Comedian and sometime chat show host Tim Batt runs down his list of the top chat show hosting duos of all time, from Oprah & Gayle to Havoc & Newsboy.
Chat shows are a strange mainstay of entertainment. Debuting in caves then later shifting to radio and eventually television, the basics of the format are well established. Have a great constant host the audience learns to trust and love, and usually, team them up with a funny musical sidekick. Then parade a roster of famous people in front of the pair night after night.
Not every host nails it (see: Jimmy Fallon) but the chat show format’s simplicity and star power often attracts top TV ratings (see also: Jimmy Fallon).
This year, after doing five consecutive years of writing and performing new, one-hour stand-up comedy shows in the festival, I wanted to do something different. Something I had failed to achieve success on the telly doing (see my short-lived Duke show, Banter). I wanted to do a live comedy chat show. Hence, my new comedy fest show, Space Couch.
My co-host and musicman is the Wellington-based phenomenon known as Disasteradio (or Eyeliner or Luke Rowell). We’ve been going through old videos of chat show legends try to replicate some of that TV magic and we thought we’d turn out research into an ultimate ranking of these powerful duos, the top ELEVEN – why do ten, when you can do eleven – chatshow hosts:
Eric Andre & Hannibal Buress
The Eric Andre Show’s sole mission is to take a dump on the chat show format. He’s a classically trained double bass player turned comedian/actor. His show is not far off watching Jigsaw from the Saw movies host a chatshow with his stoner best mate. He tortures unwitting celebrity guests – trapping and electrically shocking Jack Black is a highlight.
Every episode opens with Eric completely destroying his set, and for the bulk of his ‘interviews’, his sidekick (actor/comedian) Hannibal Buress stands menacingly over the guest, throwing out some of the funniest lines while the guest tries to figure out how to leave the show.
Full disclosure: It’s often an uncomfortable watch. It’s really dark, violent, bizarre and frankly genius television.
Havoc & Newsboy
Havoc and Newsboy was TV lightning in a bottle. Havo presumably emerged from the womb cracking jokes with the obstetrician who delivered him and Jeremy Wells’ telegenic bone structure was coupled with a comedic delivery so dry, Huntly and Palmers took notes.
Their chemistry was superb. Segments like Fun With Meat, Extreme Office Furniture and the genuine celebration of dance music was just so cool in a sea of crap telly. These guys are the true princes of Kiwi television. Full disclosure: I’ve had the good fortune to work with both Havo and Wells and don’t have a single bad thing to say about either of them.
Kim Hill & Her Righteous Indignation
Kim Hill is utterly peerless. So, it makes sense that her only suitable sidekick would be her otherworldly intellect. She beat people around with it weekly on the telly. Still does on RNZ.
It’s a real shame her show Face To Face was relatively short lived, but we should say our thanks to whatever genetic imperviousness Hill has to cigarettes that we have her on our airwaves at all. She is a gift. A terrifying gift. Full disclosure: Kim Hill often appears to me in dreams. It’s not a sex thing, I just really respect the heck of her career and think about it constantly.
Conan O’Brien & Andy Richter
Conan is 193cm of pure Harvard-educated clown. He’s famous for a career of consistent silliness and calm resilience in the face of unbridled fuckery from the world’s greatest villain: Jay Leno. His sidekick Andy Richter sits in a chair next to Conan every show and often will say just one sentence in an episode. It’s easy to overlook his smarts but Andy is brutally sharp – the man won Celebrity Jeopardy! Most importantly though, Conan and Andy have a visible affection for each other. Full disclosure: Conan and Andy may just be on the list cause I’m a sucker for two men enjoying each other’s company on telly.
Oprah Winfrey & Gayle King
Full disclosure; I reckon I know what you’re thinking: Gayle wasn’t on the show with Oprah. But I ask you, dear reader – wasn’t she? Oprah and Gayle’s prominent and legendary friendship has stood the test of time and a changing media landscape. People in the ’90s couldn’t make sense of a prominent friendship between two famous women of colour, so many assumed they were in a romantic relationship.
