One of the things that makes talk shows so popular is the friendly intimacy they create. As viewers, we all want to feel like we're welcoming the show into our own homes. Obviously, the best talk show hosts drive the conversation, but every great host needs a great foil and that's where the sidekicks come in. Here's our list of the best sidekicks on talk shows, and how each was used to make the show better.
Ed McMahon (The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson)
The granddaddy of all talk show sidekicks has to be Ed McMahon. For 30 years, McMahon was Johnny Carson's right-hand man on The Tonight Show. He served as the announcer, coining the famous "Heeeeeeeeere's Johnny!" intro to the show, and he also sat on the couch next to Carson's desk for the entire show, mingling with the guests and laughing at Carson's jokes.
Paul Schaffer (The Late Show With David Letterman)
Paul Schaffer wasn't the first bandleader to be incorporated into the banter of a talk show, but he was the first to be the bandleader AND sidekick. Schaffer was first the leader and keyboard player for the "World's Most Dangerous Band" on Late Night With David Letterman on NBC, then served the same role in the CBS Orchestra when Letterman switched networks and started The Late Show With David Letterman. He was also the guy Letterman bounced jokes off nightly and was a true sidekick in all senses of the word.
Andy Richter (Late Night With Conan O'Brien)
When Conan O'Brien took over for David Letterman on Late Night, he brought with him comedian Andy Richter. Or, more accurately, head writer Robert Smigel brought in Richter. He was an important member of the cast for the show's first seven years before departing. He would later rejoin O'Brien on his short-lived stint as host of The Tonight Show and again on Conan for TBS, from 2010 to 2021 when that show ended.
Geoff Peterson (The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson)
By far the most unique sidekick on this list has to be Geoff Peterson. Geoff, you see, isn't a person, he's a robot. A robot that was actually designed by the late Mythbusters host, Grant Imahara. He was the sidekick on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and he was voiced by Josh Robert Thompson.
Guillermo Rodriguez (Jimmy Kimmel Live!)
Guillermo Rodriguez has to be the least likely person to become a talk show sidekick on this list. Rodriguez started as a security guard at the theater where Jimmy Kimmel Live! is filmed and by complete chance ended up as one of the most beloved people on the show as his appearances became more and more frequent and he got more and more comfortable playing bits in skits and commenting on the show's happenings.
Questlove/The Roots (The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon)
Jimmy Fallon doesn't really have a traditional sidekick on The Tonight Show, instead, he has a whole band. Sure, Questlove is the most prominent member of the house band, The Roots, in respect to the show, but the whole band plays its part as the host's sidekicks.
Fred Armisen (Late Night With Seth Meyers)
Seth Meyers has the ultimate sidekick in Fred Armisen on Late Night With Seth Meyers. Not only is Armisen a comedian and SNL vet along with Meyers, but he's also a great musician and as such, is both a comedic foil for Meyers AND his bandleader.
Chuy Bravo (Chelsea Lately)
Chuy Bravo had an interesting road to fame. Unconfirmed legend has it that he fell in love with acting when the Steve Martin movie Three Amigos was filmed in his village in Mexico when he was young. While that may or may not be true, it still took Bravo years to get into the industry, but when he did, he made the most of it as the sidekick on Chelsea Lately for the show's entire run. Bravo died in 2019.
Stephen "tWitch" Boss (The Ellen DeGeneres Show)
Stephen "tWitch" Boss tragically died by suicide in 2022 just a few months after the show that helped make him famous, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, went off the air. He was a beloved part of the series, serving as both DJ and sidekick, as well as the occasional guest host when Ellen DeGeneres was on vacation.
John Melendez (The Tonight Show With Jay Leno)
One wouldn't think that a guy with the nickname "Stuttering John" would make for a good announcer, but John Melendez proved that wrong as the announcer and sidekick on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. In addition to traditional announcer duties, Melendez was often a part of skits and other bits on the show alongside host Jay Leno.
Regis Philbin (The Joey Bishop Show)
It's almost impossible to imagine Regis Philbin as anything other than a host. The television legend set records in his career doing just that, but he started as Joey Bishop's sidekick on The Joey Bishop Show. Throughout the show's brief run (less than three years), Philbin played the role of the young apprentice to the Rat Pack veteran, often as the butt of Bishop's jokes about his young age (though Philbin was in his mid-30s when the show aired).
Reggie Watts (The Late Late Show With James Corden)
Reggie Watts has the distinction of being the sidekick on not one, but two shows. First, he served as DJ/band leader on Scott Aukerman's mock talk show Comedy Bang! Bang! and left that show to do the same thing on The Late Late Show With James Cordon in 2015, where he remained until the show ended in 2023.
Max Weinberg (Late Night With Conan O'Brien)
In 1989 Bruce Springsteen broke up his longtime group, The E Street Band, and drummer Max Weinberg was left in the wilderness. After bobbing around for a while looking for a steady gig, he landed a spot as the bandleader for Late Night With Conan O'Brien. At first, he was just that, in charge of the music, as Andy Richter was the real sidekick. When Richter left the show in 2000, Weinberg started filling that role, in addition to playing drums and leading the band.
Hannibal Buress (The Eric Andre Show)
As sidekick on The Eric Andre Show, Hannibal Buress was unique. He was expressly disdained by the audience (on purpose) and rather than support host Eric Andre, he was often critical of Andre's performance. Like the whole show, it turned the standard talk show fare on its head and it was brilliant.
Branford Marsalis (The Tonight Show With Jay Leno)
When Branford Marsalis landed the bandleader job on the new Tonight Show With Jay Leno he was already a world-renowned jazz star. The saxophonist served both as bandleader and sidekick, as Leno didn't have a traditional sidekick. It was that second role that Marsalis came to dislike, and it eventually led him to leave the show after just three years.
