Late-night talk show hosts are a special breed of television personality. They can be irreverent and controversial giving rise to some of the most insightful commentary on politicians and current affairs. While they mostly interview celebrities, their questions are no-holds-barred, which can lead to embarrassment and upset for their guests, but for their audience, it keeps them entertained late at night! Here’s our list of some of the most famous late-night show hosts on both sides of the Atlantic.
1. David Letterman
Net Worth: $400 million
Currently the host on Netflix’s “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman”, the title of the show might as well be an introduction for the host, David Letterman, for he certainly does not require any introduction. David has been hosting the Netflix show since 2018 interviewing celebrities of all walks.
David Michael Letterman is the world-renown television host, comedian, writer, and producer. He hosted late-night television talk shows for 33 years, beginning on February 1, 1982 with the debut of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC. He ended his late-night run on May 20, 2015, with the broadcast of the last episode of Late Show with David Letterman on CBS.
In total, Letterman hosted 6,080 episodes of Late Night and Late Show, a record which surpassed his friend and mentor Johnny Carson.
In 1996, Letterman was ranked 45th on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time. In 2002, The Late Show with David Letterman was ranked seventh on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.
David has his own production company, Worldwide Pants, which produced his shows as well as The Late Late Show and several prime-time comedies, including Everybody Loves Raymond.
Letterman started as an anchor and weatherman who attracted attention for his colorful reporting of the weather – he was said to have once congratulated a tropical storm for its upgrade to a hurricane. With his brand of humor, it was no wonder that when he moved to Los Angeles, he would go on to perform at the Comedy Club and later joined a group of comedians hired by Jimmy Walker to write jokes for his stand-up act.
Letterman’s dry, sarcastic humor caught the attention of scouts for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and he soon became a regular guest on the show and then a regular guest host for the show beginning in 1978. Letterman credits Carson as the person who influenced his career the most.
As of 2020, David Letterman has built a personal fortune of an impressive $400 million.
2. Jay Leno
Net Worth: $350 million
Jay Leno was the face of NBC’s late-night show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno which ran from 1992 to 2009. He then started another primetime talk show called The Jay Leno Show from September 2009 until early 2010, and Leno returned to host The Tonight Show with Jay Leno from March 2010 until the last episode in February 2014.
In total, Leno hosted NBC’s late show for over two decades. After The Tonight Show, Leno has continued to entertain his audience by touring across the U.S. and Canada, and making appearances in Jimmy Fallon’s and Seth Meyers’ show. Since 2014, Jay has also hosted his Jay Leno’s Garage on CNBC showcasing his impressive fleet of vintage and specialty cars. He owns a collection of just under 300 automobiles and motorcycles.
Leno is widely known to be thrifty with his money. He’s reported to have said that he saved all his earnings from The Tonight Show and spent only the earnings he received from his side gigs during his 20 odds years hosting the late-night show. At the height of his popularity, he made total earnings of some $32 million in 2005.
As of 2020, Jay Leno is said to have a net worth of $350 million.
3. Johnny Carson
Net Worth: $300 million
For 30 years Johnny Carson helmed The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson from 1962 to 1992. Carson has won six Emmy Awards, the Television Academy’s 1980 Governor’s Award, a 1985 Peabody Award and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1992, Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 1993, he also received a Kennedy Center Award.
Johnny Carson’s style came to define talk shows for later hosts to come. He had a casual conversational style with his guests drawing out from them laughs and unexpected confession.
Carson’s show helped launch the careers of many performers to come, especially comedians and musicians. For a comedian appearing on the show, getting Carson to laugh and being invited to the guest chair were considered the most coveted of spots on television. Notable among guests were David Letterman, Robin Williams, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Arsenio Hall, Jeff Foxworthy, Ellen DeGeneres, Joan Rivers, David Brenner, Tim Allen, Drew Carey, Howie Mandel, and Roseanne Barr. Carson was successor to The Ed Sullivan Show as a showcase for different types of talent, as well as continuing a vaudeville-style late-night entertainment show.
At the time of his death in 2005, Johnny Carson was estimated to have had a net worth of $300 million.
4. Jon Stewart
Net Worth: $120 million
Funnyman Jon Stewart got his start in comedy in the Comedy Club circuit. He made his debut stand-up at The Bitter End, and continued at the Comedy Cellar where he performed every night as the last performer to come on stage for two years until 1989 when he was hired as a writer for Caroline’s Comedy Hour in New York. In 1990, he began to co-host Comedy Central’s Short Attention Span Theater with Patty Rosborough.
Stewart in fact credited the launch of his career to appearing on David Letterman’s Late Night with David Letterman. When Letterman retired, Conan O’Brien was eventually hired for the job, even though Stewart was a contender.
In 1993, he created The Jon Stewart Show, the first talk show on MTV. It became an instant hit and quickly gained the primetime slot of late night. From about 1994 onwards, Stewart hosted a couple of talk shows like Where’s Elvis This Week and later 40 Years of Comedy.
