Greg Gutfeld and Stephen Colbert Late-Night Battle Reaches Its Apex - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Greg Gutfeld and Stephen Colbert Late-Night Battle Reaches Its Apex
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Greg Gutfeld and Stephen Colbert (Stephen Colbert/Fox News/YouTube)

Greg Gutfeld’s acerbic wit and Stephen Colbert’s self-important satire have been locked in a ratings battle ever since Gutfeld! shocked the late-night world with its out-of-the-gate popularity 15 months ago. 

The competition has narrowed: When averaging the five weeks of ratings from June 27 to July 31, Fox News’ Gutfeld! beats out CBS’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. It’s worth noting, however, that Colbert was on vacation for the first two weeks of July and ran reruns during that time.

From July 25 to 31, Colbert drew an average of 2,076,000 viewers while Gutfeld got 1,879,200. The prior week, July 18 to 24, Colbert hit 2,143,000 average viewers while Gutfeld got 2,009,200. Sometimes, even when Colbert isn’t on vacation, Gutfeld comes out on top.

Colbert’s Late Show, which premiered seven years ago, has, for the most part, topped late-night ratings ever since surpassing Jimmy Fallon’s cratering Tonight Show in 2016. Colbert’s formula of Democratic cheerleading interrupted by occasional comedic jibes has proven to be a success. (Here’s an attempt at humor from Monday: “This weekend, the U.S. Senate finally approved a bill to fight climate change … Thank God. Finally. Thank God, we’re at least going to try to save the planet because that is where I keep most of my stuff.”) During the month of June, Colbert averaged 2,187,000 viewers while Gutfeld averaged 1,956,000. Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon trailed behind with 1,690,000 and 1,327,000 viewers, respectively. (READ MORE: Greg Gutfeld Is Humiliating Liberal Late-Night Hosts)

Gutfeld is digging into the ratings duel, noting his “constant drubbing” of his competition and calling his show “better than anything going on at 11 pm.” Meanwhile, Colbert continues to ignore Gutfeld’s existence. Having built his entire career upon trashing right-wing television hosts, being beaten at his own game by a liberal-hating libertarian would be embarrassing. 

In terms of institutional support, Colbert has all the advantages against Gutfeld. His liberalism makes him eligible for such things as an Emmy nomination for best variety show and a Yale honorary degree. And mainstream media outlets like to pretend that Gutfeld! doesn’t count as a late-night show. In late June, for instance, the Los Angeles Times published an article recapping late-night hosts’ reactions to former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony before the Jan. 6 committee. Included in the paper’s coverage? Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon, Trevor Noah, and Stephen Colbert. Not even mentioned? The No. 2 highest-rated late-night host. (Gutfeld did indeed discuss Hutchinson on his show, but his comments didn’t fit the mainstream narrative.)

Another advantage Colbert holds — or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it — is that he serves as a PR stop for countless celebrities. 

In the past week, he has hosted Rings of Power actress Morfydd Clark, Da Vinci Code director Ron Howard, singer James Taylor, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Patton Oswalt, and actress Mindy Kaling.

The celebrities Gutfeld has invited on his show in the past week include his “massive sidekick” Tyrus, a wrestler whose memoir detailing his ascent out of his rough childhood topped charts; mainstay Kat Timpf, a 33-year-old blonde libertarian from Michigan; and a few other Fox News personalities. 

Gutfeld said last week that his show sounds like the beginning of a joke: “A Polish blonde, a black wrestler, and a little person walk into a bar. A few months later, through hard work, determination, and talent, they own it.”

His dismissal of the celebrity appearances that are traditional in late-night shows is part of the show’s anti-establishment approach of mocking the cultural elite rather than making nice with them. The success of Gutfeld! in the absence of these celebrity appearances suggests Americans would rather make fun of out-of-touch celebrities than have to listen to them rattle off how close they are to their co-stars or how they have the most relatable anecdote from their childhood as the late-night host goes off about how much he just loves their work. 

Gutfeld described his competitors thusly when commenting on the launch of his new show in March 2021: “They’re as bland as string cheese and not nearly as appetizing. It’s the same jokes, the same assumptions, probably the same writers, all reading the same columns from the same hacks in the New York Times.”