Gene Rayburn (Tonight With Steve Allen)
Tonight with host Steve Allen, which aired in the mid-1950s, was the forerunner to NBC's Tonight Show and it set the template for pretty much all talk shows that followed. That template included announcer Gene Rayburn as a sidekick, participating in comedy skits and banter with the host.
Steve Wilkos (The Jerry Springer Show)
Steve Wilkos is a different kind of sidekick. As head of security in the heyday of The Jerry Springer Show, Wilkos' main job was to break up the endless fights that happened between guests. He was so prominent that his role evolved into one of foil for host Jerry Springer and he eventually parlayed that into his very own talk show.
Hugh Downs (Tonight With Jack Parr)
Hugh Downs was ubiquitous on television from the 1940s until his retirement in 1999. His first major exposure came as the announcer and sidekick to host Jack Parr on Tonight With Jack Parr, the second iteration of what would become The Tonight Show. Like other announcers in the show's history, Downs served as a comedic foil to the host.
Steve Higgins (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon)
The most recent in the long line of announcers/sidekicks on The Tonight Show is Steve Higgins, who has been in the role since Jimmy Fallon took over as host in 2014. Like the others, he's involved in comedy sketches and banter with the host. He previously served the same role when Jimmy Fallon hosted Late Night.
Jon Batiste (The Late Show With Stephen Colbert)
Following in the path first taken by Branford Marsalis with The Tonight Show, jazz great Jon Batiste was the bandleader and de-facto sidekick for the first seven years on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, before leaving for other career opportunities in 2022.
"Weird Al" Yankovic (Comedy Bang! Bang!)
"Weird Al" Yankovic needs no introduction. For more than 40 years he's been a legend in the music industry, known for his hilarious parodies of hit songs. Less well-known to the general public was his brief stint as the bandleader and sidekick in the final season of Comedy Bang! Bang! where he brought his trademark surrealism to an already completely surreal show.
Edd Hall (The Tonight Show With Jay Leno)
Like Ed McMahon before him, Edd Hall served as the announcer for The Tonight Show when Jay Leno took over for the retired Johnny Carson. While he didn't sit on the couch like McMahon, he was an important part of the show, often participating in comedic sketches and bantering with Leno during the monologue.
Skitch Henderson (Tonight With Steve Allen)
The first bandleader in Tonight Show history was Skitch Henderson, who led the band for both the Steve Allen-headed show and later in the first few years of the Carson-led show. He wasn't as involved as a sidekick as his successors, and in what few clips that survive, didn't seem comfortable in that role. He left in 1966 to pursue a more serious career as a conductor.
Doc Severinsen (The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson)
The Tonight Show has had a lot of bandleaders over the years, but maybe the most beloved is Doc Severinsen. Severinsen was in the band on the show from the very first iteration with Steve Allen in 1953, until Johnny Carson retired in 1992, for the last 25 years of which, he was the leader. He also assumed sidekick duties when Ed McMahon was out, or both McMahon and Carson were off and there was a guest host.
Tom Scott (The Chevy Chase Show)
Tom Scott is an incredibly accomplished musician, having played on albums by George Harrison, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, and many more. He also has the unique distinction of being a bandleader/sidekick on two infamous talk shows by celebrities that didn't last. First, The Pat Sajak Show, and second, The Chevy Chase Show.
Louis Cato (The Late Show With Stephen Colbert)
When Jon Batiste left The Late Show With Stephen Colbert in the summer of 2022, they wasted no time installing fellow Stay Human musician Louis Cato as the new band leader. Cato has a more traditional approach to being a bandleader and is less of a comedic sidekick as a musical one, often performing full songs with the band and with guest musicians.
Arthur Treacher (The Merv Griffin Show)
When Merv Griffin developed The Merv Griffin Show, he chose Arthur Treacher as his sidekick, who played the part very much like Ed McMahon played it on The Tonight Show. Treacher was a show business veteran, but found his highest degree of fame sitting next to Griffin and bantering on the show.
Kevin Eubanks (The Tonight Show With Jay Leno)
Jay never never had a traditional sidekick during his long run as host of The Tonight Show, instead, he used his bandleaders, like Kevin Eubanks, as his bantering partner. Eubanks took over from Branford Marsalis in 1995 and remained there until leaving the show in 2010, a few years before Leno retired himself.
Craig Shoemaker (The Magic Hour)
For eight magical weeks in the summer of 1998, NBA superstar Magic Johnson hosted The Magic Hour in first-run syndication. For about the first three of those weeks, his sidekick was comedian Craig Shoemaker. Shoemaker was fired after publicly calling the show "The Titanic." Turns out, he was right, and the show was canceled a few weeks later.
Glenn Humplik (The Tom Green Show)
One of the weirdest talk shows of all time was The Tom Green Show on MTV. Host Tom Green, who was never afraid to earn an R-rating, picked his sidekick because it was his childhood friend Glenn Humplik, whose main job, it seems, was to just take abuse from Green. Sure, it was funny, but wow, it was pretty denigrating, also.
Jimmy Vivino (Late Night With Conan O'Brien)
While Max Weinberg was the bandleader for Late Night With Conan O'Brien, he was often away later in the show's run, touring with Bruce Springsteen. On such occasions, Jimmy Vivino took over. Eventually, Weinberg left the show and Vivino took over the role Weinberg had played as the bantering partner for O'Brien.
Norman Baker (The Wendy Williams Show)
The Wendy Williams Show was unlike anything else, mostly because of Williams' unique personality. She was mostly a one-woman show, but occasionally bantered with the show's producer Norman Baker.
Every great host needs a great partner, so as long as there are talk shows, there will be sidekicks to joke with.