robert smigel

Hey, it’s Robert Smigel – creator and hand-up-ass of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, now starring in THE JACK AND TRIUMPH SHOW. You may also know me from SNL’s TV Funhouse cartoons, like the Ambiguously Gay Duo. Tomorrow I’m producing Night of Too Many Stars on Comedy Central – AMA, please.

Hi guys. I’m doing this AMA super last minute – I’m not up the modern world, and I don’t do a lot of blabbing as myself. I generally like to express myself through my art, i.e., humping live animals with a puppet. But I have two things to plug and it’s time I got off my ass.

You may know that Triumph the Insult comic Dog is co-starring in a live action sitcom, “The Jack and Triumph Show” co-starring my hilarious friend Jack McBrayer (30 Rock) and airing Fridays, of all nights, at 11:30pm, of all times, on adult swim (Cartoon Network by day). I’m lucky to be producing the show with the brilliant Michael Koman, who recently co-created Nathan For You.

And my even huger plug goes out to a hilarious benefit show on Comedy Central. TOMORROW, March 8th, Jon Stewart hosts “Night of Too Many Stars: America Comes Together for Autism Programs.” at 8/7c, with all kinds of comedy superstars from Louie CK to Chris Rock to Sandler (the Bob Barker reunion is part of this show), Schumer, Silverman, Rudd, the amazing Bill Burr, Weird Al, even, it goes on.

You may know I have a son with autism and that this event is not about curing autism, but creating and funding services, schools and programs all over the country – it’s about giving people with autism the help they need to have the fullest lives possible. There are all kinds of amazing ways to donate to this cause at, including incredible contests involving the Simpsons, the Daily Show and Judd Apatow (he will direct your Vine). All going up now at

This cause means everything to me and I’m lucky to have so many amazing friends in the comedy world who come out year after year and do Night of Too Many Stars. But before I get too mushy please don’t forget, I’m the funny asshole who does Triumph and the Ambiguously Gay Duo…so please believe me, this event is not about mush. Imagine a benefit produced by a funny asshole…who wouldn’t want to watch that?

Okay, so let’s talk about this, and that, and anything. Thanks for redditing.



I’m a long time fan of triumph and his/your insult comedy and loving the new show. But I’ve always been curious about the interviews you do with people as triumph out in public. Has there been any situations where you’ve been physically attacked by someone who couldn’t take the jokes you were telling to them that never made it to air?

One drunk guy outside the Boston Democratic Convention in 2004 (never aired, it was for an aborted movie) was cutting it up me about Leno and stuff and seemed fun enough as we passed him on the way to some event. Then on the way back we passed him again. I approached my old friend but now he was drunker and at stage: angry. So he immediately charged my puppet with a hearty paranoid “Hey, back off, man!” Fortunately his body fat % precluded the chance of any serious damage to our beloved rubber pooch. We talked him down like the compassionate bros we aren’t and went on our way.

I loved the actual TV Funhouse show that was on briefly on comedy central, why did that get pulled? It had me in stitches.

You know what, I loved it too! We have that in common. Here’s why it got pulled – main reason – it cost a crapload of money. We went into overtime everyday in the studio with our puppet stages and our sight gags. you’d be surprised how long it takes to get a monkey dressed in a nurse outfit to walk in with a beaker full of lizard jizz. The jizz alone took hours to manufacture. Why real lizard jizz? The great Busby Berkeley always said, “People will know the difference.”

When you were on Fallon a few weeks back, you were pretty unabashed about your loyalty to Conan when it came to how NBC treated him throughout the whole Tonight Show mess. Did you get any flack about that from the suits at Comcast / NBC? It seemed like Jimmy was taken off guard and was trying to wrap it up. Also, how did you end up retaining the rights to Triumph? It seems like NBC got their dirty paws on anything else from Late Night.

no flak, remember comcast wasn’t in charge when the conan/leno kerfuffle happened. jimmy knew triumph was gonna be a dick! and to his credit, didn’t want to hear a single joke in advance. he’s a funny, smart man and a great student of comedy – it’s a pleasure to be on his show. NBC still has the rights to Triumph but they knew I would never do remotes for anyone but Conan. So when we finally did them on the TBS show they were cool about it. It only helps their property for me to keep it out there. Now he’s got a TV show, and the Jack and Triumph Show is produced by NBC/Universal.

