The host and theater educator, who died Monday at 93, gained nationwide recognition for his ability to subvert the often rehearsed feel of celebrity interviews. He shot the series with his Actors Studio students in the audience — a young Cooper, one of Lipton’s students, first appeared on the show this way — and therefore kept his questions centered on the craft. Lipton approached interviews from the perspective of a peer and/or fan, once clarifying to the New York Times that his show was “not journalism.”
Guests became so comfortable by the time Lipton’s questionnaire arrived that they often spoke and cracked jokes about the afterlife as freely as they did about, say, their favorite curse words.
Dave Chappelle first appeared on “Inside the Actors Studio” in 2006, shortly after leaving “Chappelle’s Show.” At the end of a candid interview, he switched gears and told Lipton he would want God to say, “Congratulations, bill, you’re a law,” in reference to the “Schoolhouse Rock!” segment.
Robin Williams, who appeared as a guest in 2001, delivered his own characteristically silly response that made the rounds online at the time of his death 13 years later. “There’s seating near the front, the concert begins at 5,” he said. “There will be Mozart, Elvis and one of your choosing.”
He added, “Or just nice if heaven exists, to know there’s laughter. Just to hear God go, ‘Two Jews walk into a bar …’ ”
In addition to the show’s 16 Emmy nominations and single win, Lipton received an honor that only public figures of a certain threshold do — he was caricatured on “Saturday Night Live,” where Will Ferrell poked fun at his proclivity for adjectives and general stiffness. In a sketch from 2000, Ferrell’s Lipton poses the heaven question to Kate Hudson’s lisping version of Drew Barrymore, who says she would want God to tell her that she smells “like flowers.”
Lipton told CNN in 2012 that he found Ferrell’s take on his personality flattering: “We’re good friends — and I think he’s got me cold, the rat,” Lipton said. In that same interview, Lipton, an atheist, handed a few of his famous blue note cards over to the anchor and, after years of fans wondering, finally revealed to the public what he would want God to say to him upon arriving at heaven’s pearly gates.
“You see, Jim? You were wrong. I exist,” Lipton said, waiting a beat. “But you may come in anyway.”