When it comes to late-night television, a host is only as good as the people they can bounce their jokes and discussions off, aka a sidekick. Whether it’s bouncing one-liners back and forth or just laughing for the sake of getting the audience involved, a sidekick has the ability to make or break a late-night show.
From Ed McMahon’s “heeere’s Johnny” opener to Guillermo Rodriguez dressing as a cowboy for a segment on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, good sidekicks are a must-have in late-night television. So strap on in because heeere’s a list of some of the best sidekicks in late-night history.
Andy Richter Was Conan O’Brien’s Sidekick For Seven Years
Originally, Andy Richter was hired as a writer for Late Night with Conan O’Brien. But just weeks before the show first aired in 1993, the actor was promoted to being Conan O’Brien’s sidekick during the late-night show. Then, after seven years of funny quips and witty rapport, Richter said goodbye to the show.
While Richter and O’Brien had a great relationship working with one another, the former was getting itchy doing the same thing every night. During an interview, he explained his reason for leaving the late-night show, saying, “You should see how much you can stretch your good fortune. And I was curious.” Since moving TBS, Richter has returned to the role that made him famous.
Guillermo Rodriguez Started As The Studio’s Security Guard
Starting off as nothing more than a parking lot security guard at the Hollywood Boulevard studios, Guillermo Rodriguez soon found himself on the stage of Jimmy Kimmel Live! as the talk show host’s sidekick. His most famous segment is “Guillermo’s Hollywood Roundup,” and yes, this is exactly what it sounds like.
During the segment, Rodriguez goes around wearing a cowboy outfit, answering Kimmel’s questions regarding entertainment tabloids. Of course, all of the comedian’s stories are a hysterical mockery of the journalism industry when it comes to celebrities. Oh, and a special effects lasso is involved. So there’s that!
Ed McMahon Has Been Dubbed The “Human Laugh Track”
Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon first worked with one another on the ABC show WHO Do You Trust? a daytime game show, which aired from 1957 to 1962. The year it ended, the two went on to be the faces of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, a late-night program that ran until 1992.
For 30 years, McMahon was the “human laugh track” that would introduce the show with a booming “heeere’s Johnny!” Interestingly, during an interview, McMahon explained how no matter how many times he’s emceed during his career, he always walks onto the stage with butterflies in his stomach, using the nerves as energy.
Paul Shaffer Was With Letterman Through Two Programs
Paul Shaffer is more than a sidekick for David Letterman’s late-night programs. Yes, plural, but we’ll get back to that in a second. Shaffer was also the musical director and bandleader for the talk show host, making sure the background music was always on point.
So, back to the shows. Shaffer stuck with Letterman through two talk shows, the first being Late Night with David Letterman, which ran from 1982 to 1993, and then the Late Show with David Letterman which aired until 2015. He was even the composer for the 2018 Netflix documentary My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman.
Steve Higgins Has Been With Jimmy Fallon For Years
Steve Higgins started off as an announcer for the program Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, a late-night show that aired from 2009 until 2014. Then, he was brought on to announce The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the seventh installment of NBC’s popular Tonight Show franchise.
Although Higgins has been with Fallon pretty much since the beginning of his late-night career, he’s probably better known for his work on Saturday Night Live. The television personality even won an Emmy for his voice work on the “the Edible Blargmonger,” a character in the animated segment Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas.
Reggie Watts Says He’s A Mix Between Richter And Shaffer
Since 2015, Reggie Watts has acted as the bandleader, announcer, and overall sidekick for James Corden on The Late Show with James Corden. When asked about his role on the show, Watts has said its a mix between Andy Richter and Paul Shaffer. Those are two big pairs of shoes!
While he’s not playing with the band on the show, Watts is asking the guest one random question or doing some improv comedy, his preferred performance style. Since leaving the series Comedy Bang! Bang in 2015, Watts has given all of his attention to the late-night program and to being Corden’s sidekick.
Fred Armisen’s Done Late-Night, SNL, And Portlandia
In 2014, Fred Armisen took up the role of the bandleader and sidekick to Seth Meyers during Late Night with Seth Meyers. His part in the program garnered positive reviews, with critics enjoying his deadpan comedy and banter with the host. And while people enjoy him on the late-night show, Armisen is probably best known for his work on Saturday Night Live.
He performed as an SNL cast member for 11 years, making him the third-longest tenured member in the show’s history. He’s even appeared in the second-most sketches, a total of 856. Oh, and you might recognize him as one of the main characters from Portlandia.
Chuy Bravo Joked Around With Chelsea Handler
Born Jesus Melgoza, Chuy Bravo immigrated to the United States when he was 15, quickly becoming enamored with the world of Entertainment. He soon found himself working as the sidekick and “assistant” to Chelsea Handler during the run of her late-night program Chelsea Lately. The show ran from 2007 until 2014 when Handler’s contract expired with E!
During the half-hour segment, Handler and Bravo would discuss pop culture in a round table format, typically throwing one-liners back and forth, in a way only Handler is able to accomplish!
Arsenio Hall Went From Sidekick To Host
Before he became the host of his own late-night show, comedian Arsenio Hall was the sidekick to the one and only Alan Thicke. From 1983 to 1984, The Thicke of the Night blended together with an unorthodox mix of stand-up comedy and typical talk show discussions, much to critics displeasure.
The show lasted only one season, but that didn’t stop Hall from maintaining a career in the talk show business. From 1989 until 1994, and again from 2013 to 2014, Hall hosted his own show, called The Arsenio Hall Show, a late-night program that became surprisingly popular during its first seasons run.
Tony Randall Had A Career Spanning Six Decades
Tony Randall was a solid figure in the entertainment industry from 1920 until his passing in 2004. From starring in the television adaptation of the play The Odd Couple to co-starring with Debbie Reynolds in The Mating Game, Randall had quite the six decades-long career.
