The hosts of talk shows are what get them to stay on the air, but what gets casual viewers to tune in are the guests. Sometimes they are actors with no business trying to be funny--'m looking at you Emile Hirsch!--but others are gems that make a conversation between host and guest like a fine jazz riff, except less pretentious and more funny. Here are 7 of the guests that consistently entertain us.
7- Bill Murray
Throughout his career Bill Murray has transitioned from a rapid fire jokester to a king of quiet, awkward comedy, but nowhere have the two come together better than on his late night appearances. As long as he has been guesting he has been constantly entertaining, always bringing a weird vibe of awkwardness on the brink of hilarity to the table and rarely discussing whatever film he is actually there to promote. During his appearance on Letterman's very first late night show alone he started a fake fight with Dave and did an aerobics routine to Olivia Newton John's "Let's Get Physical." But perhaps his most memorable appearance on Letterman came just last year when he used Dave's connections at CBS to call the head of the company, Les Moonves, and try to finagle some free tickets to the Super Bowl.
6- Jack Hannah
To be fair, any animal wrangler will do. There is something special about watching a pampered talk show host, used to making a living by smiling behind a desk, getting the crap scared out of them by all forms of wildlife crawling around them. Or on them if we're really lucky. Talk shows by nature are disingenuous and hollow, filled with conversations that are planned and guided by cards. So seeing actually moments of spontaneity, with a host nervously laughing at a tarantula or monkey while real terror flashes in their eyes, is always a breath of fresh air. Jimmy Kimmel even used the familiar set-up to fool his audience into believing he was actually bitten by a poisonous snake. The only reason Jack Hannah gets the nod over any other animal bearing guest is that he is pretty insane in his own right. Even without animals he's amusing/scary.
5- Jay Leno
That's right, before his own reign as lord of the late night scene, Jay Leno was a comedian like any other just trying to make his name. It may seem ironic now thanks to their years of battling it out in the same timeslot, but Leno actually became well known for his frequent Letterman appearances. But here's the really strange part: he was actually hilarious. Years on the Tonight Show have softened Jay, turning him into the safe, vanilla comedian that he is today. But during his Letterman appearances he consistently proved himself to be one of his funniest regulars. The phrase "What's your beef, Jay?" became an institution on the show, with Letterman asking and Leno replying with various things he had a problem with. Who knew eventually the biggest beef would be between the two of them?
4- Will ArnettWill Arnett is a very funny guy. His false arrogance and condescending tone towards anyone that interviews him is what makes him funny across the entire talk show landscape. But really makes him special is a talent that he saves only for Conan O'Brien. That talent, of course, is his air guitar rendition of the Law and Order theme song. Switching between air guitar, bass and even flute, Arnett turns simple pantomiming into an art form. More drama and passion go into his Law and Order renditions than most Oscar winning film performances. If only they gave out an Emmy for best physical interpretation of a television theme song.
3- Chris Elliott
The man that just this month Rolling Stone is heralding as the most underappreciated comic genius of his generation, and truly one of the funniest men alive, Chris Elliot owes his career to David Letterman's late night show. Though he was working there as a low-level writer, it soon became obvious to Letterman that Chris was too weird to not put on TV. Soon Chris was a frequent on-air guest in the early, bizarre days on Letterman where experimental comedy was the norm. His characters like The Guy Under the Stairs, the Fugitive Guy, Chris Elliot Jr., and even his whacked out impersonation of Marlon Brando made him a staple on the show. Since then he has remained in the same mold, choosing to portray himself as a guy desperate to be on TV and incapable of logic. Lately he has even been showing up as a guest on Letterman again, always bringing a new fake TV pilot along with him. Finally.
2- Amy Sedaris
One of the simple rules of late night talk shows is this: you don't go on unless you have something to promote. Whether a film, book, TV show or sex tape, you just don't go on for any other reason than to mention your upcoming project. The forced banter of talk shows is really nothing more than a sales pitch. That's why Amy Sedaris is so weird. Well, I take that back. Maybe her obsession with wigs makes her weird. But it definitely adds to it. She has become a favorite for both Letterman and Conan, and is even on the top of the list of people Dave contacts to be on the show when there's a cancellation. That's because she doesn't need stories from the set or anecdotes about shooting in Peru to be funny, she just is. Whether talking about her imaginary (and now deceased) boyfriend, her relationship with her rabbit or how desperately she wants to join Dave at his estate she always brings a whirlwind of energy that exists simply to entertain.
1- Norm Macdonald
Some would argue that his gig on Weekend Update for Saturday Night Live was the perfect job for Norm, and that since he has struggled to find his comedy niche. But I say nay, his true calling has always been that of talk show guest. Because he lacks a filter on what travels from his brain to his mouth, and not only doesn't care about political correctness but is apparently completely unaware of it, Norm makes for some of the liveliest interviews on TV, stumping hosts on exactly how they should reply to his ramblings. He tells longwinded stories that have no punch line, interrupts other interviews with his own jokes and isn't afraid to say the word "midget" 20 times in one interview. He even did the unthinkable by calling out Barbara Walters for not paying attention to one of his stories. But of course Norm's most famous triumph of late night TV came when he got to discuss Courtney Thorne-Smith's upcoming movie with Carrot Top, or as he liked to call it, "Box Office Poison."