NEW YORK — Greg Gutfeld has always been a misfit.
His fondness for hocking a loogie into the corporate Kool-Aid bucket helped get him fired from Rodale, where he was editor in chief of Men’s Health, then sidelined at Dennis Publishing, where he was editor in chief of Stuff. His antics, which included hiring midgets to disrupt an industry event, eventually led to his getting exiled from the U.S. when Dennis shipped him off to take over the British edition of Maxim.
But a funny thing happened when Gutfeld got to London: The misfit found a place he seems to belong.
After several years of falling circulation, British Maxim managed to eke out an increase in the first half of the year (to 227,337), surpassing Loaded to become the number-two lad magazine behind FHM. That passes for success at a time when men’s weeklies have been siphoning readers from the monthlies in the U.K. Maxim’s makeover also has impressed critics such as Owen Gibson, who covers media for the Guardian.
“In a market that was becoming fairly moribund and didn’t have much excitement to it, he came in and shook things up a bit,” said Gibson. “It’s still fairly puerile and base, the kind of humor you get in Maxim, but at the same time, it’s a bit quirkier and witchier.”
Meanwhile, Gutfeld, who in his New York days was constantly picking fights with his fellow magazine editors, seems to be at peace with his adoptive countrymen. Has life in London mellowed this Ugly American?
“I don’t think so,” Gutfeld said. “In fact, I think I’ve gotten surlier and ruder. I can definitely drink a lot more beer, and I’ve learned many more colorful ways to swear.”
To hear him tell it, his attitude adjustment is merely a product of a more congenial environment. “In New York, there never seemed to be a shortage of people who took themselves seriously,” he said. “Here, there’s so many more men’s magazines, and all the people that work at them are genuinely nice, normal guys. They’re just decent people. It’s really hard to find pretentious, self-involved, ‘Look at me, I’m an important editor’ types at these magazines.”
Hard, but apparently not impossible. Echoing his schoolyard feud with late GQ editor Art Cooper, Gutfeld, soon after his arrival in London, printed a cartoon satirizing British GQ editor Dylan Jones. But after a few swipes failed to draw a response from Jones, Gutfeld let it drop. “I got bored with it,” he said. “Generally, people here are pretty nice, even the pompous a–holes.”
Further evidence that Gutfeld is maturing in spite of himself is his 10-month-old marriage to Elena Moussa, whom he met when she was photo editor for Russian Maxim. “I would refrain from talking about how wonderful it is to be married because it makes you sound like — I keep thinking in British terms now — like a prat,” he said.
It could be argued, however, that if Gutfeld is behaving himself these days, it’s because he has found the perfect outlet for his compulsive need to offend people: the Huffington Post. As one of the group blog’s only conservative voices, Gutfeld was bound to make some enemies, but he has done way more than that with his increasingly pointed attacks on his fellow bloggers. A typical recent posting reads, “I now realize that Huffpo is like a bug zapper. It attracts all the pests in your big backyard to one little blog where they can be safely ignored while they die their little bug deaths.”
“The Huffington Post is like a cocktail party where everyone’s talking to themselves, and I’m there basically as a drunk, putting out cigarettes on the sofa,” he said. “They’re self-promoting people who are looking for talk shows.”
Gutfeld’s politics seem to spring less from conservative values than from the knee-jerk antielitism that drew him to lad magazines over highbrow fashion titles.
“I really don’t like liberals, and it’s probably because I was one when I was growing up,” he said. “I always felt it was more about self-gratification than it was about changing the world. I feel like it takes more guts to be a conservative because you’re seen as stodgy and humorless.”
But even in the left-wing echo chamber of the Huffington Post, Gutfeld seems strangely at home. He’s been described as the “unofficial site ombudsman” and has his own following of readers who demand to know why his writings are no longer among the site’s featured posts. He even claims to have a cordial relationship with founder Arianna Huffington. “I think she likes to think that I was her idea,” he said.
Mark Golin, the former editor in chief of Maxim U.S. and one of Gutfeld’s closest friends, has a theory about what makes Gutfeld so much fun to watch. “He brings a combination of a very dark edge, plus he couldn’t give a crap what actually happens — a frisson of that,” he said. “It’s kind of neat what happens when someone isn’t protecting their own ass.”