Media Headliner: Maxim hires kitten tormentor as its enfant terrible-in-chief

US media's loss is the UK's gain - or is it the other way around, Alasdair Reid asks.

We're absolutely going to love Greg Gutfeld. Unless it turns out that we hate him, obviously. It's unlikely there's going to be a middle way. He's just one of those people. Likewise, it's unlikely we'll be able to avoid him - as we speak, whole herds of TV producers and booking agents will doubtless be falling over themselves to snap him up as a guest.

We are surely only a matter of weeks away from his first appearance on, for instance, Have I Got News For You, probably on Paul Merton's team.

Ian Hislop would probably see him as too much of a rival and come over all bristly.

Because Gutfeld is, of course, a magazine editor who thinks he's funny.

He's one of America's most notorious journalists, a serial controversialist who made his mark while the editor-in-chief of Stuff, a subversive take on popular culture that he propelled to number two in the men's magazine market.

And as of this week, he's over here, preparing to occupy the editor's chair at Maxim. His mission is to do for Maxim what he did for Stuff in the US.

No easy task, despite all the hype last week from Maxim's publisher, Dennis Publishing, about the visionary nature of Gutfeld's cutting-edge talents. Bruce Sandell, the publishing director of Maxim UK, comments: "British magazines are still working to a formula set ten years ago and (are) in a similar state to the US men's market before Dennis Publishing re-invigorated the sector with the launch of US Maxim and US Stuff."

Gutfeld himself was unable to talk to Campaign because he was locked away in a conference overseas.

His schtick, in a nutshell, is to take us to places that are odd or strange or dark. The praise lavished on him by the top brass at Dennis is perhaps surprising, given that Gutfeld is only here because his career at Stuff hit a rocky patch - he was bumped sideways, becoming the magazine's director of brand development last year, when the management tired of his antics just at the point where circulation growth was beginning to stall.

It's eminently possible that he'll be a big hit here - just as, in the past, we've had intense affairs with other sardonic, wisecracking American cultural commentators such as Joe Queenan and PJ O'Rourke. Actually, that makes it sound as if Gutfeld is a cutting-edge satirist, which would be slightly misleading.

He's narrower in range and the targets he has pursued with the greatest relish in the past are largely confined to the ranks of Man-hattan's media set. He's far more self-referential too. He comes across as a self-satisfied clever-dick who tells elegantly structured gags in the way that personalities from an earlier and more innocent era (a Bob Hope, say) would tell gags. Here's one from his leaving do last week: "I'm really gonna miss New York. The stench of urine, the garbage thrown about, the rats. But enough about my waterbed."

OK, maybe Bob Hope was a poor analogy. But Gutfeld is never quite as dark as he thinks he is, or would like to be. Nor is it clear that darkness is what Maxim needs over here.

Pushing 40, Gutfeld still craves attention as an enfant terrible - he was fired from a previous job on Men's Health for an article purporting to confess a penchant for torturing kittens; and more recently he hired a crack team of dwarves to disrupt a publishing conference. When Felix Dennis relaunches Oz, he will be the man for the job.

Gutfeld is, in truth, not ideally suited to magazine journalism - because he often appears outraged at the way publishers recycle old ideas, formats, looks, even whole articles. At some point along the way, someone has to pluck up the nerve to tell him that, actually, this is one of the fundamental roles of magazine publishing.

A contrived sense of moral outrage was central to his schtick as he sought to stir things up on the Manhattan media scene. He conducted several celebrated vendettas via the good offices of his organ; and a surprising number of patsies fell for his gratuitous provocation hook, line and sinker. Last year, Art Cooper, GQ's then editor-in-chief, fumed that Gutfeld was "the boorish personification of Nietzsche's observation that 'There is nothing more frightening than ignorance in action'".

Over here, he'll be astonished at the stupidity of the opposition. The publishing world in Manhattan still boasts some bright sparks - but men's magazines over here have rarely experimented with anything outside of the predictable slapstick. His rival editors won't get riled into hissy fits because they probably won't know what he's on about.

On the other hand, if and when the insults start flying, they are possibly going to be a touch more Anglo-Saxon than he's used to. We, it has to be said, can't wait.

THE GUTFELD FILE

1992: Men's Health (US), various positions up to editor

1999: Stuff (US), editor

2003: Stuff (US), director of brand development

2004: Maxim (UK), editor

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