2015 proved to be a banner year for late night, with big debuts and farewells from comedy legends. As we enter 2016, check out our Top Ten List of late night’s most memorable moments.
10. Obama Reads Mean Tweets
Presidents have feelings too, at least according to this bit. Jimmy Kimmel has had movie stars, sports stars and pop stars take the hot seat, and see what Twitter really thinks of them. So why not the leader of the free world? Obama seems a good sport here, even finally admitting it might be time to up his jean game.
9. Wheel of Freestyle with Lin-Manuel Miranda (from “Hamilton”)
It’s Lin-Manuel Miranda’s world, and we’re just living in it. Miranda is clearly having a moment, starring in the hottest show on Broadway, that he also wrote, while also hanging with the President and finding time to pen some music for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But this clip from his appearance on The Tonight Show, in which he shows off his otherworldly skills with a mic, proves that he’s earned every bit of the love he’s receiving.
8. Comedy Bang! Bang! Says Goodbye to Reggie…and Hello to Kid Cudi
Comedy Bang! Bang! entered its fourth season with a bit of a cloud hanging over it: Bandleader Reggie Watts was decamping for The Late Late Show with James Corben, leaving the keyboard empty. While the show would go on thanks to the amazing comedy and vocal stylings of Kid Cudi, it would first have to take a moment to say goodbye to an old friend. Thankfully Reggie stopped by later in the season with his “how to band lead” instructional video. (Missed Comedy Bang! Bang! season four or just want to experience it again? Watch full episodes right now.)
7. Colbert Debuts on The Late Show
Stephen Colbert has been, arguably, the most important comedic voice of the last decade. But staying in character for years at a time was starting to wear on him, and he was ready to call it quits. He’s stated that if CBS never came calling, he would still have hung it up back at The Colbert Report. And so, as he took the stage at The Ed Sullivan Theater for the first time, we were reminded that watching Colbert is a privilege, not a right. In character or not, the sharpest mind in late night rides again.
6. Jimmy Fallon Almost Loses His Finger
Mel Brooks famously said, “tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.” Jimmy Fallon put that quote to the test, nearly ripping his own finger off after a fall in his kitchen. And yet, using his boyish charm, Fallon somehow turned the horrific accident into a funny anecdote.
5. John Oliver Swears At Terrorists (NSFW)
Oliver has carved his own distinctive niche in late night, combining a 60 Minutes style of in-depth reporting with a wicked sharp sense of satire. There’s no shortage of memorable moments from his show, if only because every episode feels like an instant classic, but in his first episode after the horrific attacks in Paris, Oliver spoke for all of us when he told those responsible to f*ck off. Catharsis had never been this funny.
4. Conan in Cuba
Conan is never better than when he’s out with the people, being the absurd butt of his own jokes. And so, with news that America was finally letting people travel to Cuba legally, Conan knew he had an idea for comedy gold, and a chance to show that what unites us is stronger than what divides us. The episode saw Conan getting drunk at a rum factory, learning to dance the Rumba, and making a mess of cigar rolling. It was also one of the funniest, and most fascinating, episodes in recent late night history.
3. Scott Aukerman Goes Full Frank-N-Furter
Comedy Bang! Bang! blew the roof off the haunted house for their Halloween episode, staging a spot-on spoof of The Rocky Horror Picture Show complete with costumes, cheesy props, and Kid Cudi’s perfect take on Riff Raff. But it’s the sight of Scott in full-on Dr. Frank-N-Furter cosplay that made for one of 2015’s most memorable moments. (Watch the full Halloween episode right now.)
2. Jon Stewart Signs Off
Jon Stewart took a forgotten show on a backwater channel and turned it into a force. Combing indignant rage with a brilliant comedic mind, he gave voice to a large swath of Americans that just didn’t know what the hell was going on in our country. He took down Crossfire, proved Fox wasn’t fair and balanced, and ripped Arby’s a new one. Only in his absence have we realized how much we needed his voice to helped frame and fight the madness.
1. Letterman’s Final Top Ten List
No one man, outside of perhaps Lorne Michaels, is as responsible for the modern state of comedy as David Letterman. Giving voice to sarcasm and absurdity in equal measure, he upended the more staid comedy voices of the time, and started a revolution. Everyone on this list exists in his wake, and for that alone, his stepping down from his turbulent throne in late night is a big deal. So it’s no surprise that everyone from Barbara Walters to Tina Fey came out to pay tribute to Dave and deliver jokes for the show’s final Top Ten list.