As host of Inside the Actor's Studio, James Lipton has garnered a reputation as a stuffy academic, throwing around words like "existential" and sounding out every syllable in "extraordinary." But, based on my research, he actually seems pretty cool.
1) He and Conan can bring the silly (frat boy style)
On his many appearances on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Lipton really lets his hair down to the point where he might as well just join a frat. To kick off spring break one year, he shotgunned a beer on the show (after delivering a short lecture on Rob Reiner's The Sure Thing, of course). Another time, he appeared dressed as a belly dancer. But his best appearance featured a two-fer: first, he eloquently recites a verse from Kevin Federline's new rap album, then follows it up by doing a beer bong on the stage (Caution: possibly NSFW). Nothing can quite compare to Lipton, hat appropriately cocked sideways, saying with a sly smile "This is for the haters."
2) People think he was a pimp (but he wasn't)
Living in France in his youth, Lipton found himself unemployed so, according to his biography, Inside Inside, he ended up working as a maquereau. A common misconception is that a maquereau is a pimp- it's actually quite the opposite. A maquereau works for a prostitute, setting up her encounters. According to Lipton, he had a successful run in that line, especially among tourists.
3) He's not afraid to laugh at himself
Lots of people have tried to imitate Lipton, but none have come as close as Will Ferrell, who masters Lipton's speech and often pompous line of questions. But rather than eschewing the parody or watching it with the sound off (a la Sarah Palin), Lipton embraced it. He has consistently praised Ferrell's as the best imitation of him out there. And in 2001, he even took it a step further when, at the Concert for New York, he imitated Ferrell imitating him.
Even beyond praising Ferrell, though, Lipton's not afraid of a little self-parody. On Arrested Development, he played an acting theory-obsessed jail warden, training Tobias to use real-life experience to enhance the character of Frightened Inmate 2. And on Da Ali G Show, he wrote and performed a short rap.
4) He can do commercials and still make them good
I'm not a fan of the GEICO gecko and I'm done with the cavemen. But there is one set of ads for the insurance company I like "“ the tongue-in-cheek celebrity pitchmen. And none is better than Litpon's, where he tells a customer's story in his traditional flowery language.
Of course, there's also the series of ads Lipton did this summer for Hellboy 2, where he interviewed Ron Perlman in character, talking about his inner demons and preferred method of fighting.
And as another parody of his interviewing prowess, in 2005, Lipton did a set of ads with DC Shoes where he sat down with a number of Xtreme athletes.
5) He makes movie stars swear
In the last act of any of his shows, Lipton presents his illustrious guests with ten questions, based on Bernard Pivot's version of the Proust Questionnaire. Those questions usually let the guests goof off while they share their favorite sounds, their least favorite words and what they want God to say to them at the Pearly Gates. But undoubtedly the most entertaining question is the seventh "“ What is your favorite curse word? It's fun to see legends like Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman blush and then get bleeped. In this clip, see Natalie Portman spout off her favorite curse.
6) He can dance
Watch him in action here.