After achieving teen-idol status as the iconic VJ of MTV's Total Request Live, Carson Daly replaced afternoons with late nights in 2002 as host of Last Call with Carson Daly (1:35 am/ET, on NBC). We spoke with the 33-year-old Daly, whose show celebrates five years on the air this week.
TV Guide: Very few talk shows last this long. What's your secret?
Daly: It's amazing to look back. In the beginning, people [said], "You're buried in the middle of the night. No one's ever going to watch." And that ended up being the secret, I think. It was a place for me to learn this whole new craft. Conan [O'Brien] gave me great advice: "Have fun and screw up a lot. You might not always have this arena to find your voice." I've been really lucky the network has stuck with us.
TV Guide: So if you were in an earlier time slot, you think you'd be much more scrutinized?
Daly: For sure. There have been times where I'll finish a show and go, "Wow, it's too bad that that's on at 1:30 in the morning while America sleeps." But most of the time, I'm like, "Thank god that's on at 1:30 in the morning while America sleeps." [Laughs]
TV Guide: You don't have a comedy background. Was it hard for you to adapt to a monologue?
Daly: Yeah. We figured out that comedy is best when it happens around me. I think I play a pretty good straight man. I always use Sam Malone as a reference, this likable dumb jock who's sort of innocent. That kind of a tone works better than when I try to be a comedian.
TV Guide: You're friends with Jimmy Kimmel. Did he offer advice?
Daly: He's been there since Day 1. It's a crazy story, and no one has ever really picked up on it, but I met Jimmy when I was like 10 years old. He used to call me "Letterman" because he was such a huge late-night fan and wouldn't call me "Carson." We were in radio together and he got me into the entertainment business —and ruined my golf game simultaneously. Cut to 20, 25 years later, there are six late-night shows on, and we have two of them. So it's been really neat.
TV Guide: Have you had a favorite guest over the past five years?
Daly: I've had really good exchanges with Bill O'Reilly on pop culture, and Angelina Jolie, comparing tattoos of [our] exes. Moments like that stick out to me. And I had Jennifer Love Hewitt, an ex-girlfriend of mine, on the show. That was incredibly weird, but fun.
TV Guide: Your show is actually more music-based than TRL ever was.
Daly: Oh, for sure. TRL was a reflection of what kids wanted to hear, and I didn't have much say. Now, when I see a band or hear a song, I book them. Especially [with all the] stuff happening online. I saw this guy do this crazy finger-picking guitar thing on YouTube, and we [had him] do it on the show. People were blown away.
TV Guide: Do you miss TRL at all?
Daly: No. I spent most of December in New York, and I walked a lot by my old stomping grounds. I could still sort of hear the ghostly screams of girls and I got kind of freaked out. [TRL] was great, but that was then.
TV Guide: It's been reported you were in the seminary. Is that really true?
Daly: I never actually went. That whole thing was kind of blown out of proportion. Everybody loved the story of this pious kid now playing the devil's music. My stepdad was in the seminary, and when I was in high school, there was certainly a thought to pursue that, and I ended up going to a Catholic Jesuit college, Loyola Marymount. I was a theology major. Then I discovered girls and beer.
TV Guide: Some talk-show hosts favor a necktie, some don't. You wear one, but often it's loosely tied. What gives?
Daly: I think it started because I'm sloppy in general. We thought that's a good look to go for — 1:35 am, sloppy host. I often just want to come out in my golfing clothes. I wanted to play professionally.
TV Guide: Well, if you ever get tired of the talk-show thing....
Daly: I think about the senior tour a lot, actually. [Laughs]
TV Guide: You've been awfully candid about your relationship with Tara Reid. You were caught up in that whole social scene...?
Daly: Without question. All of it, every last bit of it. And I think anybody in my position and at my age would have been. That whole time was like one giant Whitesnake music video.
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