Celebrities and late-night talk show hosts usually have a symbiotic relationship. The celebrity guest can use the show as a platform to promote their latest project, while the host can ask juicy questions and get fun stories from a star that their audience is interested in. Once in a while, however, this harmony is thrown completely out of balance.
In many instances when a celebrity is banned from a late-night show, it's due to their actions on the show. Late-night hosts have a tricky job, corralling spontaneous famous people to adhere to the format of the show. Plus, much of late-night television is live, meaning the hosts have no choice but to roll with it when things go off the rails. An unpredictable guest might not get invited back.
In other cases, celebs have been preemptively banned before they've even been a guest due to conflict outside the show. A lot of these feuds are actually between various late-night hosts themselves. Sometimes the ban sticks for life; other times it may be reversed. Whatever the reason, each of these people became a persona non grata on at least one late-night show.
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Director Harmony Korine, who is perhaps best known for his film Spring Breakers, was better known to David Letterman as a purse rifler. In the mid-to-late '90s, Korine made several odd appearances on the Late Show at a time when he was also frequently high on crack and heroin. But one appearance never came to fruition because Letterman banned him.
Letterman finally explained the ban in 2013 when Korine's friend, James Franco, came on the show:
I went upstairs to greet Meryl Streep and welcome her to the show, and I knock on the door... and she was not in there. And I looked around... and I found Harmony going through her purse. True story. And so I said: "That's it, put her things back in her bag and then get out."
Whether it was curiosity or petty theft, we'll probably never know. Korine's recollection of the ban was that it was for pushing the actress backstage. However, Letterman told Franco that Korine (who got sober) was again welcome on the show, officially lifting the ban.
Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait made a late-night appearance that literally went down in flames. In 1994, Goldthwait was a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno when he decided to set his chair on fire. It may have seemed spontaneous, but Goldthwait came prepared with lighter fluid and a lighter hidden up his sleeve.
Leno and another guest, Lauren Hutton, quickly doused the flames with cups of water, and Goldthwait said the host was (not unreasonably) upset with him. His ban from the show wasn't the only repercussion, though. He was also charged with arson.
According to NBC, he is the first Tonight Show guest to be charged with a crime. Goldthwait had to pay a $3,880 fine (part of which went to NBC to replace the burnt chair) and film fire safety PSAs.
Still, he said he's no arsonist. As he put it on an episode of Comedy Product in 1996:
I’m not an arsonist. I’m a satirist. If I were an arsonist, I would have been sexually aroused on The Tonight Show. Instead I was bored sh*tless like the rest of America.
Dax Shepard has been open about his past drug and alcohol use, including a disastrous appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in 2004. As he related on Blake Griffin's podcast, The Pursuit of Healthiness:
I had done the pre-interview in a blackout and I woke up to the hotel security shaking me awake, and I was with a stranger and the stranger had peed the bed, or I had peed the bed. Someone had peed the bed.
This was 20 minutes before the interview. As Shepard didn't remember the pre-interview, he also didn't know the talking points and stories he was supposed to cover:
I show up on the show, I don't know what he's talking about. I can tell he's cueing me up for stories I've told but I don't know any of the stories.
Shepard said he also broke a coffee table and was banned for "some years" until he got sober. When he later brought up the incident (and the coffee table) on O'Brien's TBS show, Conan, all was forgiven. As O'Brien said, "Two-thirds of our guests are wasted, so I wouldn't worry about that."
In 2001, actor Gary Busey appeared on The Howard Stern Show, where he ignored the notion of personal space. Busey picked up Stern's co-host, Robin Quivers, in a bear hug, and tried to wrestle Howard Stern to the ground, chasing him around the studio.
Busey reportedly blamed the incident on an alter ego, saying, "I have 13 separate personality parts that I know of. That personality you saw on Howard Stern that day is 'Pesky, the Excitable Boy.'" For years, Busey wasn't invited back to the show, but he did do a radio-only interview with Stern in 2017.
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In an interview with Stephen Colbert in 2012, Jon Stewart was asked to name his least favorite guest on The Daily Show. His answer was actor Hugh Grant. "And we've had dictators on this show," Stewart said.
According to Stewart, Grant spent his time complaining to production staff and claiming he had better places to be. When Stewart showed a promotional clip, provided to him by Grant's publicist, of his film Did You Hear About the Morgans?, Grant complained about the clip selected. Stewart's response? "Well, then make a better f*cking movie." Stewart said he would never have the actor back on the show.
When he learned of Stewart's comments, Grant responded in a tweet:
Turns out my inner crab got the better of me with TV producer[s] in '09. Unforgivable. J Stewart [is] correct to give me kicking.
One of the most bitter and complex talk show feuds of all time occurred between two of late-night television's most famous hosts: Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. The drama went down in 2010. Leno had been the host of The Tonight Show on NBC since 1992. In the mid-2000s, O'Brien, the host of NBC's Late Night, started getting tempting offers from other networks. Wanting to keep O'Brien, NBC promised him the hosting job on The Tonight Show when Leno's contract was up in 2009.
Leno didn't take kindly to the news that he was (eventually) getting the boot. So once 2009 rolled around, to keep Leno from going to another network, NBC started The Jay Leno Show, a primetime program that aired before The Tonight Show. When neither Leno nor O'Brien earned good ratings, the network went a step further and put The Jay Leno Show in O'Brien's slot, bumping The Tonight Show back a half hour from its usual time. O'Brien ended up taking a payout, and The Tonight Show eventually fell back into Leno's hands.
While NBC took a lot of heat for the debacle, Leno also received a lot of backlash for refusing to go gracefully when he'd previously stated he would, and for painting himself as a hapless pawn of NBC.
Speaking to Playboy in 2010, O'Brien said he'd moved on from the incident, refusing to let it embitter him. But when asked whether he'd ever invite Leno to be a guest on his TBS show, O'Brien responded, "No, there are certain things I will not do, regardless of the price."