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The 25 Funniest Fictional Talk-Show Hosts

Photo: Vulture; Photos: 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection, Funny or Die via YouTube, NBC, Cartoon Network/Everett Collection

Talk shows are already their own farce: The format is overused and rarely changing, most “impromptu” celeb stories are pre-vetted by producers, and the field is overrun by men named Jimmy. It comes as no surprise that their chatter has been the target of satire for as long as Ed McMahon or Jack Torrance have boomed “Heeeeere’s Johnny!”

Beyond your standard Saturday Night Live parodies, however, lies a bizarro world of fictional hosts who deliver what actual talking heads can’t. Finally, a funhouse mirror where network entertainers are sometimes (gasp!) women, freely criticize the racism of the genre, and at their best, influence real-world talk shows to step up their funny game.

The exclusive job of talk show host is the subject of movies from Mindy Kaling’s Late Night to Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, imagining a world where their rarified air is more accessible for better or for worse. But what if that “for worse” was provided by Satan himself? Premiered at SXSW last year, Late Night With the Devil takes studio interference to the next level as evil forces threaten the broadcast of faux-’70s talk show Night Owls With Jack Delroy. Now that David Dastmalchian’s starring turn is getting a wide release, it’s only right to revisit our favorite fictional hosts from over the years.

As for our ranking criteria, the following talk show hosts are completely made-up or people starring as exaggerated versions of “themselves” in character. Their talk shows can either be fleeting sketches or full-on parody shows with multiple episodes and seasons. Whether they made their own deals with the devil to achieve fame and fortune, however, is for you to decide.

Honorable Mention: Philomena Cunk

Diane Morgan in Cunk on Earth and others

Philomena Cunk is undoubtedly a Landmark Documentary Presenter but not yet a talk show host. Until she expands her empire, much like in Rome or Star Wars, we can only recognize Cunk for her outsize personality and love of Technotronic’s 1989 hit “Pump Up the Jam.” From her daft beginnings on Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe to “circumcising” the globe for Cunk on Earth, Diane Morgan’s character breathes new life into the erudite BBC presenter with groundbreaking naivety and ignorance. Only Cunk dares to ask bona-fide researchers the big questions like “Has a mummy ever ridden a bicycle?” When she finally uncovers the answer on a shiny new chat show, we’ll be there.

Miss Piggy

Eric Jacobson in Up Late With Miss Piggy

No one can out-diva Miss Piggy, not even multi-Oscar winners. The Muppets’ most glamorous oinker hosts Up Late With Miss Piggy in their self-titled 2015 series that sees her breaking up (again) with Kermit the Frog. Poor Kermie still works as Piggy’s producer, pulling all the stops to ensure her celebrity chit-chat doesn’t devolve into, say, Piggy poisoning Reese Witherspoon with homemade muffins out of jealousy. It’s telling that The Muppets and Up Late within it only lasted one season — Miss Piggy, Kermit, and company simply work better in the wholesome yet clever world of their original variety show and movies. Kudos to Piggy, however, for treating every minute of her life as a starring vehicle.

Ben

Gentle Ben in The Simpsons

Animal exploitation was very much still a thing in Hollywood in 1994, from Ross’s capuchin monkey on Friends to talk-show hosts cuddling endangered species for the camera. The Simpsons took terrified-animal entertainment to the nth degree in “Homer Badman,” giving Gentle Ben his own daytime talk show complete with a mic strapped to his head. In a darkly funny payoff, the fantasy of a bear reuniting a group of mothers and runaway daughters is crushed by the reality of Gentle Ben absolutely hating the gig and preferring to eat from craft services until the “Ben Control” team tranquilizes him. They just don’t (and legally can’t) make shows like Ben anymore!