Would you ever consider bringing back The Ambiguously Gay Duo?

I never let go of these things. I’ve done Triumph for 18 years. I did a Da Bears commercial for State Farm last year. Some characters age better than others. The X-Presidents, for example, are getting a little on the dead side. Ace and Gary, who knows? Someone wants me to write a Broadway musical with them. You tell me, what would you like to see? I’ll do what I’m told.

TV funhouse inspirations?

The cartoons or the animal puppets..? Cartoons – I loved the cheesy animated cartoons of the 60s and 70s. Especially the theme songs. I’d watch Spiderman for the theme song then switch back to a funny cartoon. Puppets – I always loved the way people anthropomorphize animals. Did I spell it right? It’s half my career and I can never spell it. I’m a huge animal lover but the gap between what people like to believe animals to be feeling and thinking and the reality has cracked me up forever. So I always played around with stuff like that. Wrote a sketch for SNL once about a cat and it was just a peppy theme song with a live cat laying around. Kind of funny, but not enough. Years later, Jack Handey, the SNL writer we all worshipped, wrote Toonces, the Cat Who Could Drive a Car. I laughed so hard at the pretaped part..where the live cat version of Toonces appears to be driving with two fake paws. I actually ran up to my office just to tape the actual attempts they were making to get this cat to look like he was driving – it took like 40 minutes. Meanwhile, the cat has no idea he’s gonna be on SNL and that Don Pardo will say his name – he couldn’t give a shit. It was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen and obviously influenced me.

You were one of the original writers on The Late Night Show with Conan O’Brien. How did you come to get onto that show so early on and why did you choose to become a part of its staff? Can you talk at all about the early days of the show? Any memorable moments from early on that you can talk about?

Conan and I connected comedically as SNL writers, we both enjoyed reducing people of dignity to their basest, cartooniest elements. When he got the gig, he asked me to be head writer and a producer, which was a dream gig for me. We hired a bunch of young, unproven writers simply off their material.
I was incredibly confident that Conan would take the world by storm, we all were. So I had no hesitation about trying the weirdest stuff and trying to reinvent the format as much as possible. The goal was to do the opposite of Letterman (our hero but someone we didn’t want to rip off)…eliminating found/reality humor and making everything up, with plenty of broad, cartoony sight gags and absurd premises. We took big swings and had plenty of whiffs but we also had lots of hits, even in the first week, that became core bits on the show, like In The Year 2000, Actual Items, and the Clutch Cargo thing where (usually) my mouth would replace the mouth in a celebs photo and Conan would interview me. We were also incredibly ambitious in the productions we’d mount…Fallon is kind of that way now but we didn’t have the same level of support. We were shit on by critics, who loved to focus on the mistakes and gave us no credit for what we thought was pretty innovative stuff. It was like being in a war, only instead of death, there were laughs and craft service food. Young guys like Louis CK and Dino Stamatopoulos flourished and defined the comedy as much as any of us. I wish shows like that had their comedy archived, so you could see crazy sketches like The Baby Debates and Polly the NBC Peacock. We were fearless and stupid and passionate about making a new show and it was thrilling, and will always be the best job I ever had.

How much fun did you have doing the offensive softball speech as Yari on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Was what you delivered what LD asked for or did you surprise him?

