Lip Sync Battles, the crown jewel of Jimmy Fallon’s kingdom of late-night celebrity games, is so popular it inspired its own weekly show. (Which, somehow, isn’t on NBC?) Anybody with an internet connection probably saw Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his Janet Jackson drag two weeks ago, and every pop culture site rushes to post each new clip every week. Let’s look back on where the bit started, though, and rewatch the best Lip Sync Battles from The Tonight Show.
This is where Lip Sync Battle went from goofy late-night trifle to full-blown pop culture phenomenon. It helps that the internet loves Emma Stone more than anybody except maybe Jennifer Lawrence, but it helps just as much that there is something legitimately transfixing in the absurdity of Stone passionately “singing” along to a Blues Traveler song.
This one is about technique, first and foremost. Yeah, Ellen’s song choice is crucial, but the staging and camera work elevate this into a more artistic version of the typical lip sync segment. DeGeneres doesn’t move much but is more expressive than most of the guests that play this game, translating her characteristically low key charm into a winning lip sync strategy that also stays faithful to Diana Ross and the source material.
Can you believe that Ferrell and Hart overdo it a little bit? Okay, that’s what they’re both known for, and this is one of those situations that probably should be played as broadly as possible. Ferrell writhes through “Drunk in Love,” Hart serenades his Get Hard cast mate on John Legend’s “All of Me,” and Fallon comes close to stealing the spotlight away from both guests when Drew Barrymore joins him for a spot of Dirty Dancing.
This clip is actually from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, before he ever took over The Tonight Show, and marks the bit’s debut. Stephen Merchant isn’t the biggest name in America, but he was a great choice to launch this whole thing. He’s basically a ringer—as Fallon credits him at the start of the video, he “invented” this game with Emily Blunt and John Krasinski. His gangly form makes his almost perfect motions and pantomimes more cartoonish and hilarious than they would otherwise be. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Tiny Dancer” only hints at the mastery he’d unveil in his “Rhythm Nation” performance on Lip Sync Battle last month, but he still commits to the song. That’s his thing, of course, and although his theater kid earnestness can be off-putting in weird smartphone ads it kind of works in this context.
Paul Rudd is a charming man. He does right by Tina Turner. He basically tells a story with his “Better Be Good to Me,” one of trepidation and cautious temptation. We would watch him do karaoke to Tina Turner seven nights a week. And then he does a pretty fun Freddie Mercury, although it should be criminal to even attempt that without a mustache. We semi-regularly harp on The Tonight Show for relying too much on cutesy celebrity games like this, but when you have a celebrity as charming, committed and funny as Rudd, it’s easy to forget complaints like that. Oh, Fallon does stuff here, too.