It wasn’t true. What is true, based on every interview they’ve given together or mention they’ve made of each other publicly, is that Oprah and Gayle carry each other in their hearts every single broadcast they make. They are spiritual sisters. A metaphysical TV duo separated by their respective networks.
Clive Anderson & Richard Vranch-At-The-Piano
Full disclosure: Whose Line Is It Anyway? is technically not a talkshow but in the wider sense of the term, perhaps, yes it is?
Either way, this pairing was essential on our list due to sheer star quality and exemplary dichotomy between Clive’s silica-gel-dry delivery and Vranch’s smooth-moving, genre hopping keyboard work. In all my time watching the UK Whose Line, Vranch-At-The-Piano never misses a single note. How many times did he play that hoedown? Did he ever get a chance to talk at all? Did anyone catalogue his classic looks?
Guy Montgomery & Tim Lambourne
Local boys made good, hidden on a station that had such low ratings they pulled the plug after two years, in a move I myself called “the single stupidest” decision in New Zealand TV history. This was live-broadcast, garage telly going out every night, and Monty and Lambourne quickly grew into innovative and quick-witted broadcasters forced to evolve to survive with scant resources.
First full disclosure: I regularly appeared on their show to review public toilets but let’s put that to one side – these two young men had the goods.
Space Ghost & Zorack
Space Ghost: Coast to Coast started in 1994. Through a series of acquisitions and mergers, a set of crude animations and Intellectual Property from a terrible 60s cartoon that nobody wanted (Space Ghost) fell into the hands of bored animators at Cartoon Network. In their spare time, they created a show that turned the protagonist into an idiot talk show host aided by his two mortal enemies, director Moltar – a “lava man”, and bandleader/sidekick Zorack – a giant mantis. Space Ghost destroys Zorack in most episodes. His celebrity guests range from a palpably stoned Thom Yorke to a lightly stoned Willie Nelson. They knew their audience.
Second full disclosure: I smoke weed.
Craig Ferguson & Geoff ‘The Robot’ Peterson
Ferguson is a revered figure in the late night circuit because he performed his role completely differently to any other host. His thick Scottish accent cut through the molasses of cheesy American butt kissers (like Fallon) and his total embrace of awkward silence and totally inane questions was kind of revolutionary. Among the show’s absurd elements was his sidekick, a wise-cracking animatronic skeleton voiced by a comedian named Josh Robert Thompson who improvising Geoff’s shtick. Thompson was brilliant not just at playing off Ferguson, but also for his exceptional vocal talents.
Third full disclosure: Recent rewatching of Ferguson has shown that interviews with women guests have not aged well.
David Letterman & Paul Shaffer
Chuck on Letterman. Problematic interview? It’s a 50/50 bet. But cut to Paul Shaffer and he’s up there with some sick-ass band, every time. Sat behind a sick-ass keyboard rig playing some tight money-heavy grooves. Just laying it down. The guy is showbiz personified and much like his other sunglass-ed contemporaries (Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Roddy Piper in They Live) he just exudes skill and dedication to his craft. Shaffer is the ultimate plant for Letterman. When they tête-à-tête it’s bone dry ribbing, except when Paul takes the chance to roast David and ascends with sublimely increasing rage.
Plus, fourth full disclosure or just a fact, he’s in This Is Spinal Tap and co-wrote ‘It’s Raining Men!’. That’s showbiz, baby.
Danny Parker & Randy Campbell (Matt Heath & Chris Stapp)
Fifth and final full disclosure: I worked with Matt Heath for a few years at Radio Hauraki.
Before I was his producer though, I was just a boy in Christchurch watching an utter shambles of a show called Back of The Y: Masterpiece Television on TV2 when my parents thought I’d gone to bed. It was Jackass with storylines. Nitrocircus with characters, but without safety supervisors. I loved it. Danny Parker was a moustachioed send-up of a TV host borrowing from the canon of Chris Morris characters. Randy Campbell was a fuckwit Kiwi Evel Knievel who tanked every stunt he attempted. Their onscreen appearances together were epic.
You can buy tickets to Tim Batt x Disasteradio’s live chat show Space Couch in the Comedy Festival right here. Shows are in Wellington and Auckland.