Dean Learner

Richard Ayoade in Man to Man With Dean Learner and others

Dean Learner lies (and lays) somewhere between Hugh Hefner and Buddy Cole in a metrosexual den of sin. A selfish Cassanova who only offers a “huge hand of thank” at best should be poor company for a chat show, and yet, his vanity is just what makes Man to Man entertaining. Richard Ayoade’s alter ego isn’t above airing a ladies’ sensual pillow fight, plugging his friend’s horror tome so massive you need an elongated shelf to contain it, or forcing a guest who caught fire to continue his appearance with third-degree burns. No, here he lies in the gutter to interview the stars.

Katherine Newbury

Emma Thompson in Late Night

Late night is so male-dominated that even fictional women in the field had to muscle their way in. Enter Katherine Newbury, the first host of her kind in the world of Mindy Kaling’s 2019 dramedy Late Night. Emma “Has the Range” Thompson makes Newbury both an intimidating Iron Lady of comedy and still redeemable as she bucks critics (including Vulture in-universe), ageism, and her own biases to revitalize her nearly 30-year-old talk show. With encouragement from Kaling’s character Molly Patel, Newbury has an eleventh-hour 11:30 realization to make Tonight more personal, joking about abortion, her white savior status, and even delivering a self-deprecating yet moving monologue about cheating on her husband. In this story at least, one more time slot is spared from the Cheeto-dusted hands of a shock-**** comedian.

Jiminy Glick

Martin Short in Primetime Glick and others

Jiminy Glick is Jay Leno on steroids, the ultimate insincere, selfish, and ignorant celebrity interviewer. It’s a shame Martin Short dons fatphobic wear because his own physical comedy excels as he rolls his notes into a bat to figuratively and literally bash Hollywood darlings. His voice work is gold, deceptively drifting up in tone before delivering crushing insults like “I always wondered what would it be like to interview Shrek.” To Mel Brooks, he asks “The Producers, why didn’t people see it?” After Catherine O’Hara burps, he exclaims “Good lord, it’s like a fish factory just blew up!” Introducing Ice Cube, he says “Ladies and gentlemen, the wonderful Vanilla Ice.” Ill-informed as he is, Glick still makes a satisfying audience surrogate who’s never afraid to yawn in the face of A-listers’ tedious stories.

Zach Galifianakis

“Himself” in Between Two Ferns

Zach Galifianakis’s deadpan bigot makes each Between Two Ferns interview painfully awkward, employing the polar opposite of ASMR with every shuffling of his papers, moist lip-smack, and jarring cough. At the height of the show, he even got to pelt a verbose Barack Obama (SP?) with, “Is this what they mean by drones?” “What should we do about North Ikea?” And, “What is it like to be the last Black President?” In her own interview, Tina Fey captures Between Two Ferns’ thesis well: “It’s almost like you’re being willfully obtuse in these questions to make some kind of vague point about the fatuous nature of celebrity interviews, which is a pretty well-trod observation.” Naturally, Galifianakis replies, “That’s pretty good … for a girl.”

Speed and Tyrone

Jimmy Woodard and Robert Townsend in Hollywood Shuffle

Hollywood Shuffle is a hilarious — and unfortunately, still timely — send-up of anti-Black racism in showbiz. Robert Townsend and Keenen Ivory Wayans’s 1987 satire film especially shines during their imagined talk show Sneakin’ in the Movies, the accessible answer to At the Movies. Speed and Tyrone take the place of Siskel and Ebert, calling ******** on white Oscar bait and action dialogue with “crooks” until they finally agree on the merits of the zombie blaxploitation Attack of the Street Pimps. With a much-needed revamp of the “two thumbs up” rating system, including “the finger” and “the serious high five,” both Sneakin’ in the Movies and Hollywood Shuffle deserve far more recognition from critics.

