Robert Smigel Probably Wrote Your Favorite Comedy, You Just Don’t Know It
A look at the man behind Triumph, Ace and Gary, and moreFebruary 26, 2016
Comedy is filled with unsung heroes – those folks who work tirelessly behind the scenes to craft the perfect joke or bit that keeps you laughing even years later. Chances are, you’ve laughed at Monday’s guest Robert Smigel’s comedy. More than that, some of Smigel’s work has likely been among your favorite comedy written by anybody.
You just never realized it.
Here’s a look at the staggeringly impressive resume of this unsung comedy maestro.
‘Saturday Night Live’
In modern comedy, all roads tend to run through “Saturday Night Live.” After cutting his teeth in Chicago, Smigel was hired as an “SNL” writer in 1985 and helped usher the show into what many consider its second golden age (the Hartman, Carvey, Myers, Hooks era). Many of Smigel’s sketches have gone on to become absolute classics, notably the infamous sketch in which William Shatner tells a convention full of “Star Trek” fans to “get a life, will you people?”
Smigel also has the unique distinction of being a non-cast member writer with his own recurring character, as he appeared in many sketches alongside Mike Myers, Chris Farley, and (guest) George Wendt as Carl Wollarski (one of the “da bearsss” guys) in “Bill Swerski’s Super Fans.”
However, Smigel’s most notable contribution to “SNL” would come a decade later…
From 1996 to about 2007 (with occasional appearances thereafter), Smigel carved out a corner of several episodes for his unique brand of cartoon insanity known as “TV Funhouse.” The series was a breeding ground for some of the most memorable “SNL” sketches of the era: “Fun With Real Audio,” “The X-Presidents,” and the banned “Conspiracy Theory Rock.” To this day, “TV Funhouse” is one of the only non-cast member, non-host/musical guest opening credit announcements by Don Pardo (“…featuring a cartoon by Robert Smigel”)!
The first (and likely the most famous) of the “TV Funhouse” cartoons didn’t debut on “SNL” but rather on “The Dana Carvey Show.” The short-lived ABC series featured a roster of talent that would suggest the show should have lasted much longer than its one season on the air: Head writer Louis C.K., writers Smigel and Bob Odenkirk, and cast members Stephen Colbert and Steve Carrell. In the show’s second episode, “The Mug Root Beer Dana Carvey Show,” America was introduced to an animated segment titled “The Ambiguously Gay Duo.” The cartoon proved to be so popular that when “Carvey” was canceled, Smigel merely imported the series over to “SNL,” where Colbert and Carrell continued to voice the characters of Ace and Gary.
‘Late Night With Conan O’Brien’
Conan O’Brien’s first foray into “Late Night” took the silly, strange advancements that David Letterman brought to the format and pushed them to the next natural level of insanity. Few were more instrumental in this process than Smigel, who was the first head writer on “Late Night.” Smigel’s presence and off-the-wall sensibilities were felt through countless random bits and regular segments, including many very popular features like …
Triumph the Insult Comic Dog
For years, one of the most popular figures in late night wasn’t even human. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog debuted on “Late Night” in 1997, and grew into one of the most anticipated and successful pre-taped segments on Conan. Taking the “man on the street” concept to new, twisted heights, Smigel would bring his cigar-chomping canine mouthpiece to awards shows, movie openings, and other public events ripe for brutal mockery. If you haven’t watched Triumph’s visit to the premiere of “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” do yourself a favor.
Everyone’s favorite insult comic dog still makes less-frequent appearances on “Conan,” but has gone on to star in his own Adult Swim series “The Jack and Triumph Show,” a Hulu special, and countless cameos, including in an Eminem video!
In Film Comedy
Many of the film comedies of the last 20 years have Smigel’s fingerprints all over them, mainly in his collaborations with Adam Sandler. Smigel punched up scripts for “The Wedding Singer,” “Little Nicky,” and along with Sandler and Judd Apatow, wrote the cult favorite “You Don’t Mess With The Zohan.” Recently, Smigel co-wrote the “Hotel Transylvania” films with Sandler, while also providing his masterful voice work.
Check out “Triumph’s Election Special 2016,” now available on Hulu.