Being on Curb was the most fun I’ve ever had other than watching my twin boys clown around for me. It was like comedy fantasy camp. Larry David is another mega-hero for me. I auditioned for Yari, the vaguely foreign softball coach/mechanic. I didn’t know until I showed up that they wanted me to do a speech to the team. So I asked Larry Charles, the director, if it’s okay to curse. And he gave me the answer I wanted to hear. So I had about ten minutes to write a couple of things down that made me laugh. Then we shot it and Larry didn’t know what was coming. I’ve heard he’s an easy laugher but still, seeing him crack up felt like alley-ooping to Michael Jordan. I’m a pathetically easy laugher myself, and if you ever watch that episode, you can actually see me breaking up at my own improv for a moment. Ahaha me funny! what a baby.

ig fan of Triumph. I listened to a podcast that had a guest saying he was invited by Conans people to discuss doing bits with him. It involved a rude puppet that makes fun of celebrities. After Conans writers met the individual, the planned bits were cancelled and Triumph the insult comic dog was created shortly after. The original puppet character was called Ed The Sock and was very popular in the 90s, especially in Toronto and some states in America. Could you tell your side of the story?

G’morning! Here’s me answering. First, I like Ed the Sock, but there’s no connection. Never saw him until I heard people saying we had stolen from him.

I can’t speak to this story about Ed going on Conan and then it being cancelled. It sounds weird but it’s a moot point anyway. I thought of Triumph independently. It came out of a bit I started on the show in 1994.

As I wrote in another reply, our goal was to do crazy made-up stuff in contrast to the reality-based stuff Letterman was doing. Everyone was ripping off Dave back then, and for us, the show replacing him, to go anywhere near his act, in my mind, was lethal. I didn’t even let Conan do remotes for the first year. I know it sounds idiotic now, but that was my thinking. On balance, I still think that mindset yielded a lot of original cool comedy those first few years. So, Letterman had the Westminster Dog Show winners on, and they just ran down the aisles to big fanfare. My response was to do a fake Westminster bit with these dog puppets my wife had got me for my birthday…I won’t digress too much more here, but we had found these incredibly realistic dog, sheep, cat, seal puppets at a furniture store. They cracked me up, and I immediately put one on and sniffed my wife’s ass with it. So for my birthday, she surprised me with a bunch of them. This was right before Westminster, actually.

Anyway, for our Westminster bit, Conan would say “these dogs are getting more and more talented every year” and then the puppet dogs would sing “The Bodyguard”, or perform Dueling Banjos, or do magic. One dog did a Nicholson impression where he put his paw over his forehead to pull back his hair, like any hack impressionist would. I had everyone do the dog voices with the same Russian accent I’d been giving dogs since I was a kid.

This bit was successful, and we kept doing it even after I left in ’95. Then in 1997 I called Jon Groff, the head writer, and suggested we do another with an insult comic. I’d done a wisecracking dog, with a different puppet, years ago, but this was different and very specific…he was also gonna be an old school catch phrase comic, and say “…for me to poop on” way too often. I showed up, picked the rottweiler and asked for a bow tie and cigar (a cliche of old school Catskills comics). Deb Shaw, our wardrobe whiz, made the bow tie gold, a hilarious choice.

And that was it. It went well, and we started bring the dog back, just to poop on Conan’s first guest, and he evolved from a one dimensional character into the decidedly two dimensional one that exists today. That’s what happened.

Conan’s made the point that the idea of a grumpy puppet is pretty old, anyway, as is anything cute but grouchy (see Baby Face Finster from Bugs Bunny).

I never thought the two had much in common anyway, other than the cigar. Triumph mostly does jokes, and Ed’s more of a funny commentator. On the new sitcom, Triumph been expanded a little more…he’s an instigator, with dubious schemes to make Jack’s character famous. 30 minutes of insults wouldn’t work.

Anyway, all these extraneous points, as I said, are moot, because I’m telling the truth…didn’t steal it.

I’ve seen a lot of people with autism post online that they hate Autism Speaks because the organization makes autism seem like a disease that has to be cured. I always feel uncomfortable watching Night of Too Many Stars because of this. What’s your response to these concerns? Would you ever consider not supporting Autism Speaks?

