Obama last year, or it might have even been before he was elected. The people who elected him elected the messenger, but they didn't elect the message. I compared him to a really likable character actor. Everybody wants to be around him, he seems nice and comfortable, and he's a popular guy.
NB: And you have, since then arrived at, if I've got this right, what you call in the book your "run from Godzilla" theory of politics. Can you flesh that out a little bit?
GUTFELD: Run from Godzilla is basically the idea that if something's coming, something big and cumbersome, and bulky is coming at you, run away. And that's how I feel about government. You should be getting as far away as possible from anything that's trying to be that intrusive in your life. There's nothing that they can do that you can't do better. With the exception of, you know, sustaining a military. I know I can't do that.
The problem with conservatives and the benefit of conservatism is that you don't want to be in power. You're supposed to only go in for a short period of time and get on with your private life, and build a successful private business and take care of your private family. You're not interested in the public life, and the problem is it's almost like you give up the ball and the game because of that.
NB: That seems like it's almost anachronistic, this notion of the non-career politician. Do you think that's coming back at all?
GUTFELD: I don't know, because it really is -- we were just talking about this today: how many politicians refuse to leave, even when they're, you know, they're not well. In other jobs, if you were sick you'd take time off and these guys don't. I think they have become addicted -- I know they have become addicted to the feel of power. They love it. They wouldn't know what to do if they went home. They've gotten so used to hearing their own voice and feeling important that they can't go back and run a business.
I'm trying to remember who said this. David Asman said that it used to me somebody was really successful, and then entered politics. Now they enter politics to be successful. It's more about making a career off that.
NB: So you don't think -- one group of people who you hit hard in the beginning of the book are people who in your words, "mean well." And they may mean well, but that sort of feeds this attitude where everybody wants to feel good, but nobody's really doing good. And that sort of leads to -- and since this is for NewsBusters, I have to ask you about your theory on media bias -- you say that the media don't lean left, they lean towards people or things that they think mean well. Can you explain that?
GUTFELD: Well, meaning well means someone's going to intrude in your life. And they know better than you do. Doing well -- actually doing something good -- is actually boring, but meaning well is everything you've ever seen in a made for TV movie after school special. And inevitably it always involves some earnest jackass trying to ruin your life. That's liberal politics right there.
So as long as you preach the meaning well theories -- it's the equivalent of throwing money at a homeless person even though you know that money is just going to buy a bottle of malt liquor, which I would do if somebody threw money at me -- it's all these things that make the person feel better about themselves. These actions, however, have no real effect on life. It just makes you feel good.
And they just go, "oh we mean well." It's like somebody taking that one day a year, on Thanksgiving, to go feed turkey to the homeless, and somehow that changes the world. But all it is is making them feel good. It's all about feelings, it's not about thinking.
Remember, there was that craze called tough love. All tough love was was just common sense, with people going, "you know, maybe we shouldn't feed into all these self-obsessed, conceded self-esteem crazed kids. Maybe we should treat them like kids, and they called that tough love. Well that wasn't tough love, it was just normal love. That's how you raise decent people.
NB: So just very generally about the book, it reminded me of that sort of Red Eye paradigm, that mix of comedy and politics that you do so well. And there were times where I find myself saying, wait a minute, is Gutfeld serious, does he really think this? Does he really want people to be doing this?
For instance, reinstating the draft so we can show kids what a real day's work is, things like that.
GUTFELD: I think you might have conflated two unspeakable truths there. There was something about the draft, and then there was something about child slave labor.
All I'm trying to do is point out a feeling that one has about today's society using absurdity. Of course I don't want child slavery. But you look at people and you go, "god you know, these kids shouldn't just be wearing the iPods, they should me making them."