The Richest Late Night Host Might Surprise You

They make careers out of chatting to famous people, but late night talk show hosts become stars themselves in the process. The biggest hosts often hold as much, if not more sway than their guests, though this is a fairly new phenomenon. Johnny Carson became known as "The King of Late Night" during his three-decade stint at the helm of "The Tonight Show," but, while he was held in the highest of regards by the time he stepped down in 1992, it took him a while to become a household name. According to the Los Angeles Times, Carson's early work on what would become television's most popular late night program, wasn't even revered enough by the network to archive it. In fact, the outlet reports, Carson's shows "from 1962 to 1972 were recorded over by NBC at the time, a common practice then because tape was so expensive."

It's safe to say that this kind of thing would never happen today, when clips from past episodes regularly find new life on YouTube. Late night comedy has become extremely popular on the video sharing platform, and big hosts are (for better or worse) even starting to engage with the TikTok audience. These are new territories that offer not only increased exposure but some serious pocket money, too. But who has the biggest pile of the lot? The richest late night talk show host might surprise you.

Seth Meyers is generous with his money

Seth Meyers set his heart on becoming a comedian during his time at Northwestern University, where he was a member of the school's improv and sketch comedy group, Mee-Ow. He joined the "Saturday Night Live" ranks in 2001 and would become a prominent cast member over the next 13 seasons. While "SNL" salaries remain something of an industry secret, Forbes estimates that "regular cast members don't make more than $500,000 from the show." For Meyers, that still meant a nice bump up by the end of his tenure, up from the starting "SNL" salary of around $147,000, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

In 2014, just weeks after his final "SNL" episode, Meyers took over from Jimmy Fallon as the host of "Late Night" and secured himself a seven-figure salary in the process. He reportedly receives $5 million a year for hosting the show, which accounts for much of his $26 million net worth. In 2016, he dropped $7.5 million on a Greenwich Village duplex. According to the New York Post, he recouped a good chunk of that fee offloading his previous home (a swanky West Village apartment) for $4.35 million.

Meyers is also generous with his money. According to a story shared by the Instagram celebrity gossip page Deux Moi (via Newsweek), Meyers paid his "Late Night" staff out of his own pocket when the show got shuttered during the coronavirus lockdown in 2020. He's releasing a children's book in 2022, adding another stream of income.

Did John Oliver use a tax loophole?

John Oliver cut his teeth on the U.K. standup circuit before crossing the Atlantic to join Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" as its Senior British Correspondent. He won three Emmys for his work on the show and would go on to win a bunch more as the host of HBO's "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver," which he's fronted since 2014. Oliver's exploits in the States have made him a rich man, to the tune of an estimated $30 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth, which also reports HBO pays the Brit a cool $8 million a year.

Oliver has always been highly critical of tax breaks for the rich, so he was likely left a little red-faced when the Observer claimed he'd "used a tax loophole" typically deployed by the rich to reduce the property tax bill on the $9.5 million Manhattan penthouse he and his wife purchased through a trust. As evidence, the report cited Oliver's admittedly low .25% paid in 2016 taxes. Oliver's reps, however, told Salon the tax break was a result of the developer's actions prior to Oliver buying the unit, and that "the trust confers no tax benefit whatsoever" and was set up "solely for privacy reasons."  

Still, it wasn't a good look for Oliver, who routinely calls out rich elites. It's not that he doesn't like parting with his money, however. In 2020, Oliver donated thousands to charity after the city of Danbury, Connecticut named its sewer plant after him.

Andy Cohen produces a half-billion-dollar franchise

Andy Cohen was a high-flying TV executive before the public got to know him as the host of Bravo's "Watch What Happens Live." After impressing as a 21-year-old intern, the broadcast journalism graduate began a stint at CBS that lasted a decade. He produced shows including "48 Hours" and "CBS This Morning" in that time, and would continue producing after landing a lucrative executive vice president position at Bravo: exec VPs at TV networks earn between $750,000 to $1.5 million a year, according to a Vulture report.

After successfully hosting a reunion episode of "Real Housewives of Orange County" (he's an executive producer on "Real Housewives," described as a "half-billion-dollar franchise" by The Wrap in 2013), Cohen got his own show. Before long, he released a memoir — for which he secured a "seven figure advance," according to The Hollywood Reporter — and launched a SiriusXM show. His book, "The Andy Cohen Diaries," and its follow-up, "Superficial: More Adventures from the Andy Cohen Diaries," both became New York Times best-sellers and were adapted into an animated series in 2020.

Meanwhile, his radio show is still going strong. Cohen has signed a contract that will keep him at SiriusXM until at least 2022, according to Deadline. With all his behind-the-scenes hustling and the continued success of "Watch What Happens Live," he's put together a sizable fortune. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Cohen brings in around $10 million a year and has an overall net worth of $50 million.