People are entitled to have different opinions, it’s a very complicated issue, partly because the spectrum covers people who are extremely high functioning to others who are nonverbal and have serious issues like self-injurious behavior.
There are people with autism who are happy to be the way they are and that deserves respect. There are parents of kids with autism who struggle to communicate, who have very severe issues, who are entitled to wish for anything that could help their children. I’ll say two things – Night of Too Many Stars is NOT about curing autism. It does not fund biomedical research. I’m not saying this to take a stand – we don’t fund it because we’re more interested in something that many other national organizations don’t fund: helping build schools, community programs, and a wide variety of services to HELP PEOPLE LIVING WITH AUTISM RIGHT NOW. My own son, who is severely affected, could not get into a school that could adequately help him until he was 7 and it only exacerbated the challenges he faced. We do Night of Too Many Stars to address the enormous shortage of services that exist for people with autism. Sadly we’re still in the dark ages – research aside, we’re behind in simply understanding what people with autism know and feel and are capable of. Especially the severely affected people. Nothing makes me sadder than when people talk about my son in front of him as if he’s not there. They assume because he’s nonverbal, and often not engaging, that he can’t possibly understand or care. When he was diagnosed I read books saying people with autism all lacked empathy, and could not connect emotionally. I was happy to learn over time what bullshit this is, but the world at large needs to know it. Look up Katy Perry and Jodi on Youtube, and watch Jodi DiPiazza at our last NOTMS. As she plays, she gets spontaneous cheers and her face lights up for a moment. When my own “lower functioning” son ran a 5K, I sent friends a video taken by his mom. He has a huge smile on his face as he crosses the finish line, and then, almost immediately, stops and looks around. He’s looking for his mom to share the moment with. People need to see these kinds of things, and understand that people with autism are whole human beings, and deserve the chance to have the fullest lives possible. It matters to them.
Now my second, hopefully shorter, thing – Bob and Suzanne Wright of Autism Speaks are two of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met. Mrs. Wright took an interest in autism when my wife and I started the first NOTMS on NBC. She aked a lot of questions even though her own grandson had not yet been diagnosed with autism.
And Autism Speaks has been largely responsible for progress that everyone can agree on, like getting insurance reform passed in 38 states. For years insurance didn’t cover any behavioral therapy for autism…now thousand of families can better afford it thanks to hardworking advocates in Washington. Bob and Suzanne are at the forefront of that advocacy. And their work increasing awareness of autism has made the world more compassionate to people with the condition.

During the early years of Late night with Conan. The show had a tough start. What was the breakthrough moment or event that turned the tide?

Letterman very generously visited the show about five months in and said, on air, that we were doing great comedy at a high level and stuff. Had he not given it his stamp of approval I’m not sure the network would’ve understood just how incredibly groundbreaking and peachy we indeed were. After that, though, things just felt easier with the network.

Some of your lines are too good to be improv on the spot. Do you do all of the writing or do you have a team helping you then use the lines at an opportune time? Also, do you have a bodyguard when you are roasting random people at events?

Absolutely show up with some funny jokes written, with many other funny guys throwing in. The first one I did at Conan, at the Dog Show, was all improv and went great but then I thought, if I ever go back, better write some jokes. Jokes are great. A few writers come with me on most remotes as well. But no bodyguards. That’s Elmo shit.

How much did you get paid for that Zohan script? Also what’s up with Adam Sandler and Candyland? It’s a game for 6 year olds.

Ha! I am inferring you didn’t like it. I loved it enough for both of us. Disco Disco Good Good! See? I’m a fan. Maybe you have to know Israelis. But the movie made 200 million worldwide, so I’m guessing I was underpaid. Adam is the greatest and funniest guy I’ve ever known in this life. A few of his recent movies have been shockingly disrespected, I loved the Aniston one and especially “That’s My Boy.” Some people/critics are knee jerk at this point and it’s just lazy. It’s hacky, actually. Always interesting when the smarter rags like the NY Times get stuff that’s meant to be funny/dumb. Candy Land is more of a game for four year olds, I’d say.

Triumph has been making audiences laugh for years now. What would you say is your personal favorite moment in character as Triumph? Is there anywhere you haven’t been that you would like to take Triumph in the future?

