top of page

The Greatest US Talk Show Host

There's no doubt that we truly are in a Golden Age of Television. With the sheer number of top-quality, well-written tV shows that are coming out on a regular basis, we are very lucky to be surrounded by so much, easily accessible content. But with that in mind, the Talk Show business hasn't lost numbers to the TV series that we all watch... in fact, they're bigger than ever.

The likes of Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Jay Leno truly created a format that was one of the building blocks of the 'celebrity culture' that we find ourselves in today. Since then, the three gents have moved on, but in their place we have found ourselves in the midst of some great comedy and entertaining personality, but who is the best?

Being the best is something that is nice, but isn't always particularly important. This blog is more for my own amusement and to test myself in comparing the top names out there at the moment, in the hope that I can share with you the nitty-gritty behind what makes a great TV Talk Show Host.

To do that a bit better I want to take a look at some of the hosts themselves, and then dive a bit deeper into who they are, how they got there and what works on their shows.

Jimmy Fallon

Jimmy is king of the world right now. Since his early SNL days he has risen up (via a few not-so-good-movies) to really come into his own on The Tonight Show. He already had experience with Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, but moving onto a much bigger platform and taking over from Jay Leno has enabled him to build a team of writers (many of which followed him from Late Night) who are very capable in creating this shows true strength: the games.

Perhaps the strongest example is the Lip Sync battles, which, in their own right, inspired a series of spin-off Lip Sync battles which have gone on to their own success.

From a talk perspective, Jimmy laughs too much and doesn't really let people get into their groove much, but he keeps it positive and has a bit of banter, which is nice.

I think, on the whole, Jimmy's main success is down to his amazing team of writers, who are constantly putting out genuinely funny content through the #Hashtag and Thank You segments, as well as in his monologues. My favourite example of their amazing writing is from Joking Bad.

Jimmy Kimmel

From one Jimmy to another. Kimmel is another name who has been riding on the wave of celebrity culture for a while. Although I admit I'm not a huge Kimmel fan, since I find him a bit boring and sort of a 'third wheel' kinda guy in his skits (even when there's only two people), I have to applaud his marketing team, because they're easily the best in the biz for pulling in top celebrities for some hilarious stuff.

Celebrities Read Mean Tweets is incredibly popular...and rightly so. Celebs constantly have to deal with negativity and criticism on the internet, and this segment really plays with that and has been hugely successful for the Kimmel family. If you just take a look at the Top 10 Most Popular videos on his channel, you can see that 6 of them are Mean Tweets.

Again, another marketing victory, for both Superman v Batman and Jimmy Kimmel, his sketch of a deleted scene from the movie is pretty funny and I hugely enjoyed it.

So what am I getting at? Well, Jimmy isn't that funny, in my opinion. His celebrity talk is ok, but the clear win for him is his team's ability to pull celebrities out of a hat and produce some real comedy gold.

Notable Mentions

Before I move onto my choice for the Greatest US Talk Show Host, I really wanted to talk about a few other names who, although they aren't on the main networks at primetime hours, they are really working some magic in what they do.

James Corden is a host that I hold quite close to my heart because I like to think that we share a number of similarities. We're both overweight Brits who built our career somewhere and then made a move to the States where it's hugely competitive and have not backed down from the sheer task in front of us. OK, well, I suppose I drop off after 'overweight Brit', but I really respect James for what he is doing.

His Carpool Karaoke's has single-handedly saved his show and for sure he's here to stay. It isn't an easy task to be a foreigner hosting a very late show in the US and to actually keep the job, so well done!

In a similar light to James Corden, I want to take a look at another Brit in the US who is absolutely killing it rioght now. John Oliver is possibly one of the biggest influencers on the US election and that's pretty amazing considering he isn't even eligible to vote! News satire programmes are always a tricky one because you and your writers have to effectively put on two hats: comedian AND journalist. For most people in the world these two hats are a full-time job on their own, but putting them together has the ability to either blow up in your face, or create some of the most interesting and funny content in the world. Fortunately for John and his team, everything is on the up.

Without a doubt the likes of Jon Stewart put together an amazing platform and format to build on, but John Oliver's passion and excitement for the content he is presenting are so infectious that you can't help but be locked into it. His segment on Donald Trump was the only thing in my Facebook timeline for about a week straight, and so it should be. I genuinely can't wait for the election to really start hotting up.

There's a whole bunch of other people who have entertained me on a regular basis and are always up there in the top people doing what they do, which I and a lot of other comedians openly agree is a very time consuming and tough job. Trevor Noah, Seth Myers, Ellen DeGeneres, Stephen Colbert and lots more, thank you and keep it up.

So...who is my top US Talk Show Host?

Conan O'Brien

Those of you who know me, will know how much I love this lanky, red haired fellow. For those of you who have no idea, here's a little bit about him. Conan started on SNL before joining The Simpsons (yes, that hugely popular show) and was a key writer (a lot of top comedians were writers at one point), but he found his true calling on Late Night, taking over from Talk Show legend David Letterman. It's a very romantic story that Conan tells in that he was just weeks away from being axed, but Letterman put his time into coming on Conan's show and, from Conan's point of view, saved his career. He then moved on to The Tonight Show, before some contract issues and nonsense ultimately led to him hosting his own show 'Conan'.

It's on Conan where he has been given the greatest gift of all by his producers and the bigwigs upstairs: creative freedom. The absolute worst thing that you can do to any creative person is to lock them in a cage.

Whilst Conan might not be on the biggest network, and might not pull in the world's biggest celebrities on a daily basis, the show really is built on the fact that Mr. O'Brien is a genuinely funny person. I could pull up about 50 videos right now that just make me die with laughter because his writing team is either phenomenal or Conan is actually a hilarious person (I think it's the latter).

Conan often finds himself in some situations that can't really be complemented by a great team of writers or some amazing script-work simply because they need to be so off-the-cuff and Conan pulls them out of the bag. My favourite times would be his Lyft experience with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, or the time that he and Dave Franco join Tinder.

Here's a bonus one that really shows how editing can work for you in wondrous ways.

Again, going back to Conan being funny, his segments where he meets his producer, Jordan Schlansky, could be scripted, but Conan's reaction seems so genuine that it produces a particular type of comedy that I really enjoy.

Before I go on and on about how much I love Conan (I think you already get it), I want to show you a series of videos from Conan's recent trip to Korea. The videos only popped up on my feed the other day and when I watched them I laughed my heart out. I would love to work for him on day (a guy can dream), but even if I don't, Conan truly is the master of the Talk Show.

Hey! Thanks for reading. You probably just clicked the videos and skipped my text, but that's OK. You made it to the bottom anyway. If you liked this blog, why not tweet about it? Wouldn't that be a cool thing to do?


bottom of page