The Late Night Guest Hall of Fame
Everyone wants to be funny on a late night show, but only a handful of comedians are known for making every talk show appearance they do a work of art. Anytime you see someone like Bill Murray or Louis C.K. on the docket for a late night interview, you know it’s going to be something to watch that’ll become a big YouTube hit the following day.
We picked the best late night talk show guests going and assembled the following videolist of their funniest appearances, including Norm Macdonald obliterating an actress promoting a Carrot Top movie, Bill Murray singing and dancing to Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” on Letterman’s first show in 1982, and more.
Throughout the 70s, Albert Brooks was known for his well-crafted late night bits, the recording f which were sadly lost. Even now, he’s still got it, as evidenced by his Letterman appearance to promote This Is 40 last year.
Louis C.K. is truly unique as a talk show guest in that he can roll out a finely-tuned new standup bit during an interview without seeming like he’s steamrolling the host and while making it seem natural. Take his above “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy” bit from Conan, which went viral in 2009. Someone like Jay Leno isn’t really known for his skills as an interviewer, but anytime Louis C.K. does his show, the interview is worth watching.
For decades, actor Charles Grodin has been going on talks shows like Letterman and Carson’s Tonight Show and acting as an antagonist to score laughs. Take this 2007 Letterman clip for example, in which Grodin complains about a stagehand and takes a phone call from his accountant on air. Grodin’s still doing this shtick in the late night world, insulting a new generation of talk show hosts, like Jimmy Fallon last year.
For more, see our piece, “The Awkward, Hostile, and Absolutely Hilarious Late Night Appearances of Charles Grodin.”
When Conan O’Brien inherited The Tonight Show in 2009, he picked Will Ferrell as his first guest a la Letterman using Bill Murray as his inaugural interview on both of his shows. Looking at the above clip, an early 2000s Late Night appearance in which Ferrell comes out as Robert Goulet, insists on calling Conan “Johnny” the whole time, and never breaks character, it’s not easy to understand why Conan picked him as his first guest.
The delightful Amy Sedaris, author and star of the cult hit Strangers with Candy, is one of Letterman’s favorite guests. Her humor and energy are always a welcome presence on TV, whether on late night or during the day on, say, Martha Stewart.
One of the most gifted comedians of his generation, Steve Martin always has something super funny up his sleeve when he visits a late night show. Take a look at this 1980 appearance on Letterman’s morning show, which he does entirely from his bed, or his spot on Conan last week, in which he stole Letterman’s “Top 10” bit and brought it to the show.
Wiig may not have a library of amazing talk show bits to her name like some of the other people on this list, but if her recent Fallon appearance as basketball player Michael Jordan is any indication, there’s plenty of great stuff to come.
It’s rare for someone Cosby’s age to be so unpredictable and so funny on a late night talk show, but his recent appearances on Fallon and Letterman have been filled with a lot of Bill Cosby dancing and a lot of laughs. See him make Jimmy Fallon extremely uncomfortable in the above clip.
The above clip, in which Norm Macdonald derails an interview with an actress promoting her role in a Carrot Top movie, might be the greatest moment in talk show interview history. Macdonald’s wry, irreverent sense of humor is the perfect antidote for stale talk show self-promotion.
For more, see our piece, “On Norm Macdonald, Greatest Talk Show Guest Ever.”
Letterman’s go-to guest, Bill Murray has been doing amazing work on the man’s shows for over 30 years. Whether it’s being dragged onto the stage handcuffed, almost burning down the studio with an anniversary cupcake, or dancing to Olivia Newton-John (above), a Bill Murray appearance on Letterman, the only talk show he does these days, is always worth watching – like everything Murray does.
For more, see our piece on Bill Murray’s best Letterman appearances.