Two big opportunities I missed: – hassling David Blaine when he was in that water tank in NYC. but I did get to poop on him when he was “upside down” for 24 hours. – the Royal wedding. I would have loved to just have Triumph with the middle age ladies lined up for hours on the streets waiting for a ten second glimpse of that royal caravan, peppering them with assholic impertinent questions. It’s great when triumph can turn crazy people into straight men. Like at the Michael jackson trial, a crazy French woman in some enormous harlequin outfit refused to talk to us. Triumph said “I understand…wouldn’t want you to compromise your dignity.”

Throughout the years you seem to be incredibly productive. What motivated you to want to write? What keeps motivating you?

My motivation to write was always selfish – I’d get an idea and fall in love with it and think the world needs to hear it. I also had a strong work ethic because my dad worked his butt off when I was a kid. Now my motivation to write is a little different. It costs a lot to take care of kids with autism. But back to comedy. I’ve done some projects purely the money but managed to enjoy them anyway, because I’m still working with funny people. And with Jack and Triumph, I’m enjoying – for now at least – the chance to write something insane again and actually get paid for it. All because I get to play that dumb puppet, not just write for it.

Were there any jobs you almost got (or steps you almost took) that you think would have steered you down a different career path or in some way prevented your current success?

Seinfeld hosted SNL and I did a sketch called Stand Up and Win. Larry David offered me a job writing for them. It was the only sitcom I ever thought I’d enjoy writing for.
One of my parents was sick at the time and I didn’t want to leave NY. So maybe I’d have become a wealthy sitcom magnate instead of a puppeteer. But my guess is even if I’d taken it I would have come back to start Conan. I never wanted to do a job more than that one.

Who are your comedy influences?

Charles Schulz and Peanuts are my favorite thing but I’ve never approached that level of sophistication. My dad turned me on to the Marx Brothers. Nothing’s better than Duck Soup.
In the 70’s Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman, and then Letterman blew me away by creating a kind of modern art version of comedy. And I would say there’s a ton of people I’ve worked with who’ve influenced me, from heroes like Handey, Jim Downey, and Franken and Davis to friends like Louie, Odenkirk, Sandler, Conan. I hope I’ve influenced some them a little bit too.

What was your favorite cartoon when you where a kid?

Theme song – Magilla Gorilla. I had a thing for theme songs. More important than the actual quality of the show when I was a kid. the best Bugs Bunny cartoons were and remain the funniest cartoons ever. “Bully for Bugs” is my all time favorite. One time I was in a hospital waiting room when a loved one was sick and it came on. It was like a miracle, and reminded me of why I love to get to be funny.

Do you prefer Bob or Robert. or Bobert?

I like having a name that puts a burden of choice on the other person. I learn something about them instantly by what they call me. So I love all your suggestions equally. Smigel, not so much, grateful “Lord of the Rings” was not a movie when I was a kid. Thankfully I went to school where the kids didn’t read books much.

How much freedom did SNL give you with your cartoons?

Lorne Michaels gave me a ton of freedom. Standards people, less easy. I’ve said phrases like “I’ll cut two ‘boners’ if you’ll give me one more head bob on the blow job” way too many times for one man’s lifetime.

Got a good story from the Dana Carvey show writers’ room you’d be willing to share?

As much fun as Conan was, that show was the opposite. I loved it but I couldn’t keep anyone happy. I didn’t get to work as closely with the writers, I was an EP and Louie was (an unhappy) head writer. Colbert and Carell were the only happy people there…they were both geniuses in their 30s who’d never gotten a real shot before. Colbert liked to mess with Charlie Kaufman, who barely got anything on because we felt pressure to do the bigger, louder stuff. He was unhappy and was not easily social to begin with. Stephen would get in his face with a giant smile “Hey Charlie! Gonna be another great day!” and Charlie would stare at him like an indifferent cat. Charlie deserved better.

My favorite cartoon of yours is the Conspiracy Theory Rock about “Mediaopoly”. I’ve always wanted to know the process of making something like that to air on a network that is as much of a part of it as NBC was/is. Were there any hardships censor-wise? Did you expect it to make more noise than it did?