The Girls’ Room panel

Amanda Bynes, Reagan Gomez-Preston, Raquel Lee, Jenna Morrison, and Jamie Snow in The Amanda Show

The Amanda Show wonderfully stretches the sacred meeting place of the women’s washroom like pink sparkly putty, transforming teenage ritual into a cable talk show and one of Amanda Bynes’ best sketches. The View for 2000s girlhood stars miss popular Amber (Bynes), Tennessee exchange student Tammy (Snow), swirlie enforcer Sheila (Gomez-Preston and Lee), and scene-stealer Debbie (Morrison) whose “I like eggs!” joins the ranks of “Amanda please!” and “Bring in the dancing lobsters!” as the show’s most enduring catchphrases. While their guests are usually limited to whatever students they can pull into the stalls, the strong-willed personalities of The Girls’ Room easily hold their own without any A-list bookings.

Diondre Cole

Kenan Thompson in What Up With That?

Ooo-wee! Even though the guests rarely manage to get a word in, especially Bill Hader as poor old Lindsey Buckingham, What Up With That? is outrageously fun. On paper, Kenan Thompson’s long-running Saturday Night Live sketch shouldn’t work: a talk show with barely any talking and the same theme song performed over and over reads more like a one-time post–”Weekend Update” romp. Thank *** Thompson’s aerobic performance elevates the premise, moving and grooving with so much joy that most guests end up enjoying their censorship. The only thing better than watching Cole make Buckingham turn his frown upside-down is seeing the real-life Buckingham crash the show to finally seize the spotlight.

Tim and Eric

Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim in Tim and Eric Nite Live!

Tim and Eric are the Limp Bizkit of late night: They wanna break stuff and who are we to deny them? Over the course of their 2007 SuperDeluxe web series Tim and Eric Nite Live!, they announce celebrity guests and topics that rarely arise, summon George Bush back from the dead to win Super Tuesday, air an agonizing writers’ room meeting, and hire a therapist who overstays his welcome in the grand tradition of Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. With deliberately stilted banter, atrocious cable access graphics, and Skype interviews with fans, Heidecker and Wareheim nauseatingly shed fluorescent light on how hellish talk show conventions are. Also, their Holiday Shopping Guide is a bop.

Jerry Langford

Jerry Lewis in The King of Comedy

It’s hard to picture any current late-night host foiling their own kidnapping, but **** it, Jerry Langford did it. Played by the real “king of comedy” Jerry Lewis in Martin Scorsese’s 1982 drama, Langford manages to helm a beloved talk show, greet fans from cabbies to construction workers, and juggle two stalkers all at once. And when those stalkers are played by Robert DeNiro (Rupert Pupkin) and Sandra Bernhard (Masha), the stakes are higher than Langford’s ratings during sweeps. Only a guy with the hosting prowess of Langford could figuratively and literally disarm his own kidnappers. For his quick wit and charm, even though De Niro’s delulu comes trululu, Landford makes fake late-night history.

Pat Dubek

Molly Shannon in The Other Two

Molly Shannon absolutely deserves a “pat on the back!” for her turn as Pat Dubek, the doting mother of The Other Two whose life turns upside-down when her youngest child becomes a teen pop star. With the winds of fame under her wings, she launches into Pat!, hosting the kind of daytime talk show she’s always stanned. Pat is like Ellen DeGeneres without the alleged workplace abuses (*cough* in-universe, at least), an approachable mom haircut in a blazer so kind that she once stayed up all night to meet hundreds of fans in her audience face-to-face. For that dedication, Pat is literally and figuratively mother.

Scott Auckerman

“Himself” in Comedy Bang! Bang!

Scott Podcastman brought Comedy Bang! Bang! from the nonexistent screen to the small screen in 2012, expanding the CBB world into The Tonight Show-meets-*** Wee’s Playhouse mock talk show it was always meant to be. Five Seasonsman bantered with the best band leader lineup of any talk show, starting with Reggie Watts, then Kid Cudi, and finishing with the parody *** “Weird Al” Yankovic himself. The most absurd CBB episodes feel like an event, such as when Time Travelman leaps quantum style into the 1960s and becomes the black-and-white host of The Sullivan Hunchy Show. Expertly blurring the line between straight man and “yes and,” Scott Pilgrimman is a solid C-plus host.

