With the talk show occupying so much time on our TV screens, it also occupies an important place in contemporary popular culture. Perhaps its most notable function is the opportunity it provides for famous faces to show off a different persona from what we’re used to used to seeing (be it serious, playful, or totally off-the-wall). It’s also a great way to get celebrities to feel like they’re in a safe zone, allowing the host to coax out new, interesting or embarrassing information. Talk shows allow us to feel a little bit closer to celebrities, and that is why they will always exist: because we will always keep watching.
The following appearances are in chronological order.
1955: Marilyn Monroe on ‘Person to Person’
Edward R. Murrow’s ‘Person to Person’ set the standard for TV celebrity interviews, practically inventing the format in the days of network TV’s infancy. Here his cameras go into the home of Marilyn Monroe and her producing partner Milton Greene, showing a sweet, seemingly very innocent young woman who is excited about her career and perhaps a little bit nervous in front of live cameras. Murrow’s 60+ a day habit is evidenced here by the trademark cigarette locked between his fingers.
Wikipedia: Edward R. Murrow
1957: Salvador Dali on ‘What’s My Line’
I’m stretching the definition of ‘talk show’ to include panel quiz shows just so this excellent Dali appearance can be included. The legendary surrealist painter, writer and filmmaker walks into the particularly controlled environment of a 1950s television studio, armed with only the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ at his disposal; very soon the audience is captivated and the panelists – for a time – are completely befuddled.
Wikipedia: Salvador Dali
1974: Peter Sellers on ‘Parkinson’
“There is no me. I do not exist,” said Peter Sellers, when told to ‘be himself’ on ‘The Muppet Show’. Somehow, Michael Parkinson managed to get him to ‘be himself’ for at least some of this interview. Many parts are hilarious, such as the ‘That’s What You Are’ and Lawrence of Arabia stories, while other parts offer a melancholy glimpse into his inner workings, such as when he talks about his past wives. (Probably my favorite of all the clips on this list.)
Wikipedia: Peter Sellers
1987: Crispin Glover on ‘Late Night with David Letterman’
Was Glover high on LSD? Or was he just acting? Either way, he unsettled David Letterman on his own show, an incredible feat in itself. I’d like to think he knew what he was doing, with that wig, those pants, and those shoes…
Wikipedia: Crispin Glover
1991: Members of Queer Nation on ‘The Arsenio Hall Show’
This was actually an appearance by Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee), but a few members of Queer Nation stole the show with their heckling from the audience. They’re not the star of the clip, though – it’s Hall, who starts off with considered retorts, and gradually builds himself into a rage so violent that he practically forgets to interview Hogan. “You don’t see Dan Quayle here! You don’t see Milli Vanilli here!”
Wikipedia: Arsenio Hall
1993: Marilyn Manson on ‘The Phil Donahue Show’
Manson appeared on Donahue with bandmates Twiggy Ramirez and Madonna Wayne Gacy to respond to claims that their music was having a negative influence on young people. It appears to be a setup: Donahue and members of the audience hit Manson with tough questions, expecting him to trip up, but his intelligent (and disdainful) replies make him a force to be reckoned with. I don’t particularly like his music, but he’s a very smart guy.
Wikipedia: Marilyn Manson
1996: Bee Gees on ‘Clive Anderson All Talk’
The Bee Gees, especially Barry Gibb, don’t take kindly to Anderson’s patented put-downs and storm off the show. Compared to the next clip this seems rather tame, but the witticisms were enough for Barry to get up out of his seat, say “You’re the tosser, pal,” and march off the set with his brothers in tow.
Wikipedia: Clive Anderson
2001: David and Victoria Beckham on ‘Comic Relief: Say Pants to Poverty’For a segment of the BBC’s 2001 Red Nose Day extravaganza, Ali G conducted this hilarious interview with the Beckhams. It’s basically a roast, a showcase for Sacha Baron Cohen’s quick wit, but both Victoria and David are very good sports about it, and even come up with a few jokes of their own.
Wikipedia: Ali G
2007: Paula Abdul Drunk
I know this is not a talk show – but I couldn’t resist adding this one to the list. Here we see Paula Abdul being interviewed on television regarding the most recent American Idol series. This is serious cringe material. [jfrater]
2005: Tom Cruise on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’
Everybody knows about it, and has seen parodies of it, but the actual appearance is more bizarre and hysterical than a hundred of those parodies combined. This is genuinely odd behavior. A new popular phrase – ‘jump the couch’ – entered the lexicon, and one superstar was never taken seriously again.
Wikipedia: Jump the couch