Hey! Real quick – it’s in the SNL book but short answer – NBC was shockingly cool with it before it aired. It went a few extra steps up the chain – to Don Ohlmeyer – but they let it on. I added one line about “the voices in my head” to imply that maybe the narrator was crazy – after all it was a conspiracy theory. but all was fine until it aired, the network president, Bob Wright, didn’t think it was cool and it was dumped from reruns. It got more attention from being dumped than from airing, and I still hear about it all the time. Years later, I called Bob Wright personally and he gave me permission to put it on the Best of Saturday TV Funhouse DVD. Nobody likes that part of the story. I should learn to stop before the network-nice part.

What makes you bust a gut laughing?

Animals and the elderly, just like everyone else, right? I think, in truth, the first time I ever laughed uncontrollably was when the choir in Blazing Saddles sang “our town is turning into shit.” And then when Andy Kaufman, on SNL as his foreign man, started crying, then crying in rhythm, until the crying turned into a peppy bongo song.

How uncomfortable were you making Jimmy Fallon when you were ranting about how NBC screwed Conan? He looked like he legitimately didn’t know what to say when you brought that up. You and that dog are fearless!

I was only worried about the audience turning on Triumph. Jimmy is a savvy pro and knows it’s all Triumph’s shtick. The crowd sometimes thinks the puppeteer has an agenda. But I’m only interested in being funny and not sitting on something pointy.

Did you ever think that the phrase “for me to poop on” was going to be a big hit like it is?

Ha! The first time I said it, Frank Smiley, our segment producer, said “That poop on thing – that’s gonna be big! Big, I tells yis!” Then he took off his fedora, fucked his secretary and cursed out Sue Mengers.

What kind of fun stuff should we be expecting on the Night of Too Many Stars tomorrow night?

Holy crap. I’m at the studio working, that’s why I’ve been so slow and hung around so long. I hope people know this show is funny and insane, very light on the sap and treacle. If you haven’t seen Sandler and Bob Barker reunite on Youtube, it’s on our show and it’s hilarious. We do a lot of live auctions, but not boring shit, the celebrities participate in the auctions themselves. So for example, last year we auctioned off taking a piss with Seth Rogen. It’s online (“Seth Rogen’s pee party”). This year John Oliver offers the chance to commit a crime with him. And other great ones with Rock, Silverman, Louis CK and more. I’m going caps here – SUNDAY NIGHT 8 PM COMEDY CENTRAL. They are incredibly kind to us and I’d like to get them some ratings for once. Every year, my friends knock themselves out for this charity, and I feel great about the world and then the next day I hear, “Sorry, we were up against the finale of Flavor of Love.” Trust me, you’ll have a blast watching this.

How many ‘Triumph’s are there? Still with the same original one?

The first head melted on my windowsill one summer. I’ve gone through a bunch of heads. Now we’re making a mold and making our own, because we’re running out of originals (they don’t make them anymore). Got an old one? We’ll overpay!

As someone who’s written some incredibly iconic, memorable SNL sketches, what do you think of the sketches on the current iteration of the show?

The show has ebbs and flows but I like this group very much, I’m still a fan and I laugh all the time. I love Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennet’s films. My favorite sketches of the past ten years or so are Potato Chip and Coach Bert. Look ’em up.

When are you going to go on Howard Stern?

Triumph first appeared on Howard’s 50th birthday as a surprise guest. I love Howard and it was a career highlight to hurt his feelings on that special day. I don’t like to be me much, prefer the handupassery. I’m doing this because NOTMS is too important to hide. and I’m very psyched about J&T as well.

What do you think is the best thing you’ve ever written?

I’m old and have forgotten everything before Thursday. I can’t remember enough to have a strong opinion on the best thing. I know I love the Cluckin’ Chicken commercial for SNL. And that Tom Brokaw sketch about Gerald Ford obituaries, but I got a big assist from Colbert and Louie on that one (it ws written first for the Carvey Show on ABC). And I love a movie script or two that never got made.