Jimmy Kimmel got involved with an equity fund

Jimmy Kimmel owes his late night career to Comedy Central's "Win Ben Stein's Money." The game show's producer recommended him to an ABC exec during a game of golf, Kimmel told Variety. "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" debuted in 2003 and is still going, making it the longest-running late night show airing, as of 2021. Kimmel has made a mint in that time: the Brooklyn native has an estimated net worth of $50 million.

According to Forbes, Kimmel's annual salary for "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" had reached $12 million by 2016, placing him among the richest TV hosts. As of this writing, he's said to earn closer to $15 million a year, and that's just from his late night contract. Kimmel also hosts the new celebrity version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" on ABC (he won $125,000 for the Doug Flutie Jr. Autism Foundation as a contestant on the show back in 2001), and he's involved with the equity fund TitleCard Capital, which launched with a $9 million investment in a luxury mattress firm in 2015. Founder Tyler Tysdal brought Kimmel on board after meeting him through a mutual friend. "He has great ideas, and he's super engaged," Tysdal told Business Insider.

Kimmel, a keen fly-fisherman, splashed some of his cash in 2020 when he purchased a 25-acre fishing lodge in Idaho, the WSJ|Magazine revealed. The fee was undisclosed, but South Fork Lodge was on the market for nearly $8 million in 2019, per Flylords magazine.

Jimmy Fallon didn't do late night for the money

Jimmy Fallon's path to fame and fortune began when he entered a local "impression contest," he told USA Today. "I won a lot of money — I want to say, like, $500. So for two minutes of work — and I had been working since I was 13 — that was so much money." Fallon would soon learn that "you don't make $500 every two minutes." Things got better when he landed what he called his "dream job" on "Saturday Night Live."

Fallon had seven seasons on "SNL," and (per Celebrity Net Worth) would have been banking at least $15,000 per episode by the end of his run. He got asked if he would be interested in doing a talk show upon leaving, and when the opportunity arose a few years later, he took it. When USA Today asked if he had advice for those looking to follow in his footsteps, he said: "Don't do it for money... And then, the secret is, you may end up making money."

He reportedly earned $5 million a year as host of "The Late Show," and his salary is said to have jumped to $12 million when he later took over from Jay Leno at the helm of "The Tonight Show." More recent reports suggest he makes $16 million a year at NBC, which renewed "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" for another five years in 2021. All in all, Fallon is worth $60 million.

James Corden has doubled his fortune

After his comedy show "One Man, Two Guvnors" did well on Broadway, James Corden secured a role in the 2014 film "Into the Woods" and looked ready to launch a Hollywood career, but he received an offer he couldn't refuse: late night. "The Late Late Show With James Corden" began airing in 2015, and the host has reportedly doubled his fortune in the years since.

Corden relocated to America when CBS offered him $5.5 million a year to host "The Late Late Show," per The Sun. He rented during his first few years in L.A. but took the plunge in 2017 when he paid almost $10 million for a mansion in Brentwood, home to the likes of LeBron James and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's now earning around $9 million annually, and he's bolstered his fortune with his involvement in the successful production company, Fulwell 73.

Corden is a partner in the company, which has assets worth over $190 million. "James has invested wisely in Fulwell," an insider told The Sun. "It is in a very healthy financial state." His personal share in the company is reportedly worth around $38 million. Overall, Corden's net worth is $70 million, and that's subject to change: he's "homesick," and CBS will have to double Corden's salary to keep him happy, says The Mirror. The Brit sold his London pad for around $8 million in 2021 and is looking for a bigger house, according to the Daily Mail.

Stephen Colbert still lives in New Jersey

After replacing David Letterman on "The Late Show" in 2015, Stephen Colbert reached the top of the late night ratings table, making himself a ton of money in the process. According to Time, however, Colbert actually took a pay cut when he accepted $4.6 million per year for his initial "Late Show" contract, down from the reported $6 million he made on Comedy Central's hit political satire, "The Colbert Report." Thankfully for Colbert, that downgrade wouldn't last long, as his renewed contract with CBS to keep him at the helm of "The Late Show" through 2023 came with a reported pay bump to $15 million a year, per Celebrity Net Worth

As of this writing, Colbert has an impressive $75 million net worth, which he's apparently attained by being savvy with his money. Rather than shell out for fancy New York digs, Colbert continues to live in Montclair, New Jersey, where he and his wife bought a house for $515,000 back in 2000. They sold for almost double that amount in 2008, but have remained in the area, per Heavy.

NorthJersey.com also reports that the Colberts are also huge community boosters and are known as the "guardian angels" of the local film festival thanks to their routine ability to raise hundreds of thousands for the event. Additionally, Colbert — who serves on the board of directors of educational fundraising non-profit Donors Choose — actively helped the organization raise $800,000 for projects in need across his native state of South Carolina. 

