Grand Central Publishing
Greg Gutfeld hosts a late-night TV talk show. Sort of. He has a talk show, Red Eye w/ Greg Gutfeld, that airs nightly on Fox News. He just doesn't do much hosting. He rants, teases, and cajoles. He mocks, amuses, and offends. He flickers wildly between high-minded libertarian theorist and scatological shock comic—pontificating on ethics one moment, taking a morbid adolescent's delight in human perversity the next. A Johnny Ramone-style, pro-gay, pro-gun conservative, Gutfeld is a moralist at heart who uses a faux-degenerate persona as a comedic cover.
He is a straight, happily married man who pretends to have a sex dungeon full of Asian houseboys. A workaholic whose worst vice is booze, he jokes about addictions to smack and crystal meth. In short, Gutfeld is a deeply conflicted, twisted soul.
He is also a friend of mine. Sort of. We don't go antiquing together on weekends or anything, but I've written for Red Eye and appeared on the show a few times. He even thanked me in the preface of his new book, The Bible of Unspeakable Truths, set for release May 25, making this maybe the first time in literary history a book has been given a bad review by someone the author thanked for helping him write it.
But Unspeakable Truths is only technically a book, sort of how Wild Irish Rose is technically a red wine. If great prose is made to be savored like fine Merlot, Unspeakable Truths is meant to be gulped and get you wasted. This is more like a TV show in print—283 pages of Gutfeld doing what he does every night on Red Eye, letting loose rapid-fire bursts of occasionally profane Swiftian invective on politics, ethics, sex, religion, mass media and pop culture. Essay subjects like "Child Slavery is Underrated," and "Men Are Doomed to Show Their Junk" give some sense of the provocative style. Ostensibly organized into 18 chapters, including "Obligatory Sex Junk" and "Things That Are Stupid," there are no grand theories here, no overarching themes developed. The last chapter's title, "Miscellany (i.e. Really Great Stuff That Could Pretty Much Go Anywhere in the Book but Ended Up Here Because I'm Lazy)" is a fairly accurate description of the work as a whole.
A former editor at Maxim UK, Stuff, and Men's Health, pop culture is by far Gutfeld's strongest suit. The riffs on Christian Slater's possible pickup lines and Gwyneth Paltrow's sophomoric anti-Americanism ring delightfully true. Gutfeld nicely eviscerates the sort of dimwit radical who calls Walmart "evil" but can't muster the same condemnation for the mullahs running Iran. He is less impressive in deeper waters. A brief chapter on morality, for instance, recapitulates Pascal's Wager without mentioning the French thinker, and it's unclear if Gutfeld thinks he came up with the idea first.
And the weighty stuff doesn't even come very often, which may be the book's biggest flaw. Gutfeld won't or can't commit to sustained gravitas. He never goes more than three paragraphs without a pun, parenthetical thought, or pop culture reference. He's always funny and ridiculously good at wordplay, but too often the humor is there for its own sake, rather than to advance the narrative, distracting from his point rather than helping to make it. Too often he wraps up an idea by mocking his own lack of expertise—admirable for its humility, but it is hard for readers to take an author seriously when he keeps rhetorically pulling the rug out from under himself.
If you are libertarian or conservative, or lean that way, you'll be delighted by the book's ruthless takedowns of Katie Couric, Deepak Chopra, George Clooney, the New York Times. If you are centrist, you'll be intrigued and challenged by his take on Hollywood villains, lazy journalists, and radical Islam, and perhaps occasionally offended by his passionate love/hate for all things Obama. If you lean left or have fallen over, you'll just find Greg to be a shorter, funnier version of Ann Coulter. Too bad. Truths feels written to entertain a core audience, not persuade a broader one. It succeeds, but the author is capable of so much more.