The Legends of Late Night: 10 Best Talk Show Hosts

You can’t beat the late-night talk show format. After a long day, there’s nothing quite like unwinding in front of the TV with a charismatic host, some witty banter, and an eclectic lineup of guests. Over the decades, we’ve been graced with some truly legendary late-night hosts who have interviewed cultural icons, sparked controversy, and made us laugh with their sharp comedic timing and quick wits.

From Johnny Carson’s 30-year reign on The Tonight Show to Conan O’Brien’s absurdist, self-deprecating humour, the best late-night hosts have become an indelible part of pop culture and brought us together during times of both levity and gravity.

Here are 10 all-time greatest late-night talk show hosts, in no particular order, who gave us memories we’ll never forget and continue to inspire modern hosts today.

Best Talk Show Hosts
Johnny Carson: The King of Late Night

The King of Late Night, Johnny Carson ruled the Tonight Show for 30 years. With his quick wit and charisma, he interviewed stars and made audiences roar with laughter.

Johnny perfected the opening monologue, skewering current events with zingers and goofy expressions. Who didn’t love Carnac the Magnificent? Ed McMahon’s “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” still echoes today.

Best Talk Show Hosts

David Letterman: The Mischievous Prankster

Prankster at heart, David Letterman loved to poke fun at his guests and crew with elaborate stunts and gags that left audiences in stitches.

For over 30 years, Letterman’s mischievous antics and quick wit kept viewers tuned in to his talk shows. Whether he was dropping objects off a 5-story tower, conducting man-on-the-street interviews, or unveiling his legendary “Top 10” lists, Letterman redefined late-night TV with his irreverent brand of humour and nonstop search for laughs.

Best Talk Show Hosts
Jay Leno: The Comedic Everyman

Jay Leno took over The Tonight Show in 1992, hosting for over 20 years. Leno brought his everyman charm and quick-witted comedy to the legendary late-night show. His monologues poked fun at current events, politicians, and celebrities in a good-natured way.

Known for his casual humour and relatable jokes, Leno made audiences feel like they were just chatting with a funny friend. His likeable, down-to-earth personality and middle-of-the-road comedy appealed to a wide range of viewers.

Best Talk Show Hosts
Stephen Colbert: The Master of Conversation

Stephen Colbert, as host of The Late Show, is a comedic genius known for his quick wit and improvisational skills. Colbert’s interviews feel more like entertaining conversations where anything can happen. His humour and charm allow him to ask hard-hitting questions, while still keeping the mood light.

Colbert’s comedic talents shine through in every episode, keeping audiences in stitches with his satirical take on current events and public figures.

Best Talk Show Hosts
Arsenio Hall

The King of Late Night in the early ‘90s, Arsenio Hall was a trailblazer as the first black host of a syndicated late-night talk show. His show appealed to younger viewers with its casual, lively tone and booking of hip musical guests and comedians.

Hall’s signature “Woof! Woof! Woof!” chant and fist pump became pop culture staples. Though his show only lasted five seasons, Hall helped bring late night into a new era and paved the way for future hosts of colour.

Best Talk Show Hosts
Conan O’Brien

Conan O’Brien’s quick wit and self-deprecating humour earned him a loyal following during his 16-year run as host of Late Night. 

Known for his absurdist and eccentric brand of comedy, Conan interviewed A-list celebrities and often collaborated with his hilarious sidekick, Andy Richter.

Best Talk Show Hosts
Trevor Noah

When it comes to late-night hosts, Trevor Noah is a breath of fresh air. The South African comedian took over as host of The Daily Show in 2015 after Jon Stewart’s departure.

Though Stewart left big shoes to fill, Noah has proven himself a worthy successor. His unique perspective and ability to tackle complex issues with wit and nuance have revitalized the show. Under Noah’s leadership, The Daily Show continues to offer insightful social and political commentary, all with his signature charm and good humour.

Best Talk Show Hosts
Jon Stewart

The king of late-night satire, Jon Stewart hosted The Daily Show for 16 years. His comedic take on politics and current events influenced an entire generation. Known for his quick wit and ability to call out hypocrisy, Stewart turned The Daily Show into a cultural touchpoint and launchpad for stars like Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, and Hasan Minhaj.

Though Stewart could be biting, his humour was rooted in genuine care for democracy and the truth. He may have left the show in 2015, but his impact on comedy and politics will live on.

Best Talk Show Hosts
Jimmy Fallon

Jimmy Fallon took over The Tonight Show in 2014, bringing his fun, goofy brand of humour to the iconic late-night show. Known for his hilarious impressions and skits, Fallon revived many of The Tonight Show’s classic comedic bits and added some new fan favourites of his own like “Thank You Notes” and “Wheel of Musical Impressions.”

His show is a platform for silly celebrity games, live music performances, and lighthearted chatter—the perfect remedy after a long day. Fallon’s charm, positivity and playfulness have introduced The Tonight Show to a new generation of viewers.

Best Talk Show Hosts
Jimmy Kimmel

Jimmy Kimmel brings a fun, laid-back vibe as host of Jimmy Kimmel Live!. The host has a very easy way to generate a funny-reaction series.

Kimmel’s show is known for hilarious celebrity interviews, wacky street segments, and viral internet challenges like “I Told My Kids I Ate All Their Halloween Candy”. After 15+ years on the air, Kimmel has become a staple of late-night.

There we have it, our list of 10 best late-night show hosts. Who do you enjoy watching the most? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below:


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