Political comedian Greg Gutfeld’s new, eighth book, The King of Late Night, explores what he sees as many recent cultural “flips” that helped his TV show, Gutfeld!, trounce its late-night competition. He offers sage advice to wannabe comics while making brilliant cultural and political observations exposing a surfeit of double standards demanding to be satirized. Despite warning of the lethal threat to our civil liberties posed by woke leftists, the book is laden with laughs. Gutfeld makes his points with humor, not the angry ad hominem attacks that are so de rigueur today.
Central to Gutfeld’s enduring TV and writing success is perhaps the most pronounced flip of all. Though Humor, Inc. had long been dominated by such rebellious, edgy liberal firebrands as Richard Pryor and George Carlin, too many of today’s liberal comedians have pretzeled themselves into unfunny political propagandists to appease the career-canceling woke mob — while conservatives and libertarians, such as Gutfeld, poke fun at leftist shibboleths. As Gutfeld sees it, “if Richard Pryor or George Carlin were alive, they would run screaming from campuses, chased by a crowd of nonbinary Oberlin students.”
This is because the Left has become the boring home of angry, intolerant, and utterly “humorless” censors, leaving rightists to enter as the creatively funny rebels taking on the establishment. As Gutfeld sees it, “the Left, once the haven for free speech, is now a bounty hunter for the truly outspoken — tracking the violators, and destroying careers. . . . The Left is now the old fart pushing censorship, and the Right is the side championing the offensive.” How bizarre it is that TV’s Comedy Central network is not remotely as cutting-edge or even funny as Gutfeld’s late-night show. Liberal comics have become the stuffy parents while libertarian and conservative clowns have evolved into the hip outsiders.
Gutfeld makes his points with humor, not the angry ad hominem attacks that are so de rigueur today.
Gutfeld contends that cowardice has compelled his late-night TV competitors to castrate their comedy: Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, and James Corden want to be part of the establishment clique and fear being fed to the wokesters if they make fun of President Biden or any other sacred cows. The result, according to him, is that his rivals are now scowling, strident blowhards content to score easy political points with a loyal but small audience of partisans. Explaining his decision to enter the late-night comedy arena with Gutfeld!, the author says that “comedy at night was no longer comedy: it was propaganda thinly disguised as entertainment.”
The backlash against the humorless Left provides another flip, since it is coming from older, more established comics, mostly but not entirely modern liberals, who can afford to be much more anti-establishment. Bill Maher, Dave Chappelle, Ricky Gervais, Russell Brand, Joe Rogan, and Gutfeld have been on stage for decades — thus, “the old guy is now the daredevil and the young ones are delicate daffodils.” How ironic but understandable that most young comics are too scared to risk the wrath of uber-sensitive people eager to pounce on anyone daring to poke fun at them or their dogmas. As Gutfeld acknowledges, less established comics can far less afford to risk career cancellation, especially when social media make past public statements so easily accessible.
The backdrop to all this and perhaps Gutfeld’s ultimate social flip, is the Left’s assumption of the role of the ruling class, zealously protecting powerful establishment elites against the underdog out-groups now championed by the Right. So it was Democrats hysterically pushing government mandates and bolstering big business during the covid panic while people on the right defended individuals’ freedom not to get vaccinated, locked down, or masked. Some Iowa college students were even “protesting that they wanted more covid policies on campus.” In a rich Orwellian irony, “the pro-mask protest was organized by the ‘Campaign to Organize Graduate Students,’ or COGS.”
His rivals are now scowling, strident blowhards content to score easy political points with a loyal but small audience of partisans.
Gutfeld sees the woke incarnation of leftism as “the ideology of punishment. There’s something addictive about telling people how to live their lives.” Observing how National Public Radio (NPR) even “developed a system to snitch on coworkers who aren’t complying with the very pro-mask-wearing policies,” he posits this is a mighty McCarthyist means to neurotically enforce political diktats.
What a flip that the same libs who protested President Bush II’s Iraqi War are now the biggest backers of ever more US military aid to Ukraine, despite the risk of direct US involvement in the Russian-Ukrainian War. Some conservatives have become antiwar skeptics, though Gutfeld suspects the Left would reject US Ukrainian policy if a President Trump were pushing it.
Emotions are clearly in play. But while arguing that the Left is driven by emotion, Gutfeld contends,
I have yet to meet anyone who has ever been truly offended by anything said by anyone. . . . We aren’t really feeling genuine outrage when we are outraged. We are enjoying the rush of energy from the simulation of outrage. We’ve created a new lymphatic system: outrage endorphins.
The book agrees with (and credits) Gutfeld! comedienne Kat Timpf’s recent swell book, You Can’t Joke About That, which suggests that we should make fun of even the tragic. Gutfeld contends that “joking about tragedy is not being sick. It’s being healthy. It’s how we cope with life.” Briefly discussing his father’s drawn-out fatal cancer, which shadowed his childhood, Gutfeld refuses to play the victim card. While theorizing about the impact his unusual parents had on his humor, he never descends into self-pity.
Like Timpf, he asserts that “self-deprecation is a number one requirement for [his] show,” noting that he is the butt of more jokes on Gutfeld! than any other target. He also engages in “vice signaling,” joking about his past drug use and other dirty laundry as “a preemptive strike against cancellation that creates a protective moat from miserable busybodies” who hope to stoke scandal about him.
Likewise, having learned, growing up, that if he “said the unspeakable truths with a smile and a laugh, then it would dull the impact,” the author is relentlessly upbeat on Gutfeld! As a regular viewer, I can confirm that he laughs on his show (way) more than even Ed McMahon did on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.
How bizarre it is that TV’s Comedy Central network is not remotely as cutting-edge or even funny as Gutfeld’s late-night show.
My top criticism of the book is its organization or lack thereof. Instead of chapters, there are lots of headings, but the narrative quickly shifts from one subject to another and back again. Too much! It would have been helpful for similar subjects to be grouped in the same chapter. As with Timpf’s book, there are also too many writing errors (missing words, misspellings, incorrect punctuation, and incomplete sentences).
But The King of Late Night is a genuine joy if you are a Gutfeld fan, and all but the woke would appreciate its bounty of provocative perceptions backed by loads of recent vivid examples. The author does not preach, name call, or stereotype, preferring instead to puncture nonsense with relentless logic clothed in whimsical wit. Though the book addresses many distressing topics, it never made me angry or depressed, since Gutfeld flavors even the most upsetting material with intelligence and original, joyful humor.
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Review of The King of Late Night, by Greg Gutfeld. Simon & Schuster, 2023, 229 pages.