Lip sync comedy act

Jerry Lewis by Thomas Fluharty

Here is another idea for an animation exercise. If you want to do a lip sync scene, you could of course do a standard dialog piece, or you could do this very cartoony alternative.

Long before he was a star, Jerry Lewis got his start in entertainment doing a lip-sync act. Sometimes it was called a dummy or phonograph act. Basically he would lip sync to songs, with comically extreme exaggeration of the performance. It is anchored by the essential mismatch between the actor and the quality of the voice. It was a type of comedy he would return to with variations throughout his career. Here is a basic example.

One way to make it more interesting is to rapidly change the music. This next clip, from the movie Money from Home, begins with a Cyrano de Bergerac situation. Dean Martin is hiding around the corner providing a voice for Jerry to serenade his girlfriend. But things go awry when a dog chases him off and the woman starts playing the radio. Jerry has to struggle to keep up with the continuous changes in what he is hearing.

Lip sync doesn’t necessarily have to be to words. In one of his most famous clips, Jerry pantomimes to an instrumental piece.

A much older Jerry Lewis has a part in the feature film Funny Bones (which is a movie I highly recommend). I suspect it may be party based on Jerry’s life. In the movie, Lee Evans plays a character very much like the younger Jerry. He does this “radio” act, which includes spoken words and sound effects as well. You can begin to see how an actor might interpret something differently than another actor.

The next video takes his type of performance a step further. It’s half comedy lip sync, and half dance performance. Spencer Novich has the same control over his body that Jim Carrey has.

Reader Jonathan Cowles has reminded me of Andy Kaufman’s recreation of this act. Back in the day, Jerry Lewis would have to step off stage to change the record. Andy just had the phonograph right there on stage with him. The animation bonus here is Andy is singing the theme song from Mighty Mouse.

Obtaining a clip of music to work with is the challenge. It would be great if the 11 second club considered doing this. Maybe you are a student at a college that has sound design courses, and one of those students might be able to throw something together for you.

2 thoughts on “Lip sync comedy act”

  1. Don’t forget Andy Kaufman’s variation of this. He would put on a phonograph of the theme song for Mighty Mouse. He would stand humbly through most of the song, then come to life and lip-sync Mighty Mouse’s “Here I come to Save the Day,” in a pose meant to mirror the heroic nature of Mighty Mouse, but always reminded me more of Bluebottle from the Goon Show.


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