Uproxx‘s Late Night Week continues its look at late-night past, present, and future with some highlights from one the most unpredictable corners of late night’s recent past.
There is no shortage of praise for the late night shows that use their platform to react to, discuss, and deconstruct heavier things, but total silliness also deserves some affection, especially when it isn’t manufactured with a result in mind beyond making the participants giggle uncontrollably.
In the middle years of Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show run, he and his staff (both human and puppet) assembled on camera and lip synced to a wide array of songs, choreographing dance numbers and dressing up in costume. Looking back, it’s clear that these expressions of silliness were a bit of a forerunner to things like Lip Sync Battle and lip dubs on social media, but at the time it was all about producing a couple of moments of comedy absent any real connection to the night’s show or the latest news. Just a bit of fun. Nothing more to it.
As we close Late Night Week it seemed like a good time (the only time?) to remember these delightfully odd moments from a show that had the ability to be weighty and weightless. You will learn nothing from this completely subjective and poorly considered ranking but hopefully, you’ll have a laugh or two.
“Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”
Puppets! Ferguson moved away from his felt friends in the later years of the show but at the start of the lip sync segments, they were the true stars. In this one, Kronos the monkey makes an appearance before ceding the spotlight to a T-Rex (or alternate version of Wavy Rancheros) and Brian the shark for a duet/fight/make out session. Why no one optioned this to SyFy is beyond me.
Also, bonus points for the rain effect. Do you air dry a puppet?
“Doctor Who Song”
Not a lip sync moment since this is actually an original song (set to the Doctor Who theme) heralding a special Doctor Who episode, but it’s close enough and the Matt Smith cameo is noteworthy and the production is a bit more splashy than the rest.
Usually clad in leather S&M gear (though he also played a werewolf), diminutive production assistant Chris Saladin (codename: Gunther) always provided ample energy beside Ferguson and other members of the crew. But in this celebration of a Jason Mraz classic, he takes center stage.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point to Ferguson’s confused elder-fellow turned enthusiastic but unskilled dancer as an additional source of joy.
Jeff Arnold, a stage manager on the show, was the third part of the original trio beside Ferguson and Saladin. Here, he lays down a pretty impressive dub of the rap interlude from “Wonderful Night.” Ferguson does the same and both are made even more delightful thanks to a well-placed mouth pixel that was designed to shield us all from naughtiness. And shielded we were. You shall never take us, naughtiness.
Puppets! Hats on puppets! They Might Be Giants music! I like what I like and so should you.
Unfortunately, I can’t name the woman who so ably assists in this tribute to Duran Duran beside Arnold, Saladin (who is demonstrating some sick air guitar skills), Ferguson, and Ferguson’s Mariostache. That’s the case with a lot of the crew members and dancers that helped make these bits so memorable. For some reason, the internet hasn’t interneted and extracted that information. The puppets — Brian the shark, Wavy Rancheros, Kronos, the Sheffield-born gay unicorn — we can (almost) always identify, though. So, there’s that…
“Ca Plane Pour Moi”
Introduced by Secretariat, a late-era staple of the show, and featuring a bikini-clad brass section, dual guitars, and a rollicking rendition of a French rock song — because French rock is dance your face off music — this bit earns high placement on this list because it falls into the previously mentioned “I Like What I Like” category and because it was a pretty great way for the show to kickoff a batch of shows that were filmed in France. Which is the home of dance your face off rock music.
“Oops! I Did It Again”
A classic Ferguson/Saladin/Arnold joint the one that’s most often namechecked when people remember these silly moments (it also lived outside of the show as a part of Ferguson’s stage act). There’s some top-notch wig work here and the interpretive dance and ’90s dance-band choreography are on point, as well. Also, puppets!
“Look Out There’s A Monster Coming”
Most of these are recognizable songs but to introduce his new robot sidekick, Geoff Petersen, Ferguson opted for a more obscure UK pop song from 1967 from the band, Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Once more, a bikini-clad brass section makes an appearance, as do Saladin and Arnold. It’s just plain fun. It’s also the best video for the song since the original, from the late ’60s, features the band in blackface.
“Over At The Frankenstein Place”
The production process was shockingly simple and informal for these bits, as producer Michael Naidus explained in a 2009 interview with MovieLine:
During our morning production meeting, Craig might mention a song he has in mind for the cold open, and then we’ll go through all of the steps to get the licensing for that song. […]
He’ll usually pull everyone involved into his office for about an hour to rehearse. You’ll hear the music outside and they work out a routine.
I imagine this tribute to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, featuring Sid the vulgar bunny, was a bit more involved but it’s nice to know that there was an informal spirit at the heart of a lot of this madness.
“Bang On Your Drum”
For whatever reason, the lip sync bits stopped being a thing in the last couple of years on the show but for the final episode of Craig Ferguson’s run as host of The Late Late Show, he brought it back and went out with a bang. Literally.
This has everything you could ask for: an army of celebrities (headlined by friend of the show Kristen Bell), a great song (by Dead Man Fall), highlights from the beloved show’s run, Wavy Rancheros, Jeff Arnold, Saladin, Sid, ample joy and infectious fun, Ferguson singing atop his desk, and a bit of insight, through song, about Ferguson’s mindset as he was moving on to the next phase of his life. Weighty and weightless. The perfect blend.
Jason Tabrys is the features editor for Uproxx. You can engage with him directly on Twitter.