He must be having a laugh

Greg Gutfeld is the leftfield American trying to inject life into the ailing Maxim with his own brand of humour. The trouble is, not everyone finds it funny
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The Independent Online

Greg Gutfeld has no taboos. In the latest edition of Maxim magazine, the new editor has taken a swipe at Jesus, embraced bestiality and celebrated the high number of female asylum-seekers working in the sex industry. Indeed, he gives the "guest editorship" of the magazine to "God", who - as a grey-bearded cartoon figure - observes: "I wanted them to do something like this with the Bible, but they just didn't have the tools."

Gutfeld needs to do something to get Maxim noticed. In last month's ABCs, the magazine recorded sales of just 227,017, down by 9.6 per cent year on year, and under threat from the weekly men's magazine market.

The 39-year-old Californian, who was a hugely successful editor of the American editions of Men's Health and Stuff, has been brought to London by the publisher Felix Dennis to rescue the ailing title. "Word has to get out that this magazine is changing and that it's interesting. There have got to be guys out there like me," he says.

Such a guy would appreciate a new Maxim feature called "Where Was Jesus?", in which the magazine juxtaposes supposed sightings of Christ with disasters that have happened at the same time in other parts of the world. "We're not attributing blame, we're just questioning His schedule," says the piece, which notes that an image of Jesus appeared in a cleaning lady's duster in Leeds at around the same time in 1998 that an Afghan passenger plane crashed into mountains in Pakistan, killing 52 people.

The magazine also features "prayer pin-ups" of a naked woman, captioned with biblical quotations, such as "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery in his heart!" (Matthew 5:28). This is Gutfeld's idea of honesty. "We question everything in the magazine as to why it's there in the first place. If there's nothing honest or truthful, then we get rid of it."

He thinks that jokes pages in regular men's magazines are the refuge of sad individuals with no sense of humour. So, in what he regards as a tribute to the intelligence of his readers, he has replaced it with something darker. Thus, a "gag" about an Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman who capsize at sea ends abruptly: "All the men drown, and families in three different countries are united in grief." A cartoon strip, "Adventures of the Widower", shows (in the unpublished November issue) an elderly man making the tea before he realises he only requires a single tea-bag and has to throw the second one away.

It is no surprise to find that Gutfeld is a great fan of Viz magazine and that he grew up reading Mad. But Maxim has always sold to more regular guys - and lots of them are not laughing with Gutfeld. Robert Silvester of Southampton writes to complain: "I have just read the worst jokes ever printed. I'm sorry if I've missed something, but I would appreciate someone sending me a description of the punchlines and why they're funny." Another reader, Geoff Hughes of Herts, asks: "Are you playing some sort of mind games with us?"

Gutfeld even took the trouble to phone KM Parker of Newark, who had been confused by an item on "picking up" women that advised readers to visit their local morgue. Gutfeld, who published the ensuing phone conversation in Maxim's letters page, told Mr Parker: "We took the typical 'easiest places to get women' and did it literally." Mr Parker was apparently apologetic for not appreciating the irony.

Other features are simply bizarre. Gutfeld has printed a line drawing of himself having sex with a ram, with a request to readers to send photos of their enemies so that they can be sketched in similar pose. He deals with "Erotica" with a series of photographs of a girl who frolicks in a field before taking a Polaroid of her beau, who turns out to be a horse (this, among Gutfeld's many examples of "my favourite thing in the whole magazine", is his absolute favourite).

Motoring pages, surely drooled-over by Maxim readers of old, have been turned into a mocking feature titled "Rich Man's Cock". In Gutfeld's experience, other magazines habitually run editorials about unaffordable cars that have been test-driven for the weekend by the editor, but not by the lowly hack who writes the fawning copy.

Gutfeld rattles on, 10-to-the-dozen, bursting with enthusiasm and leaping from his chair every few seconds like a child who has consumed too many E-numbers. Indeed, he explains his slight lateness for the interview by saying he was out of the office "looking for a candy bar".

Mind you, he should know about diet, after pioneering some extraordinary, pseudo-scientific journalism at Men's Health, in which he experimented on himself with food. One piece involved Gutfeld eating only fibre, and recording the effects in minute detail. Another Gutfeld exclusive, published in November 1999, was titled "Psychological and Physical Effects of Consuming Meat and Meat By-products With a Clown for Five Days." A remarkably similar idea to this has recently inspired the acclaimed film Super Size Me, in which Morgan Spurlock recounts his experience of eating nothing but McDonald's food for a month. Although Gutfeld refers to Spurlock in expletives, he blames himself for not making a film five years ago, and is gracious enough to publish a positive review of Super Size Me in the new Maxim.

Less considerate, perhaps, is the feature "Fresh Off the Boat", which offers readers the chance of a date with an attractive female asylum-seeker. It has produced a lukewarm response from readers. "We are trying to set up readers with women we want to keep in this country. They're almost always strippers," says Gutfeld. "After communism fell, all the breakaway countries formed Stripperstan and there's all these women that are just dying to get over here to take off their clothes - and they are not very happy. The article is to match our single readers with these unhappy girls and make them happy."

Gutfeld, who admits he "had no idea at all" what a political hot potato asylum is in Britain, has been in the country for three months, most of which he has spent in and around the Dennis offices in London's Fitzrovia. Staff have been trying to get him to sample the "delights" of an out-of-town shopping mall or a football match, but there has not been time.

His key cultural reference point is The Office, the male characters from which, Gutfeld believes, represent the men's magazine market. Finchy is a Loaded reader, Gareth is a fan of FHM and David Brent purchases GQ and Arena. "That leaves Tim. The guy in the bar who sits and stares at his drink and thinks 'Why am I with these people?'" says Gutfeld. "Maxim is for that guy. I've gotta find the Tims."