It was in 1999 that Jon Stewart began hosting The Daily Show on Comedy Central after Craig Kilborn left it to replace Tom Snyder on The Late Late Show. The Daily Show was a blend of political satire, opinion pieces, and reporting of the day’s top news stories.
Stewart has won twenty Primetime Emmy Awards for The Daily Show for best writer or producer, and two for producing The Colbert Report (2013–14), winning a total of twenty-two Primetime Emmy Awards. In 2005, Stewart and The Daily Show received the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album for the audiobook edition of America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction. In 2000 and 2004, the show won two Peabody Awards for its coverage of the U.S. presidential elections in those years, called “Indecision 2000” and “Indecision 2004”, respectively.
Since leaving The Daily Show in 2015, Stewart has worked with HBO and it was reported that he signed a multiyear deal with Apple which will be a show which will feature conversational topics and Stewart’s own advocacy work on help to first responders after 9/11. The show would be produced by his own company Busboy Productions.
As of 2020, Jon Stewart is thought to have built an estimated personal fortune of around $120 million.
5. Conan O’ Brien
Net Worth: $85 million
Having been a writer for Saturday Night Live and for The Simpsons, Conan O’Brien hosted the Late Night with Conan O’Brien from 1993 to 2009. He then hosted The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, from 2009 to 2010, when Jay Leno returned to helm the show. Since 2010, he’s been hosting his eponymous show “Conan” on TBS.
His Late Night with Conan O’Brien on NBC was panned by critics as he was inexperienced at the time, and he was inevitably compared with David Letterman who moved his late-night show to CBS from NBC. Still by the time he ended his show, he had become a respected host.
Of course, there was that controversy with Jay Leno over timing slots when O’Brien took over the Tonight Show for a while.
A graduate of Harvard University, O’Brien’s brand of humor is spontaneous and irreverent, and as a writer, he’s certainly one of the best.
As of 2020, Conan O’Brien is estimated to have a personal net worth of $85 million.
6. Jimmy Kimmel
Net Worth: $45 million
Jimmy Kimmel’s quick wit and gregarious personality was a hit when he co-hosted and co-produced Comedy Central’s The Man Show. In 2003, Kimmel left The Man Show to host his own late night talk show called Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC.
Jimmy Kimmel Live was the longest-running late-night talk show on ABC. It was aired at midnight or after midnight in the beginning but moved up the timeslots to 11.35 p.m. to compete directly with The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Show with David Letterman.
Jimmy Kimmel Live was perhaps most notorious for his Matt Damon joke where he would apologize to Matt Damon for running out of time, appearing to suggest that Damon was supposed to have come on as the last guest. In 2006, Damon actually appeared on the show. In that episode, Damon appeared after a long introduction from Kimmel, and after Damon appeared on stage, Kimmel apologized and said they were out of time and asked Damon if he could come back the next night, to which Damon said, “Go f8xk yourself”.
Apparently, this was all a part of the joke which Damon himself admitted to in an interview later on.
In March 2020, the show was suspended for a while due to COVID, but it continued two weeks later in Jimmy’s house.
Actually, the show notwithstanding that it is supposed to be live, the show has not aired live editions consistently since 2004, but has been shot at 5 pm Pacific Time on the day of the broadcast.
As of 2020, Jimmy Kimmel is estimated to have a net worth of about $45 million.
7. Stephen Colbert
Net Worth: $45 million
Stephen Colbert is synonymous with The Colbert Report which ran from 2005 to 2014 and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert starting from September 2015, succeeding the hugely popular David Letterman.
Colbert’s work as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show gained him much attention and recognition. Before that, he wrote and performed on the Dana Carvey Show. After the short-lived show ended, he collaborated with Sedaris and Dinello on the cult television series Strangers with Candy, in which he gained praise with his role as a closeted gay history teacher.
Colbert has won nine Primetime Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, and two Peabody Awards. Colbert’s book, I Am America (And So Can You!), was listed No. 1 on The New York Times Best Seller list in 2007.
As of 2020, Stephen Colbert is estimated to have built a personal wealth of $45 million.
8. Graham Norton
Net Worth: $30 million
One of the most recognizable talk show host of television, Graham Norton is the host of The Graham Norton show in which he talks to celebrity guests in a no-holds barred banter during which colorful language is used which is not usually allowed on the American side of the Atlantic.
Norton has been in the television industry since the early 90s. He was host of the comedy quiz show on Channel 5 called Bring Me the Head of Light Entertainment and later in 1996 co-hosted the late-night quiz show Carnal Knowledge on ITV with Maria McErlane. In 2005, Norton moved to the BBC where he began hosting the reality TV series Strictly Dance Fever on BBC One as well as a new comedy chat show called Graham Norton’s Bigger picture. In 2007, he started his new The Graham Norton Show on BBC Two, and it has been running ever since. Norton is also an aficionado of the Eurovision Song Contest, during which he would provide commentary.