The just-canceled Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, which aired on TBS, took that late-night mandate to the extreme, stating outright that its purpose was to “educate” and “empower” viewers with its liberal activism. 

Bee’s most famous line from the show, “Ivanka Trump is a feckless c**t,” didn’t come off as empowering, so she was forced to apologize for it. But she still made time to set aside many a segment to lecture on the importance of a “woman’s right to choose.” After the Supreme Court declined to end Texas’ law empowering citizens to sue those who provided abortions, she said, “This was just the latest partisan abuse of the court’s shadow docket.”

Gutfeld’s show sounds quite different. Everything is over the top and absurd. He has no loyalty or special affinity for anyone; everyone is subject to being mocked and satirized. This is especially so because, as a libertarian, he doesn’t fit comfortably into either major political party. And his libertarianism allows him to look at the world with plenty of cynicism.

In response to the news last week of the cancellation of Bee’s show, he said: “As you know, TBS canceled the late-night show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. Actually, I’ll bet Kat’s salary you didn’t know. But if you saw it, you’d wonder: if that’s Samantha Bee, I’d hate to see Samantha C, D, or F.”

He continued: “Its ratings were pretty bad but slightly higher than my colonoscopy and that’s only because I do my own. Oh, it’s easy. All you need is a flashlight, a rib spreader, and the flexibility of Gabby Douglas.”

Colbert, on the other hand, had desperately tried to help Bee rescue her barely watched show, bringing her on several times as a celebrity guest. In January, Colbert invited her on to promote her seventh season, saying, “Full Frontal just hit a milestone: 200th episode.” Bee blabbered on about filming a segment on “vaccine misinformation” in a “kitten cafe.” (If she had said such a thing on Gutfeld!, she would have been mocked relentlessly. Colbert said, “I like it, I like it.”)

When Colbert brought Granholm on his show last week, he brought up the Inflation Reduction Act, acclaiming the legislation with a serious tone: “There’s a significant part of the funding for an unprecedented addressing of the climate crisis.” She responded, “It is, as you noted, historic because it is the largest amount that … any president has ever invested in climate.”

Gutfeld tackled the topic a little differently:

I love how the media are just dying to say something positive about Joe: “Oh my goodness he had a good week. He passed something other than gas.” Seriously, I almost expect them to say, “Ooh look, he made a boom-boom and he flushed.”

Biden’s terrible poll numbers make the late-night environment better attuned to someone who will mock him rather than give him cover. As a result, mainstream late-night hosts have begun to lightly make fun of Biden — while treading cautiously.

Colbert, while taking on the persona of Biden, said in July: “I took me some Plaxivoid, the Plaxivid, the platypus polish, I took it. The point is that little pill knocked the Clovis right out of my bread basket.” (This was in response to Biden saying: “Millions of Americans have used Paxlovoid…Paxlovid, excuse me. Paxlovid. I’ll tell you what, I think I… I used it.”)

Yet for the most part, Colbert has treated Biden positively. Gutfeld has relentlessly mocked Colbert for this, saying last month: “I would not survive prison. I’d be one of the prizes in a card game. I’d become someone’s b***h faster than Colbert became Biden’s.”

Following Biden’s State of the Union address in March, Colbert said: “Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen: it was a roller coaster ride of rip, roar, and reasonableness…. It was a powerful speech at a moment of global crisis and Biden brought it home with a rousing call to national greatness.”

On Monday, Colbert had on Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who called Biden “a bit of a superhero,” adding that it is “magical” that Biden is “nimble enough to understand when he needs to be directly involved, when he needs to sit back.”

Gutfeld, on the other hand, regularly unleashes scorn on Biden. (“Biden’s ratings are so far down the toilet, they could wave hello to Chris Wallace,” he said in July.)

If Biden continues his never-ending downward approval-rating slide, Gutfeld, as the only late-night host really willing to dish out to the president, could be the beneficiary. If Biden has a sudden turnaround, as the mainstream media is desperately hoping following the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the Democratic Colbert will be more likely to maintain his position on top.

As Biden has gone nowhere but down since April 2021, Gutfeld might have the better chance to win this late-night duel.

Ellie Gardey
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Ellie Gardey is reporter and assistant editor at The American Spectator. Follow her on Twitter @EllieGardey.
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