But aside from his film, stage, and comedy career, Randall was a frequent guest on Late Night with David Letterman as well as Late Show with David Letterman. In total, Randall appeared in 70 episodes of the late-night program, and it’s also been said that he was one of Letterman’s favorite people to have on the show.
Geoff Peterson Is An Animatronic Human
Unlike the other sidekicks and guests on this list, Geoff Peterson is not exactly what one would call human. The sidekick for The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson is actually an animatronic human skeleton designed by Grant Imahara of MythBusters and voiced by Josh Robert Thompson.
Peterson, the robot, first appeared as Ferguson’s sidekick on April 5, 2010, sporting a mohawk, blue eyes, and an oversized suit, equipped with a Price is Right name tag. It’s actually rumored that Ferguson took the robot home after the final episode of his show in December of 2016 — talk about creepy!
Hannibal Buress Has Performed On Many Late-Night Shows
Comedian Hannibal Buress has been co-starring and acting as a sidekick during Eric Andre’s late-night show, The Eric Andrew Show, since 2012. The Adult Swim show is a bit different than typical late-night programs, as it is technically a parody of low-budget public-access programs.
Throughout its run, the show has aired 40 episodes over four seasons, with the fifth season set to release in October of 2020. But Buress doesn’t keep his comedic talents secluded in one late-night program. He has also performed on several popular shows, including Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Max Weinberg Put Together The Infamous Max Weinberg 7
When Max Weinberg joined the cast of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, it wasn’t as the host’s sidekick. Instead, Weinberg was hired to lead the house band as the music director and drummer. In the early years of the show, the Max Weinberg 7 was even called “the saving grace” of the program.
While O’Brien would bring Weinberg in on some of the comedy bits, the musician wasn’t necessarily his sidekick until Andy Richter left in 2000. Once that happened, Weinberg became the “second banana” to O’Brien. In 2014, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Regis Philbin Started His TV Career As A Sidekick
Before he went live with Kelly, Regis Philbin was the sidekick to Joey Bishop on the late-night ABC program The Joey Bishop Show. His relationship with Bishop on the show was a very Carson-McMahon-type experience, with the playful teasing a witty banter.
You might remember Philbin’s time on the show from his infamous on-air departure, quitting while the cameras were still rolling. Years later, Philbin wrote in his memoir that the entire debacle was nothing more than a publicity stunt to gain more viewers. Ironically, it didn’t work, and the show was canceled.
Peggy Cass Might Have Won An Oscar If She Continued In Film
Comedic actor Peggy Cass was an announcer and sidekick to Jack Paar’s late-night program Jack Paar Tonite. First airing in 1973, the late-night show ran one week per month and was only created because Paar was able to get ABC to keep his former late-night writer Dick Cavett.
Ironically, Paar thinks he might have taken Cass’ Oscar prospects away because he wanted her on the show. Even so, the actress had quite a career in the entertainment industry, starring in several sitcoms during her time, including The Hathaways and Women in Prison.
Kevin Eubanks Composed The Tonight Show‘s Closing Song
Kevin Eubanks was with Jay Leno and The Tonight Show from 1992 until his departure in 2010. The guitarist is responsible for composing “Kevin’s Country,” the closing song for Leno. A few years later, in 1995, he took over the title of bandleader from Branford Marsalis.
Eubanks went on to have a shining career as Leno’s sidekick, moving with the band and sticking with Leno on the short-lived late-night program The Jay Leno Show. Then, after the 18th season of The Tonight Show, Eubanks announced he was leaving to focus on music.
Tony Okungbowa Went From Ellen To The Grammy’s
From 2003 to 2006 and again from 2008 until 2013, Tony Okungbowa was the resident DJ on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. He left the show to pursue an acting career, appearing on Ellen once more in 2014 as a guest.
At first, Okungbowa’s film credits were nothing more than appearances on series such as Law & Order and NYPD Blue. But, in 2019, he landed the recurring role of Kofo in the sitcom Bob Hearts Abishola. As a fun fact, Okungbowa DJ’d the 2004 Grammy Awards.
Hugh Downs Was Jack Paar’s Original Sidekick
Hugh Downs became a bona fide “television personality” when he landed the gig of Jack Paar’s announcer and sidekick on the late-night program Tonight Starring Jack Paar. Downs was alongside Paar from the mid-1957 until 1962 when the host decided to leave.
However, Down’s would go on to perform in an array of programs throughout his career, giving the role of the sidekick to others while he took up the reigns as the host. From September 1962 to October 1971, Down’s was the host of the popular NBC late-night program The Tonight Show.
Robin Quivers First Heard Howard Stern During A Questionable Interview
Unlike the other sidekicks on this list, Robin Quivers wasn’t on-screen with host Howard Stern. Instead, she put her broadcasting degree to good use, becoming the co-host of The Howard Stern Show, a radio talk show, from 1986 to 2005.
Quivers first caught word of Stern looking for a co-host to riff with from Denise Oliver, the station program director she was working with at the time. Oliver wound up showing her a tape of Stern interviewing a lady of the night on-air, and the rest, as they say, is history!
Arthur Treacher Was The Sidekick To A Student
Arthur Treacher was the announcer-sidekick to Merv Griffin on the rebranded 1965 The Merv Griffin Show. Interestingly, it wasn’t a coincidence that Treacher wound up on the show supporting Griffin. Not only was Treacher a veteran character actor at the time, but he was also Griffin’s mentor!
So, along with his good acting skills, the two men had an easy rapport with one another, almost familial. Treacher would even call Griffin a “dear boy” when announcing him to the stage. He would say, “…and now, here’s the dear boy himself, Meeeer-vyn!” If that’s not an adorable relationship, we don’t know what is.