Other than hosting late-night talk and comedy shows, Graham Norton has been in various television shows and films such as Absolutely Fabulous and Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016). In 2009, he also made his debut in the West End’s revival production of La Cage Aux Folles at the Playhouse Theatre.
As of 2019, he’s been one of the judges on RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K.
This multi-talented host is openly gay and infectiously funny, with his trade-mark double-entendre sexual remarks.
As of 2020, Graham Norton has built up for himself a personal fortune of $30 million.
9. Jonathan Ross
Net Worth: $35 million
Jonathan Stephen Ross is most famous for hosting his Friday Night with Jonathan Ross in the 2000s on BBC One. When it ended Ross moved to ITV and started The Jonathan Ross Show on September 3, 2011 which continues to be aired.
Ross began as a program researcher and in 1987 began his debut as a host in The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross on Channel 4. In the 90s, he had various radio and television roles, many of which was through his own production company Channel X. In 1995, he sold his production company and began a career with the BBC.
Ross has appeared in cameo roles in films like the Spice Girls’ film Spice World (1997) and voiced the character of Doris in Shrek 2 (2004) and he’s also played himself in Only Fools and Horses in 2001.
On radio, Ross has been on numerous radio shows on BBC Radio 1 and 2. His most recent radio appearance was on Radio 2 hosting the weekly arts show from 2016 to 2018.
This veteran television and radio presenter was perhaps most infamous for asking the then U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron a series of questions on Margaret Thatcher on his show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross which line of queries then culminated in the question “Did you or did you not have a want thinking of Margaret Thatcher?”. Ross was widely criticized although the BBC publicly defended him.
As of 2020, Jonathan Ross is reported to have a personal fortune of some $35 million.
10. Jimmy Fallon
Net Worth: $30 million
Jimmy Fallon got his start in comedy with Saturday Night Live when he was hired as a cast member. Jimmy was with SNL for six years from 1998 to 2004 where he co-hosted the Weekend Update segment of the show, which made him famous.
After SNL, Jimmy tried his hand at being an actor, starring in films such as Taxi (2004) and Fever Ptich (2005). After a few years in the movie industry, Fallon returned to television to host Late Night with Jimmy Fallon for NBC studios in 2009. The in 2014, he was hired to host The Tonight Show, becoming its sixth permanent host.
Jimmy Fallon continues to host The Tonight Show and his biggest controversy so far was when he interviewed Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election. Fallon was panned for asking Trump easy questions and failing to take Trump to task. In an interview in 2018, Fallon said he had made a mistake when he said earlier that he had asked uncontroversial question not to humanize Trump, but to minimize him, but that he had meant to say “I did not do it to normalize him or to say I believe in his political beliefs or any of that stuff”.
Fallon has won 5 Primetime Emmy Awards and a host of other accolades such as People’s Choice Awards and Critic Choice Awards.
As of 2020, Jimmy Fallon is thought to have a net worth of approximately $30 million.
11. James Corden
Net Worth: $30 million
James Corden is currently the host of CBS’s The Late Late Show with James Corden in the Untied States.
James is British and has been in British television since the late 90s. Corden became famous in the U.K. after he co-starred in his own series on BBC Three, a sitcom called Gavin and Stacey. Corden co-wrote the scripts with Ruth Jones who was his co-star in Fat Friends, a series Corden starred in from 2000 to 2005. Stacey and Gavin won the Best New British Television Comedy at the 2007 British Comedy Awards.
Outside of television, James has appeared in numerous films, including the 2010 Gulliver’s Travels, the 2017 Emoji Movie, Peter Rabbit, the 2018 Ocean’s 8 and 2020 Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, where he voices Peter Rabbit. Audience will also see him in the 2021 Cinderella which is in post-production at the time of writing.
James first garnered attention when he appeared in the stage version of The History Boys in 2006, playing Timms.
Despite his on-stage personality and ardent support for the LGBT community, James Corden is not actually gay.
As of 2020, James Corden is worth approximately $30 million.
12. Michael Parkinson
Net Worth: $20 million
Michael Parkinson is perhaps the greatest British late-night talk show host who in 1969 presented Granada’s Cinema, a late-night film review program. In 1971, he started his eponymous BBC talk show Parkinson, which ran until 1982, and then continued again from 1998 to December 2007.
Throughout his time, Parkinson has interviewed over 2000 of the world’s celebrities and with his trademark controversial line of questions. During an interview, Parkinson was usually brilliantly prepared, having read and researched a guest with the same rigor as you would a master’s degree thesis. He was BBC’s flagship prime timeslot, attracting top names as guests throughout his run. He was active from 1963 to 2013 when he finally retired.
In 1999, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Lincoln and he also received an honor from the University of Huddersfield in 2008. He was bestowed the honor of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Prince Charles in November 2000 for services to broadcasting. Parkinson was made a Knight Bachelor in the 2008 New Year’s Honours List.
Parkinson was ranked 8th in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals. On 4 June 2008, he was knighted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
As of 2020, Michael Parkinson is estimated to command a net worth of $20 million.