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Memorable Moments in Lip Syncing

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Lip syncing gets a bad rap, but it’s not always deserved. Over the years, many directors, actors and comedians have used it as a device that amplifies the emotion of a particular character or scene. There’s no logical reason for it to work – but it does. Consider these examples of good (and bad) lip syncing, and see if you don’t agree.

ASHLEY SIMPSON ON “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”

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We’ll start with an infamous example from 2004. Simpson was the musical guest on SNL one night, and at the beginning of her second performance a vocal track of the previous song began to play loudly. Clearly flustered, Simpson did an odd little dance for a few seconds, then she fled the stage. She later said she used a vocal “guide” track to help her sing because she had severe acid reflux. That’s why I take Pepcid.

DEAN STOCKWELL IN “BLUE VELVET”

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Everything you need to know about “Blue Velvet” is right here in this scene, in which Dean Stockwell, cigarette holder and all, mouths the words to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams.” It’s weird, mesmerizing, frightening and inviting.

JEAN HAGEN IN “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN”

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Who can forget the climax of “Singin’ in the Rain,” where evil Lina Lamont (Hagen) forces Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) to sing for her from behind a curtain at the premiere of her new movie? It’s one of the great moments in movie history – especially when Lina gets caught.

THE CAST OF “THE COSBY SHOW”

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Everyone knows this scene and for good reason. It has an enduring sweetness that speaks volumes about those moments when family life is transcendent. The entire Huxtable clan gets together on a lip sync version of “Night Time is the Right Time,” by Ray Charles. Each person gets his or her moment in the spotlight and each one is happy to be part of the whole. And then, of course, you get Bill Cosby’s perfectly timed facial contortions. Well done!

MATTHEW BRODERICK IN “FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF”

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There is no better expression of self-aware, youthful cool, than this scene in which Ferris takes over a parade in downtown Chicago. Of course, a huge amount of credit also goes to the juxtaposition of the two songs, “Danke Schoen” and “Twist and Shout.”

BEYONCE AT THE INAUGURATION

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Let me just say I’m a big admirer of Beyonce as a performing artist. However, I’m also something of a purist when it comes to the presidential inauguration. I’d rather have heard a sour note or two of the national anthem in a live performance than a lip sync rendition. But that’s me.

ANDY KAUFMAN ON “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”

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Kaufman was sort of the King of Comedic Absurdity in the 1970s and 1980s. A key, early example was his lip syncing take on the theme to “Mighty Mouse.” It was too strange for words, but it was funny, as well. Definitely one of the best moments of the early years of SNL.

JON CRYER IN “PRETTY IN PINK”

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You have to give the young Jon Cryer a lot of credit for absolutely putting it all out there in “Pretty in Pink.” His character, Duckie, is just trying to be noticed – leading him to a heartfelt, over-the-top rendition of “Try A Little Tenderness.” Lip synced, of course.

ALLISON JANNEY IN “THE WEST WING”

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If you’re not familiar with Janney’s lip sync version of “The Jackal,” then I suggest you click over to Netflix and toggle down to Season One of “The West Wing.” It comes out of left field, but anyone who spends a lot of time with co-workers understands that it’s just the sort of nutty thing that people do when they unwind.

Any more lip syncing highlights? Add them to The List!

And one more thing…

The Masters of Meek

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You’ve got to admire the meek and mighty. It’s easy for a pretty boy or a musclebound nincompoop to carry a movie or TV show – especially if  there are explosions and sexy co-stars to help. But a successful shy guy needs something else, a certain undercurrent of humanity that carries the day. Here are some classic Masters of Meek.

JOHN FIEDLER

Here we have an absolute titan of timidity. Mr. Fiedler’s diminuitive appearance and whisper of a voice made him indispensable in movies, sitcoms and cartoons for decades. He was Mr. Peterson in “The Bob Newhart Show,” Juror No. ??? in “12 Angry Men,” Attorney Daggett in John Wayne’s “True Grit,” and, best of all, the voice of Piglet in the Winnie the Pooh films.

BOB NEWHART

Speaking of  Newhart, he took a stage stammer, great comic timing and a buttoned-down brilliance and melded them into one of the best comedy careers ever. Hi, Bob! (That’s for all the former “Newhart” college drinking game participants out there.)

WOODY ALLEN

Before he was a  neurotic movie directing legend, before he was a  neurotic tabloid topic, Allen was a neurotic nebbish. People have been copying his nervous gestures, facial expressions and speech patterns for a couple of generations now.

MILLHOUSE

Would Bart Simpson’s antics seem anywhere near as dangerous if we didn’t have Millhouse around to react to them? I think not.

WALLY COX

I suspect the public’s awareness of Wally is waning, and it’s too bad. He was terrific in his deadpan, mild-mannered delivery. Fans will remember him as “Mr. Peepers,” the voice of “Underdog,” and a regular part of “Hollywood Squares.”

PERCY DOVETONSILS

Again with the glasses! But this time, the specs were essential to the character. Percy was the creation of that great TV comedy innovator, Ernie Kovacs.

MAX WRIGHT

He wasn’t a household name, but I’ll bet you recognize him, don’t you? He was the exasperated dad on “ALF” and the exasperated boss on “Buffalo Bill,” among other roles.

WALTER MITTY

The great James Thurber thought up Mitty, a henpecked husband who daydreams his life away with fantasies of grandeur.

DAVID HYDE PIERCE

This guy occupies a special place in meekdom, because his characters are so quick-witted. His years as Niles Crane on “Frasier” neatly coincide with the first big wave of nerd superstars.

TODD LOUISO

If you’ve seen “High Fidelity,” you know why he’s on this list. Mr. Louiso plays many other kinds of roles, as well. Still, he’s awesome as a timid, record store guy.

BASHFUL

Grumpy, Dopey and Doc got all the attention, but you know you loved this dude, too.

JON CRYER

Cryer is a rock of prissy consistency. He endured hideous 1980s fashions and hideous Charlie Sheen headlines with equal aplomb. Some might paint him as a 21st century Tony Randall, but I see him more as a modern…

DON KNOTTS

His bug-eyes and nervous tics made him a superstar of shyness. Imagine – he took the secondary character of Barney Fife and made it one of the enduring bits of TV history. Then he went on to a highly successful movie career, starring in a series of comedy films, such as “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” and “The Shakiest Gun in the West.” Meek and mighty, indeed.

So who did I forget?