After years in radio, Allen became the original host of The Tonight Show, from its first New York broadcast in 1953, up until 1957, when he was replaced by Jack Paar. It was as host of the Tonight Show that Allen pioneered the "man on the street" and audience-participation comedy bits that have become commonplace in late-night TV.
Allen was also a composer who supposedly wrote over 7000 songs. In one famous stunt, Allen wrote 400 simple tunes in a single day. Allen's best known songs are "This Could Be The Start of Something Big" and the "Gravy Waltz", which won a Grammy Award in 1963 for best jazz composition. Allen was also an actor, appearing in such films as 1955's The Benny Goodman Story.
Allen was also an accomplished comedy writer, and author of over 50 books, including Dumbth, a commentary on the American educational system and Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, and Morality (with Martin Gardner). Allen was a secular humanist and Humanist Laureate for the Academy of Humanism, a member of CSICOP and the Council for Secular Humanism. Allen was also the producer of the award-winning PBS series Meeting of Minds, a "talk show" with notable historical figures, with Steve Allen serving as host. This series pitted Socrates, Marie Antoinette, Tom Paine, Sir Thomas More, Attila the Hun, Karl Marx, Emily Dickinson, Charles Darwin, Galileo Galilei, and other historical figures in dialogue and argument. A proposed revival of this show was rejected as "too cerebral".
Allen died of heart failure.
"How many humanists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?," he asked. His response was "Ten: one to screw in the lightbulb and nine to fight for the right to do so!"