Veteran stand-up and storyteller Tom Shillue has just taken over as host of Fox News’ late night satirical talk show Red Eye and he couldn’t be more excited. “It’s a dream come true.” Shillue became a staple panelist and recurring guest host on the program and his contributions made him an obvious choice to replace former host Greg Gutfeld, who recently graduated to his own eponymous show on Fox News. I talked to Shillue about what he plans to bring to Red Eye, his time spent on The Daily Show, and his personal formula for reaching a wide audience.
Congratulations on the new gig.
I’m very excited.
Before the official announcement, you tweeted, “A guy gets asked to host his favorite show.” Is Red Eye truly your favorite show?
Yes! I saw the very first show and thought, “Whoa, this show is a mess, but it’s really entertaining.” It was so raw and unpredictable. I wondered if I was the only one watching it. Gradually, I realized that it had kind of a cult following. I always thought, “I’d love to be a guest on that show, but I’m not going to humble myself and call them and beg.” Then, one day, they gave me a call and asked me to be a guest on the show. That started my relationship with the show. It was my favorite show to watch. One of the things about doing the show as a panelist is that … I liked to just sit back and watch it from home and be objective. When I became a part of the regular crew, it kind of became my thing now, so I couldn’t be one of the fans any more. I never thought I would take over as host of the show. Once I started guest hosting I thought, “If Greg ever leaves this gig, I think I could step up and do this. I wonder if they would consider me?” It came to be. It’s a dream come true.
How did it all come about? Was it made known that they were looking for a replacement and then you started gunning for the position?
Surprisingly, what everybody knew, I knew. I was waiting like the rest of the world, hoping that I would get the gig. It wasn’t long after I knew I had the gig that they made the announcement. I didn’t have much time to celebrate by myself before the rest of the world knew.
What do you hope to bring to the show that will be uniquely yours?
We’re going through a couple of weeks of repeats while I’m there with the staff working on the new show. We’re getting a new look, new lighting. We’re in the studio seeing what works and what doesn’t. As far as the show goes, I’m getting a little more… when I would guest host, we would go through the stories of the day and write them up. We all work together. I have a hand in writing. I write my monologues. Everything that goes in the script I work on as a kind of host/head writer. Now I’m just going to be putting a little more of my voice in there. It’s like being a musician. When you’re in your first band and you’re a huge Springsteen fan, your first band sounds like a Springsteen cover band. So when I first started hosting the show, I was just copying Greg. He knows how the show works. He knows what he’s doing. The staff had a way of writing for Greg. Slowly, we’re all trying to write in my voice. Now that I’m at the helm, I hope there will be a little more of the Shillue voice in there. Everyone has their own way of doing things. I want to bring my style of humor to the show. Greg and I get along really well, but we don’t always agree on things. The show is going to have my kind of perspective and hopefully, people will get a kick out of it.
You’re a big fan of narrative storytelling. Are you going to bring elements of the storytelling you do on stage to the show?
Good question. That’s something I’ve been thinking about all week. We’re working on taking my love of storytelling and working it into the show. For instance, do you remember Paul Harvey?
Paul Harvey was a great radio storyteller. He had a great way of framing a news story, or a human interest story, in his style. I’m trying to work with the scripts and bring my love of narrative into segments. It’s a panel show, so we’re having discussions. I’m not going to be telling stories the way I do on stage. But because I love to craft a narrative, I want to be able to bring that to some of our segments. We’re essentially telling stories. The way we tell stories in news is different from the way we tell stories in a talk show format and different from the way we tell stories on stage at a show. I’m trying to find a way to take my love of narrative and bring it to the show. Most of what I do is long form storytelling. We don’t have time to do that on TV. We have to get in and get out. But people are going to see a little bit of what I do in Red Eye.
Do you prefer TV or live standup more?
They’re two different animals. I’m thrilled to be doing this show and getting off the road because I’ve been doing a lot of touring with Jim Gaffigan. We work these big theaters. There’s nothing like it. It’s hard to describe how great it is to get out there and perform in these big theaters. Even when I’m opening for Jim – the crowd is there to see him – it’s been great performing all over the country. But, obviously, I prefer TV because you’ve got your own show. You’re speaking to hundreds of thousands of people a night. You get that instant gratification of doing a show, going home and watching it, then getting feedback from all over the country. I am loving TV, but I just started. Hopefully I’ll be able to continue doing both. When I go on the road, I’ll be able to connect with the Red Eye fans from the TV audience. When you combine the TV thing with the live shows, it’s fantastic. To kind of answer the question, I’m going to be working so hard on this show that I don’t have a lot of live dates lined up. But hopefully I can combine the two worlds in the future and keep that live performer muscle working.