Frasier Crane

Kelsey Grammer in Frasier and others

In ’90s Seattle, two names led mankind down the path to nirvana: Cobain and Crane. Kelsey Grammer’s loquacious psychiatrist was such a hit on Cheers that he became a series regular and quibbled his way into an eponymous spin-off. Despite his extreme irritation over his family life, as host of The Dr. Frasier Crane Show, the good doctor has far more patience for his many call-ins. Unless, of course, you’re a mouthy teen who oughta be bullied. Or a kiddie crank caller pretending to be a 43-year-old. Or a total bore about naming your boat. For the most part, however, he’s listening.

Samantha White

Tessa Thompson (movie) and Logan Browning (series) in Dear White People

Samantha White deftly calls out racism on her college radio show Dear White People, tackling everything from microaggressions to a major blackface party that causes a national media frenzy. Created by writer-director Justin Simien, both the 2014 movie and subsequent TV series weave great humor throughout White’s activism for memorable put-downs, including “Please stop touching my hair. Does this look like a petting zoo to you?” and “When you ask someone who looks ethnically different ‘what are you?’ the answer is usually ‘a person about to slap the **** out of you.’” Complete with interviewing guests on campus and reading antagonistic callers, Dear White People is as entertaining as it is enlightening.

Betty Caruso and Jodi Deitz

Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph in Bronx Beat

The disgruntled housewives of Bronx Beat were Normal Gossip before Normal Gossip, ****-talking their husbands, kids, and friends as much as they fawn over their hunky guests — emphasis on the aw. Average joes who happen to look like Jake Gyllenhaal beware: Betty and Jodi will hit on you faster than you can say sweata weatha. Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph’s physical comedy in the SNL talk show is tawp notch, from gum-smacking complaining to goading on each other’s borough accents. Rudolph goes the extra subway mile as Jodi, getting choked up over how much she loves her family again and again to the point of sounding underwata. Whether it’s sweata weatha or leatha weatha, Betty and Jodi’s Bronx banter will always be in season.

Troy and Abed

Donald Glover and Danny Pudi in Community

Say it with us: Troy and Abed in the Morrrrrrning! Community’s BFFs live-laugh-love the art of hosting so much they don’t even need cameras to put on a show. Whether it’s 6 a.m. or 3 a.m., Group Study Room F or the Darkest Timeline, in stop-mooooootion or in mouuuuurning, Donald Glover and Danny Pudi’s in-character bromance is a delight to behold. Troy and Abed always come prepared with matching mugs even when their guests have no idea what’s going on or who they’re supposed to be on-lack-of-air. With six seasons long gone and a movie finally in production as the prophecy foretold, the time is right to revive the best community-college morning show to never exist.

Larry Sanders

Garry Shandling in The Larry Sanders Show

The Larry Sanders Show is a uniquely funny, cynical, yet heartfelt examination of the superficial reality that is the late-night talk show. Garry Shandling brought his real-world experience guest hosting The Tonight Show and being courted to replace David Letterman on The Late Show into the titular character, creating a Larry Sanders who takes his loyal staff for granted and usually acts in his self-interest to stay on top. Vying for the spontaneous talk show moment hall of fame, a segment full of spiders goes completely wrong. As Jon Stewart threatens to graduate from guest host to replacement, Sanders sticks him with guests that are a total Zsa Zsa Ga-bore. Sanders’s fulfillment of the clichéd star-studded series finale, however, is a genuinely moving love letter to the entertainment industry and cements his own place in late-night history.

Ziwe

“Herself” in Ziwe and others

Ziwe is an iconic host. Springing from her social-media interview series, Baited With Ziwe, her persona beautifully inverts racist microaggressions into glamorous macroaggressions. She excels at baiting guests, from Phoebe Bridgers to Chet Hanks, to talk themselves into cancellation with questions such as, “What’s your favorite race?” “How often do you compare yourself with the most powerful Black woman in America?” And, “Would you rather have world peace or diversity?” It only made sense for Ziwe to guest-star on Succession as host of The Disruption With Sophie Iwobi, a much-needed foil to Kendall Roy’s sudden interest in allyship. No failson is safe from Ziwe’s hot-pink seat.

