Thursday, August 15th, 2013

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.

Albert Brooks

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.

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.

Charles Grodin

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."

Will Ferrell

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.

Amy Sedaris

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.

Steve Martin

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.

Kristen Wiig

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.

Bill Cosby

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.

Norm Macdonald

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."

Bill Murray

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.

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  • Gregory Ronquillo

    white people and also bill cosby

    • Van

      Don't be silly! There is also Michael Jordan!

    • White and Proud

      if you hate white people so much why don't you kill yourself

  • bydavidrosen


  • http://joelkeller.com/ Joel Keller

    I'd put Tracy Morgan in there, as well as Regis Philbin and Don Rickles. Joan Rivers was so good she ended up being Carson's guest host. Same can be said of Leno, who was one of Letterman's favorite guests until the whole Tonight Show thing happened.

  • Eneko Ruiz

    Anda Martin Short

  • teafordinner

    Norm hands down :)

  • KestrelGone

    Yeah, nobody delivers more consistently on a talk show than Martin Short. I always liked Michael Keaton as a guest, though he's not seen very often these days. Regis is a good choice too.

  • Geri Tar

    Teri Garr's appearances on Letterman in the 80s were great

  • Luap Namgreb

    Jonathan Winters owns the platinum medallion for this event.

  • derp

    kristen wiig/michael jordan was brutal. she tries way too hard, not funny.


    1. Norm! Nailed it.
    2. Jim Carrey… great conan appearances and early stuff as well
    3. Tom Hanks

  • AndrewMilner

    Andy Kaufman.

  • Dan

    Jerry Van Dyke had an incredible spot on Letterman and I recall Tom Hanks being terrific on the very last NBC episode of Letterman

  • <3

    I just watched every clip of Amy Sedaris on Letterman I could find. Today was a good day.

  • Worked

    "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."

    Literally every single comedian does this. Nothing is unscripted on talk shows

  • Wrian Bhittle

    tony randall, tom hanks, and the king of them all…charles nelson reilly

    • Michael Marwood

      Yes! No list of the great late night talk show guests is complete without Tony Randall!

  • Kitt Alexander Proudfoot

    No Russell Brand!? & Tracy Morgan is a force of nature, especially any time he is with Conan. Norm is still the man though. I really wish Kristen would pop up more. Awesome list!

  • http://twitter.com/Solid_Muldoon Solid_Muldoon

    Burt Reynolds and George Gobel were always a treat on Carson.

  • robthom

    Thats a classic Norm, but pretty much every time norm goes on any talk show its a classic.

    Scrabble story anyone?

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  • citizen miller

    Funny, not one of these guests was 1/10th as entertaining as Robin Williams. period