I read an article where you were quoted as saying that you feel “victimized by the politically correct crowd.” I thought that was a relevant quote, considering Seinfeld’s recent comments on Seth Meyers’ show. How do you feel about political correctness in comedy?
Did I use the word victimized? I don’t like that word.
You did. That’s what stood out to me.
Oh boy, I’m in trouble. [laughs] I’m the guy who likes to call people out when they call themselves victims. I like to say that I’m not a victim. But if I said it, I’ve got to stand by it. When I get out there in the clubs, it’s almost the opposite of that. Sometimes when I talk with fellow comedians they say, “These crowds are much more sensitive now than they used to be.” I try to take the opposite track that Jerry did and say, “That’s our job. We’ve got to deal with these tough crowds.” Never blame the audience. Maybe after a particularly rough show, where somebody doesn’t like what you’re doing, you might complain about it. But in the light of day, you have to suck it up and say, “It’s my opinion. If I’m going to stand by it, I’m going to have to realize that not everybody agrees with me.”
I don’t get into that much trouble, though. My act is not very controversial. I talk about issues when I do Red Eye. But I don’t talk about issues that much in my standup. I tell stories about my life. That’s what I like in a comedian. The comics I like talk about their life, the people around them, the things that happen to them, as opposed to issues. Standup is a great place to get to know an individual. I love when you watch a great comic and you get into their mind, their soul. The best way to do that is when they’re talking about emotional stuff, personal stuff, as opposed to macro-issues. That’s what I do in my act.
Do you think that with Red Eye you’ll now be more on the radar of people who follow and critique political viewpoints? Could this be a time in your career when you will be under fire more for your opinions?
Yeah, maybe. And I’m kind of excited about it. I’m looking forward to hearing what people say. I don’t consider myself that controversial, so it will be interesting to see what people say. I’m sure there will be people coming at me from all sides. I can take it. I look like a fairly wimpy guy, but I have a hard shell. I don’t take criticism that hard. If someone comes at me on Twitter, I just kind of smile and move on. People criticizing me does not keep me up at night. I tend to ignore it.
You were a correspondent on The Daily Show for a while.
I started on The Daily Show when I pitched my own segment. This is back when it was The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn. I pitched a bunch of segments. One of them was called, “This Week in Hate,” where you would do a weekly wrap-up of intolerant websites. The internet was new, so this was kind of a new media segment. It was a light-hearted look at intolerance on the web. They picked it up immediately, put it on the schedule and let me go. I wrote my own segment and plugged it in at the end of the show. I did that for almost two years, maybe a year and a half. Then Jon Stewart took over the show and I continued doing it with him for about a year. Then they tried me out as a correspondent and I eventually faded away. I never really got let go from the show. They were trying out people. I had that period where it was like, “Am I going to be full time here?” It never really happened. I just moved on. Then the show exploded in popularity and no one remembers that I was ever a part of it, but that’s fine.
You said recently that you feel like Jon Stewart is the Jay Leno of the left. Can you put that into context?
I’d better put it in context. I love both of those guys. Some people have taken that out of context, as if it was an insult. I love Jay Leno. He’s great because he’s a great standup. Anyone who doesn’t remember his standup doesn’t know what a great club comic he was. I loved him on The Tonight Show. He had a great broad appeal. Some people who don’t like Leno think that he’s too broad. I like broad. I like people who can communicate to as large an audience as possible. I think Jon Stewart is that way. He obviously does a political show, but he’s able to reach a broad audience. I’m more conservative than Jon Stewart, but I love his show. I think he reaches a broad audience. He’s on the left of the spectrum, but he’s not that far left. I think his allegiance is to getting a laugh. He picks on conservatives more than liberals, but he certainly does pick on liberals. He plays it as close to the center as he can. That’s what I meant. I think it’s a good quote. Although, you do have to give it context. I should have said, “Jon Stewart is the Jay Leno of the left… and I love both of those guys!”
You lean a little bit right. That’s not always the most popular position in comedy. How do you plan on reaching a broader audience with the show?
I don’t think I’m going to worry about that. The best way to reach a broad audience is to have a fun show. The great thing about Red Eye is that we have a great panel of people from all over the place. It’s like a weird party. It’s like being at a bar, talking to your friends. I’m going to try to keep that energy. I’m not going to worry about coming at things from an angle in order to increase the audience. I think the audience will come if you have a fun show, if you’re in the moment, and if you have interesting people on. That’s the formula to get people to watch.