There was a time when I thought the lowest form of comedy was what I called “people falling down humor.” There’s no wit, no punchline, just a human hurtling toward the earth. But those days are over, friends. I can admit it now: there are few things funnier than a person – especially a person who is well-dressed, dignified, graceful, or just plain old richer than you – eating pavement. Lucky for all of us, celebrities fall down as much (more??) than your average person. Just pin it on their predilection for fancy footwear, the blinding lights throwing off their balance, or wearing borrowed shoes that they haven’t broken in.
Just last night, Meghan Trainor fell gloriously on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. It was the end of her performance. She struck a pose, turned her ankle, and crumbled to the ground. It couldn’t have been more beautiful if you choreographed it. Then Meghan – sweet little Meghan – just lay there, as you do when you’ve had the wind knocked all the way out of you and can’t stand up without flashing the entire audience.
Let’s look at it again, in gif format:
The important part is that she fell straight down, collapsing from the top like a building during a controlled demolition. The second-most-important part is that Jimmy Fallon called “safe” when she landed, proving once and for all that his is the dad of two small children. Because who doesn’t do that when a toddler falls down?
As far as celebrities falling down, this one was pretty good. But you can’t talk about celebrity tumbles without talking about Jennifer Lawrence, who I would say defined the art form with her 2013 Oscar acceptance trip:
This one actually became a meme simply because she fell so beautifully that it looked like a print ad for Dior:
You may also remember Ms. Lawrence for her lesser-celebrated falls at the Hunger Games: Mockingjay premiere, the 2014 Academy Awards, and the X-Men Apocalypse premiere.
Another celebrity racking up the Frequent Faller Miles – but for reasons other than pure clumsiness – is Lindsay Lohan. Why, for a time in 2009, you could scarcely open an US Weekly without seeing her tripping her way out of the Chateau Marmont:
Now I don’t know Lindsay’s life, but I do know her reality tv show and general arrest history. While she might just be clumsy, there’s at least a reasonable suspicion that she was under the influence during some of these falls. I would argue that a drunk or impaired stumble is a lot less funny. What I need is the pure, klutzy humor of a sober stumble – the fall of a persons who can stay upright, they just aren’t. So how about a palate cleanser?
See, that’s the kind of fall I like – when you’re too much of a handsome puppy to keep from tripping over your own feet. Harry Styles brings up a good point: pop stars fall a lot because they’re giving 110%. It’s not quite as silly as falling on a slow stroll down the red carpet, but we all love a good mid-performance stumble. Just ask Ariana Grande!
Or Mariah Carey:
While there’s no better wholesome fun than a person falling down and getting up more or less unscathed, my research on the subject raised a question. People have been falling as long as they’ve been upright. Celebrity culture has existed in some fashion since the dawn of the silent film era (sure, you had your Jenny Linds and such before that, but they weren’t reported on as much). So why does it seem like celebrities are falling more than ever? Are our shoes more impractical? Are there more cameras on celebrities than in the past? (The answer to that one, I’d say, is yes.) Did the old studio system allow for reports of who was seen fake-dating at the MGM commissary, but not unflattering depictions of celebs falling down? Or are people just faking it because falling is, for whatever reason, the cool thing to do?
I picked a few of the top silent film stars, then Googled their names plus the word “falling,” as you do. Hits turned up for “falling in love” (yay, Mary Pickford!) or “fall from grace” (sorry, Mabel Normand), but nobody seemed to be pulling a Humpty Dumpty. Then again: most magazines from the era aren’t archived online, and premieres and awards shows weren’t filmed. To find a celebrity in an unscripted or semi-unscripted setting, you have to fast forward to the big studio era.
Audrey Hepburn apparently never fell, but then again we all knew that. I bet she didn’t even fall when she was learning to walk. Katharine Hepburn, either. Gregory Peck, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart: all non-fallers. Even little Shirley Temple, a star before most kids even have all their fine motor skills down: just another Upright Ursula.
Moving onto a broader search for “celebrities falling,” we only get into the early 2000s – which, with all its Paris Hiltons and low-rise whatevers, was a golden age of the celeb stumble. The question still burned in my mind – when is the first recorded celebrity fall? Despite the pratfall being a comedy trope as old as laughter itself, the grandiose celebrity stumble seems to be a modern invention. However, fortunately for those of us who need a little levity in our late-night musical performances or awards show speeches, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.