TV Producer Evan Cutler '86 Finds the Right Mix
Glenn Beck producer Evan Cutler '86 has found success merging journalism with comedy.
by Tamar Morad
Ask Evan Cutler ’86 what he does for a living, and he answers, “I’m a journalist—well, kind of.”
He’s written for top magazines, was on the original staff at MSNBC, helped The Daily Show with Jon Stewart achieve wild success on Comedy Central, and is currently a senior producer for CNN’s popular Glenn Beck. All that has led to a career that is a fusion of news reporting and comedy, situating Evan at the heart of one of TV’s main trends.
Take one of the phony commercials he produced for Beck, a conservative talk show host on CNN Headline News who blends news with opinion and humor and who also has a syndicated radio program and a magazine. With images of jihadis and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah flashing, a voice rings out: “Are you busting out of your burq’a? Is tabbouleh taking a toll on your tummy? Then tone that terror with Hezbollaerobics!” Or his jingle, a spoof on an actual Nigerian commercial discouraging people from eating bird poo to prevent the spread of avian flu: “If you want to stay healthy so much, there’s just one thing you don’t want to touch: Bird feces! Bird feces!”
Evan’s fusion of news and comedy began at Ithaca, where he was a speech communication and English major. He and Scott Kunz ’86 started a comical newspaper, Sparing Ribaldry, in their senior year (it folded when they graduated).
After graduating he spent several years writing and editing at magazines including InStyle and Harper’s Bazaar. In 1996 he took a job at MSNBC as a producer of cinema vérité documentaries for the news-and-entertainment program Edgewise with John Hockenberry.
The demise of that show was his first encounter with the chronic ups and downs of the TV industry. “When Princess Diana died in 1997, [news] ratings skyrocketed and stayed high,” Evan says. “The suits realized they didn’t have to spend [so much] on shows like Edgewise” and its bevy of reporters and field producers, “and could make a lot of money bringing on talking heads,” as well as regurgitating and reconfiguring old material.
Evan then took a job as a field producer for the fledgling Daily Show. For four years he toured the country creating offbeat, humorous pieces for its newscast. He also learned to navigate the line between news and comedy—in his reportage and while interviewing sources who thought their stories were serious news.
“I’d go home at night,” he remembers, “with lacerations on my tongue and inside my cheeks from biting to keep from laughing” during interviews. Like the time he flew to a Nebraska prison to interview a prison warden. The warden had gotten rid of the prison’s weightlifting equipment because inmates were becoming too strong, and he hired a gourmet cook instead. “The inmates were getting really fat—one gained 90 pounds—and were ready to riot,” Evan recalls. “We had to do this all with a straight face.”
He left that show for a series of start-ups—save for CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, most of them short-lived flops. During those years, Evan admits, “I often would sit on my front porch” in Montclair, New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and two kids, “and when five o’clock rolled around, I’d see this parade of dads start walking past, each with a briefcase, on their way home. And I’d think, ‘How can I get one of those jobs? I’d love to not have to worry about getting my job canceled.’” Instead, he has accepted the fact that “you just have to do the best show you can every day and hope things work out.”
Now at Glenn Beck (where he works with editor Sam Meyer ’98 and ombudsman Brian Sack ’90), Evan has no reason to stress over ratings. But, he says, it was a “sea change” moving from the left-tilting Daily Show. His own political leanings are closer to that of the right-wing Beck—but that has meant putting up with some degree of abuse from liberals in his hometown and during vacations on Cape Cod.
He tends to laugh off those incidents. They keep him attuned to the conservative-liberal divide, something Beck loves to dig into, and provide fodder for his work.
When asked to describe how he gets the content mix right, Evan refers to Beck’s whiteboard, where the host keeps a list of show ingredients that captivate viewers.
At the top of the list? Relevance, humor, self-deprecation, and entertainment. “The challenge,” Evan says, “is to find the right mix of all those things every day.”