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Top 10 Late Night Talk Show Hosts

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Aaron Cameron. If you stay up late enough, they’re the best talk-show hosts around. In this video,, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 late night talk show hosts. For this list, we’re taking aim at those people who sit behind the interview desks of some of our favorite late-night talk-shows. We’re excluding straight-up newsmen ‘cause that’s a list for another day. Special thanks to our users Andrew A. Dennison, Rey Henry, ErikaGarcia, zendaddy621, badwolfuniverse, Steve Johnson, sarahjessicaparkerth, antonius1903, Gabriel Nigo, Billy Batson, BLB2122 and Nadine Khazaka for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script written by Aaron Cameron.

Top 10 Late Night Talk Show Hosts

If you stay up late enough, they’re the best talk-show hosts around. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 late night talk show hosts.

For this list, we’re taking aim at those people who sit behind the interview desks of some of our favorite late-night talk-shows. We’re excluding straight-up newsmen ‘cause that’s a list for another day.

#10: Jimmy Fallon
“Late Night” (2009-14) / “The Tonight Show” (2014-)

Fallon first caught the public’s eye during his six giggle-filled years on “Saturday Night Live.” He then branched into film; but his time to shine came in 2009 when he took the reins from “Late Night” host Conan O’Brien. Fallon made the show his own, offering games galore, as well as musical comedy in the form of epic rap battles, song parodies and impersonations. In 2014, he followed in his redheaded predecessor’s footsteps by inheriting the “Tonight Show” from Jay Leno. But unlike Conan, Fallon still holds the post.

#9: Jonathan Ross
“The Last Resort” (1987-88) / “Friday Night” (2001-10) / “The Jonathan Ross Show” (2011-)

While he may not be as well-known in America as Graham Norton, Wossy proves himself again and again as the one to watch. Known as much for his luscious locks and inability to pronounce R’s as he is for his edgy, Letterman-esque interviews, Ross has never been one to skirt controversy. Highlights include his juvenile and since-banned interview with David Cameron, a notorious joke about Heather Mills, and for his involvement in that whole Russell Brand thing which resulted in the suspension of his then BBC chatshow “Friday Night.”

#8: Jay Leno
“The Tonight Show” (1992-2009; 2010-14)

Although controversial for his selection and later re-selection as host of the “Tonight Show,” the chinned one was a ratings leader for most of 22 his years on the air. Prior to inheriting the show, Leno served as permanent guest host for Johnny Carson. Once installed, the comedian and gear-head hit the ground running with light interviews, topical monologues and his signature bit, “Jay Walking.” Leno’s ratings stronghold began with an apologetic appearance from Hugh Grant, and he continued to gain ground through the O.J. and Bill Clinton years.

#7: Jimmy Kimmel
“Jimmy Kimmel Live!” (2003-)

First hitting the airwaves as a snarky second banana on “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” Kimmel really made a name for himself on “The Man Show.” Since then, he’s really come into his own. “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” first aired on ABC at the unusual timeslot of 12:05AM, which meant he competed with all four of NBC and CBS’s late night hosts; but he gained a strong following nonetheless. Originally live but now pre-taped, the show is known for Kimmel’s searing, biting humor and his inexplicable feud with Matt Damon.

#6: Stephen Colbert
“The Colbert Report” (2005-14) / “Late Show” (2015-)

Prior to landing his Peabody Award-winning “Colbert Report” gig, this sharp-witted funny-man rose through the ranks of the famed Second City Chicago, worked as a voice actor, and – most notably – served as a “Daily Show” correspondent. Utilizing his stoic comedic delivery, Colbert hosts the “Report” in character under the guise of a tightly wound, self-assured conservative crackpot. Remind you of anyone? The difference: People like Colbert. They like him so much; he was named as David Letterman’s replacement when the “Late Show” host announced his retirement in 2014.

#5: Bill Maher
“Politically Incorrect” (1993-2002) / “Real Time” (2003-)

Starting out on cable’s Comedy Central, the host and his series “Politically Incorrect” made the leap to ABC in 1997. Always unfiltered and living up to the show’s name, the series was cancelled by the Mickey Mouse network in 2002 following Maher’s controversial comment about the 9/11 terrorists. Since making the move to HBO in 2003 with “Real Time,” the no-holds-barred host continues to speak his mind, shoot from the hip, and provide a haven for intellectual and biting social commentary.

#4: Jon Stewart
“The Jon Stewart Show” (1993-95) / “The Daily Show” (1999-)

Stewart first made waves in the early-‘90s on his self-titled but doomed MTV talk-show. He then served as guest host for Tom Snyder’s “The Late Late Show” and was expected to permanently take over hosting duties. However, Stewart instead inherited “The Daily Show” when Craig Kilborn was drafted as Snyder’s replacement. Under his leadership, “Daily Show” ratings soon increased by a whopping 400% and have only grown from there. Today Stewart is noted for his warm wit, and is viewed as an informed alternative to the news cycle.

#3: Conan O’Brien
“Late Night” (1993-2009) / “The Tonight Show” (2009-10) / “Conan” (2010-)

After climbing the comedy ranks by writing for “SNL” and “The Simpsons,” Conan took over Letterman’s “Late Night” in ‘93. Despite general lack of love for Coco early on, the lanky redhead made the show his own, adding wacky, surreal elements to the talk-show format. Once he found his footing and a sizable audience, O’Brien was promoted to “Tonight Show” host in 2009, but was soon re-replaced by Jay Leno and contractually barred by NBC from television for almost a year. However striking him down only made him stronger…

#2: David Letterman
“The David Letterman Show” (1980) / “Late Night” (1982-93) / “Late Show” (1993-2015)

He may be an elder statesman of the form now, but Letterman was a true game changer in television. From his early gig as an Indianapolis weatherman, to his short-lived morning show and eventual late-night success, the gap-toothed comic has affected all that came after him. From signature bits like Stupid Pet tricks, Small Town News, to the nightly Top Ten, Letterman practically reinvented the format. Although he has mellowed in the years leading to his 2015 retirement, Dave was also noted for his edgier, confrontational interview style.

Before we open the curtain for our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Jack Paar “Tonight Starring Jack Paar” (1957-62)
- Arsenio Hall “The Arsenio Hall Show” (1989-94; 2013-14)
- Craig Ferguson “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” (2005-14)
- Rove McManus “Rove” (1999-2009)
- Dick Cavett “The Dick Cavett Show” (1968-86)
- Chelsea Handler “Chelsea Lately” (2007-14)

#1: Johnny Carson
“The Tonight Show” (1962-92)

Heeeeeere’s our number one. After hosting a series of game shows, Carson took the reins of “The Tonight Show” from Jack Paar in 1962 and forever changed the landscape of late-night television. Although his protégé David Letterman heavily modified the format, it was Johnny that created the template still in use today. While he interviewed a range of people from entertainers to politicians to newsmakers, Carson could also make or break a comedian’s career with a simple wave and was never shy to step into a silly skit.

Do you agree with our list? Who’s your favorite late night host? For more nocturnal Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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