Stephen Colbert

“Himself” in The Colbert Report

“Stephen Colbert” brought to The Daily Show Cinematic Universe what Jon Stewart could not: an encyclopedic knowledge of the works of J.R.R. Tolkein, a deep love and baritone for show tunes, and most importantly, a cutting mirror to ring-wing pundits by following their very same playbook. The Colbert Report’s greatest success is making the right victims of their own ignorance (instead of the everyday Americans they love to scam) for at least a half hour, even coining “truthiness” to describe their feelings-are-facts fallacy that persists today. Colbert didn’t always get the line between satire and softball right, as evident in war criminal Henry Kissinger’s multiple appearances on the show. At his best, however, he cut George W. Bush down to size in a White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech for the ages. Mission accomplished.

Wayne and Garth

Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in Wayne’s World and others

Wayne and Garth are the most excellent hosts in Saturday Night Live history, masterfully roasting high culture with lowbrow humor. From humble beginnings in Wayne’s mom’s basement to the main stage of Waynestock, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey’s dynamic duo became as much of a pop culture phenomenon as their “We’re not worthy!” idol Alice Cooper. Don’t underestimate the ability of these Aurora slackers to deliver a special report on the Gulf War, or lead a discussion on the Top 10 Reasons Why We’re Bummed Communism Fell. Together, Wayne and Garth hold the power to revive Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” enter Madonna’s ****** dreamworld, and even alter the fabric of reality with a diddly-doo-diddly-doo-diddly-doo! Party on, Wayne. Party on, Garth.

Eric André

“Himself” in The Eric Andre Show

Part *******, part Nardwuar, Eric André literally and figuratively breaks the talk-show mold with every episode of chaos. His kintsugi runs on ****** fluids instead of gold, fusing together what’s left with the craftwork of ******* the Grim Reaper. Instead of hand-holding each guest, André asks Raven-Symoné about working with Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson, reminds Mel B about Margaret Thatcher’s “girl power” funneling money to illegal paramilitary death squads in Northern Ireland, and poses to billionaire Mark Cuban that unregulated capitalism exacerbates imperialism. Why would he say something controversial yet so brave? Because the only thing that can save the talk show is to destroy it, one desk at a time.

Space Ghost

George Lowe in Space Ghost Coast to Coast

“Welcome back, ****** viewers. You’ll watch anything,” Space Ghost boasts from his intergalactic desk. He then introduces “The Beatles” (who bear a striking resemblance to Pavement) and Goldie Hawn for an interview you can barely hear over the cacophony. Such is the cosmic gumbo of Space Ghost Coast to Coast: a half-animated, half-live action black hole that warps the original ’60s Hanna-Barbera cartoon and the very format of the talk show into weirdness like no other. George Lowe’s superhero warble is essential to Space Ghost, making insults like “Nobody cares Moby. Nobody cares.” all the more devastating when he’s not flashing his smile to the camera. Rounded out by villains-turned-sidekicks Zorak and Moltar (voiced by the late great C. Martin Croker), Space Ghost remains the most absurd host in the universe.

Alan Partridge

Steve Coogan in Knowing Me, Knowing You and others

Before Philomena Cunk, Stephen Colbert, or even Larry Sanders, an ABBA-loving boffin from Norwich, England failed to rule the airwaves. His name: Alan Gordon “the Money” Partridge. Steve Coogan debuted his nonsensical host on BBC Radio in 1991 as a sports correspondent with a curious lack of any sports knowledge. Conquering the realms of talk show, documentary, literature and even cinema since, Partridge is the epitome of jack of all trades, master of none. His influence can be heard across the tenure of The Daily Show, Ron Burgundy in Anchorman, Michael Scott in The Office, and many more echoes of egotistical pundits who value feelings over facts. Thank you, Alan, for the music.

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