Trevor Noah made his fortune in South Africa

South African comic and late night host Trevor Noah knew from a young age that his future was in comedy. "I always felt an innate joy making people laugh," he told HBR. "And then somebody paid me to do it as a profession. But I loved it before I earned any money, so I think it was always going to be my natural course." It's never been about the cash for him, but he's made a lot of it over the years: according to Celebrity Net Worth, Noah is worth $100 million.

He gets paid $16 million a year to host Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," though he was actually already very wealthy when he took over that role from Jon Stewart. "People don't understand that I came to America from a country where I was really successful," Noah told The Hollywood Reporter. "And I'm proud of South Africa because that's where I made my fortune. I had my homes and my cars and my nice things, and my country gave that to me."

Noah was the fourth highest-earning comedian in the world in 2019 with a huge haul of $28 million, per Forbes. That same year, his profile — and no doubt his bank account — got another big boost when it was revealed that his 2016 book, "Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood," was to be adapted into a film starring Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o (per Deadline).

Conan O'Brien got a big payout from NBC

Conan O'Brien started his career as a writer, and was a virtual unknown when NBC greenlit "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" in 1993. But by the time O'Brien's incredible late night run ended in 2021, he'd become one of the richest late night TV hosts in history thanks to his estimated net worth of $150 million.

Unfortunately, dollars and disgrace combined when O'Brien's takeover of "The Tonight Show" from then-host Jay Leno was cut startlingly short. In a widely-rebuked move, NBC brought Leno back and bid O'Brien adieu by making good on his "guaranteed contract" to the sum of $32.5 million (it was reportedly worth between $12 million and $15 million a year), per The New York Times. Yes, O'Brien made bank on his early exit, but thanks to his direct intervention, so did his longtime staff, which was paid a severance of around $12 million. And it wasn't the first time O'Brien went to bat (or the ATM) for his loyal crew. Per Deadline, the legendary host came out of pocket to pay them through the writers guild strike of 2007. 

In the process of taking over "The Tonight Show," O'Brien uprooted from New York and moved to Los Angeles, splashing out $10.5 million for a Brentwood mansion, and selling his seven-bedroom $25 million Manhattan duplex. Thankfully, O'Brien and much of his LA-transplanted staff landed on their feet with TBS' "Conan," which paid $12 million a year according to Celebrity Net Worth, and aired from 2010 until 2021.  

CBS paid David Letterman the big bucks

David Letterman fronted over 6,000 episodes of late night television during a remarkable 33-year run. "Late Night with David Letterman" premiered in 1982 and aired until 1993, when the host switched to CBS and began fronting "Late Show with David Letterman." The network gave Letterman his desired 11:30 p.m. timeslot and doubled his salary, paying him $14 million a year plus incentives. "He will be a very rich man," an exec told the Los Angeles Times at the time.

In 2002, with "Late Show" doing well, Letterman quietly sold his longtime Connecticut home for $1.1 million and moved into his $5.7 million Westchester mansion, "finally becoming a full-fledged New Yorker," as the New York Post put it. According to the tabloid, he was making $31 million a year by that point, and he was still earning in the region of $30 million when he stepped down from his CBS show in 2015, per Time magazine.

Letterman has an estimated net worth of $400 million, a number that has been bolstered in recent years by a lucrative Netflix deal (Variety sources say the streaming giant coughs up $2 million per episode for "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman") and smart investments. He is a client of David Tracy, managing director of private banking at Credit Suisse and "one of the top money managers in show business," says Forbes. Tracy oversees "$4.5 billion in assets" for the rich and famous.

Jay Leno has never touched his Tonight Show money

He wasn't in the late night game for as long as David Letterman, but, with an eye-watering net worth of $450 million, Jay Leno edges him out at the top. He became the wealthiest late night host not because he commanded superior salaries, but because he's always been a hard worker and a good saver. "When I got 'The Tonight Show,' I always made sure I did 150 [stand-up] gigs a year so I never had to touch the principal," Leno told CNBC in 2017. "I've never touched a dime of my 'Tonight Show' money. Ever."

Leno became the host of "The Tonight Show" in 1992. By 2012, he was earning $30 million annually, but he agreed to take a 50% pay cut that year. According to The Hollywood Reporter, NBC wanted to reduce the show's $100 million budget, and Leno didn't want to lose any key members of staff. "We managed to keep all our people and just spread the money around a bit," he later told CNBC.

Leno's "Tonight Show" contract expired in 2014, but he carried on working for NBC as the host of "Jay Leno's Garage." He has a massive private car collection (it totaled at 181 in April 2021, per HotCars) that's worth as much as $100 million when you include his motorcycles (all 161 of them). Leno's latest paycheck is Fox's revival of the classic game show "You Bet Your Life," which debuted in 2021.