1. David Letterman
Show: Late Night with David Letterman
Annual salary: $28 million
The legendary and king of late night, David Letterman began his career as an announcer for his college’s student run radio station. Later he went on to being a weatherman for a news station. After he moved to Los Angeles he began appearing in small parts in television shows and climbed up the ladder to become the king of late night. He was good friends with Johnny Carson.
2. Jay Leno
Show: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
Anual salary: $24 million
Jay Leno began his career by appearing in minor roles in television shows during the 1970s. In 1987, he was a substitute host for Johnny Carson in The Tonight Show and in 1992, he fully replaced Johnny Carson and became the regular host of The Tonight Show.
3. Jon Stewart
Show: The Daily Show
Annual salary: $14 million
Jon Stewart began as a stand-up comedian in New York City, after a while of doing stand-up he landed his first major gig by becoming a regular at the Comedy Cellar. After that he went on to host his own show on MTV called The Jon Stewart Show in 1993. Prior to that he was one of the finalists set to replace David Letterman after he left NBC, but Conan O’Brien was hired in the end. In 1999 he went to Comedy Central to host The Daily Show after Craig Kilborn left. To this day he is the ever popular The Daily Show.
4. Craig Ferguson
Show: The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson
Annual salary: $12.7 million
Many talk show hosts begin their careers as comedians, writers or actors, Craig Ferguson started in a completely different way. He started out as a musician, playing gigs around his home country of Scotland, after he realized he wasn’t cut out to make it big in the music industry, he began doing stand-up which led him to have great success and having his own talk show.
5. Chelsea Handler
Show: Chelsea Lately
Annual salary: $12.5 million
Chelsea Handler began her career by doing sand-up and it didn’t take long before she got her own talk show. In 2007 she signed with E! Entertainment Television to be the host of her own late night talk show, Chelsea Lately. The show proved to be a hit gathering more than half a million viewers, which is slightly more than expected from late night talk shows.
6. Conan O’Brien
Annual salary: $12 million
Started out as a writer for Saturday Night Live and The Simpson, as had no prior experience hosting a talk show. After David Letterman was replaced by Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien took over the Tonight Show. People were skeptical because he was a completely new face, but managed to make it. In 2009, he replaced Jay Leno and was given the Tonight Show, half a year later he was replaced by Leno and kicked out of NBC. After his anger-filled departure, George Lopez helped him get a new show with TBS, which debut in 2010. Lopez was the host of Lopez Tonight at the time.
7. Jimmy Kimmel
Show: Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Annual salary: $6 million
Since he was just a little boy, Jimmy Kimmel wanted to be a talk show host, he even had his license plates customized to say “late nite.” Kimmel began as a radio personality, holding multiple radio jobs over the years, his biggest gig was when he was offered a job at KROQ-FM with the Kevin and Bean show, where he spent five years working as “Jimmy the Sports Guy.” After that he went on to work at Comedy Central in various shows, it wasn’t until 2003 that he left Comedy Central to host his own show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!
8. Jimmy Fallon
Show: Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
Annual salary: $5 million
Like many comedians, Fallon began his career by doing stand-up, later he went on to be a cast member of Saturday Night Live. Fallon was a feature member from 1998 to 1999, in 1999 he was promoted to a full cast member until his departure in 2004 to pursue an acting career. In 2009 after Conan O’Brien was fired from NBC and Jay Leno took his place, Jimmy Fallon took over Leno’s old show, renaming it Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
9. Stephen Colbert
Show: The Colbert Report
Annual salary: $4 million
Stephen Colbert began doing improvisation while in college, later went on to join Second City because he was in need of a job. He later left Second City when he was offered the opportunity to create his own show which he had to move to New York City. The show Exit 57 didn’t last long but received positive reviews, later he began acting in some films. In 1997 he joined The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as the host, and in 2005 he was the host of his own show The Colbert Report and has been since.