Robert Smigel may not be a household name, but he is one of the great comic minds of the past 30 years.
His writing stint on “Saturday Night Live” produced such classics as William Shatner’s “Get a life” sketch at a “Star Trek” convention and the unforgettable cartoon “The Ambiguously Gay Duo.” As the first head writer for “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” Smigel provided the jokes and voices for the Clutch Cargo routine, mimicking everyone from Bill Clinton to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But his most brilliant creation is Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, a hoarse-voiced, horny, cigar-chomping mutt whose material would make Don Rickles squirm.
The puppet, now 18 in human years, returns Friday in “The Jack and Triumph Show,” a spoof of ’80s-style sitcoms, with “30 Rock” star Jack McBrayer as Triumph’s beleaguered roommate. Although the show is largely filmed with a studio audience, it will mix in taped bits reminiscent of Triumph’s visits on “Conan” to the Westminster Dog Show and a “Star Wars” movie, comedy masterpieces that rank among TV’s most hilarious.
Despite Triumph’s long life, the character has popped up infrequently, which may be why he’s still a riot. With that in mind, the first season of the new Adult Swim series will be only seven episodes, even though the network has guaranteed 20.
“On ‘Conan,’ when something worked in the early days, we’d run it into the ground,” Smigel said. “But this thing, we made a conscious effort not to do it too many times a year. So it’s stayed fresh for me, and hopefully people aren’t tired of it.”
Teaming up with McBrayer, who comes off as one of the sweetest guys this side of Will Rogers, was inspired by a 2012 episode of “Conan” that visited the Wieners Circle, a Chicago hot dog stand known for its rude staff.
“Originally it was going to be Conan in there and we’d have Triumph sort of be his avenging angel, and then he couldn’t do it,” Smigel said. “I immediately thought of Jack. Let’s get the nicest guy in the whole world to get ripped apart by these ladies and then Triumph comes in. It was one of the most popular segments Triumph has ever done.”
Despite Triumph’s barrage of zingers, Smigel insists he’s never been out to hurt people’s feelings. The victims of his putdowns have to give written permission before a clip airs.
“I’m more interested in doing it with people who are up for it,” Smigel said. “I don’t think there’s a heavy feeling of mean-spiritedness with Triumph. I think you get the feeling that you’re watching something incredibly silly.”
Based on Smigel’s track record, “Jack and Triumph” should be a worthwhile show.
For me to poop on.