One summer, some female students from Brown University rented the Sigma Chi house; Mr. Gutfeld was the landlord. “They were the most miserable group of girls ever,” he said. One of the girls expressed romantic interest in a long-distance runner named Craig. Mr. Gutfeld, appropriating the plot of the book Alive, told the girls that Craig had once been in a plane crash in the Andes and had to eat some of his teammates.
“They were aghast,” he said. The next day, he enlisted a friend to run down the frat stairwell screaming that there’d been an accident: A pledge had fallen to his death. Mr. Gutfeld was in a room with the Brown girls. “I said, ‘Shit! Shit!’ And then I said, ‘Let’s get Craig!’ The girls were like, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘He’ll eat him! He’ll eat him!’” The girls moved out.
After he graduated in 1987, he received an internship at The American Spectator as assistant to R. Emmett Tyrell Jr., the magazine’s founder. Mr. Gutfeld opened Mr. Tyrell’s mail, got him lunch and spotted him while they lifted weights together. “I kept my mouth shut and listened,” he said.
One day, Mr. Tyrell said to him, “Reagan’s coming—I need you to mow my lawn,” recalled Mr. Gutfeld. “So I went to his house in McLean, mowed his lawn, washed his windows. And I said, ‘Could I meet Reagan?’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’ It was a fair trade—I would have fucking cleaned the toilets.
“I’m standing there and there’s this motorcade, and I turn to look and say something—and Reagan is standing next to me,” he said. “He wasn’t in the main car. It was like seeing someone in a Reagan mask. When you see Reagan, you think it’s somebody in a Reagan mask. I remember saying nothing but gibberish. After Reagan left, they were clearing the dishes, and I got Reagan’s dish, and he hadn’t eaten all of his chicken. So I ate all his chicken.”
Mr. Gutfeld was broke, so he applied for a job at Rodale Press’ Prevention magazine. “I met the editor—I had no interest in health, I’d misspelled his name—and he hired me,” he said. He moved up the Rodale ladder: After four years at Prevention, he became a staff writer at Men’s Health, then editor in chief in 1999. He was fired a year later: “I put out amazing magazines, but they wanted Dave Zinczenko to be editor—he’s the perfect face for that magazine.”
The same month he was canned, he was offered a job as editor in chief of Stuff. Over the next three years, circulation increased from 750,000 to 1.2 million. “People thought of it as a lad mag, but the writing was as good as anything on Letterman,” he said.
In 2003, he hired several dwarves to attend a magazine conference, on the topic of “buzz,” in his place. During one of the lectures, they chatted loudly on cell phones and munched potato chips. “The midget thing got me in trouble” he said. “And the reason I didn’t tell anybody about it in advance is because then it wouldn’t have happened. I thought it made perfect sense: There’s a conference on ‘buzz’ by a bunch of self-congratulating idiots—I’ll show you buzz.”
He was kicked upstairs at Dennis and given the title of “brand development.”
“Every time I lost a job, I felt miserable—but something always would happen,” he said. “And I’m a difficult person for people to say, ‘That’s the guy we want.’ I don’t know what makes people do that …. I think there’s a romantic inclination from the people who hire me: They like that I don’t give a shit. And then, at the end of the day, they have to fire me.”
Dennis Publishing didn’t leave him upstairs for long: They tapped him to be the editor of Maxim UK, where he met the photo editor of Maxim Russia, Ms. Moussa. He proposed three months later.
Mr. Gutfeld said that before his stint in London, he’d always been unhappy in New York, because of the relentless pursuit of happiness.
“That’s what you do, but no one’s happy here,” he said. “So if you show up at a restaurant, you expect good service—and when it’s not good, you’re angry. In England, you expect bad service—and when it’s bad, you’re fine. And it’s because it’s a country that has already lost, and they don’t care. Being in England is like being dead. If there is such a thing as heaven, heaven is the end of competition, where you just throw up your hands and go, ‘It’s over!’”
In England, he said, “A guy will come up to you and say, ‘You know what you should do? You should go to Essex.’ And you’ll say, ‘Why?’ And he’ll say, ‘You’ll love it—it’s crap.’ Someone else will say, ‘Oh, no, you should go to Birmingham. You’ll love it.’ And you’ll say, ‘Why?’ ‘Because it’s crap.’ And I didn’t understand this—and then I did go, and you realize, ‘This is crap, but I’m having a really good time.’”