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Robert Smigel Triumph

Comedy Triumph

10 Videos That Prove Robert Smigel is a Comedic Genius

Catch Robert Smigel tonight at 10P on Portlandia.

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Photo Credit: Team Coco

You may not know his name, but you certainly know his work. If you’re a fan of Conan O’Brien, Adam Sandler or Saturday Night Live, you’ve laughed at one of his jokes. Here’s a guy who Bob Odenkirk credits with teaching him how to write sketch comedy. Who Louis C.K. co-wrote an episode of his FX series Louie with, based on an incident from Smigel’s own life. He was the first head writer of Late Night w/ Conan O’Brien, and a standout on one of the greatest writing staffs of all time, for The Dana Carvey Show. Heck, the projects he hasn’t gotten made, like a musical movie based on the SNL sketch “Hans and Franz,” still sound better than most of the stuff out there. Before you catch him on tonight’s brand new episode of Portlandia, check out just a few of the things Robert Smigel has done to make you laugh.


10. Gyros Sketch From SNL

You like-ah the Juice? Then you’ll remember this sketch, featuring Smigel as one of the overeager Gyro slingers who love customer feedback. While Smigel popped up in a variety of sketches during his time on SNL, he made his name as a standout writer. He was first hired to join the writing staff in 1985, during a disastrous season that saw nearly every other writer fired. He would survive the bloodletting, and become one of the most idiosyncratic and distinct writers in the show’s history.


9. The Trekkies sketch from SNL

One of the most famous sketches Smigel penned saw William Shatner telling a roomful of Trekkies to move out of their parents’ basements. The iconic scene, which Shatner would call “equal parts comedy and catharsis,” would prove so popular that the actor behind Captain Kirk would go on to write both a book and make a documentary called, appropriately, “Get a Life!”


8. Da Superfans from SNL

You might remember Smigel as one fourth of “da” Superfans, uber Chicago sports nuts who talked about Ditka almost as much as they suffered heart attacks. Smigel first wrote the sketch when he was performing in the Happy Happy Good Show, a live Chicago comedy show that he starred in with fellow SNL scribes Bob Odenkirk and Conan O’Brien during the 1988 writers strike. Premiering on SNL in 1991, during a week in which the Giants were scheduled to play the Bears, the Superfans would go on to become one of the most popular recurring sketches in the show’s history.


7. Impersonating Clinton, Bush, and many more on Late Night with Conan O’Brien

As head writer in the early days of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Smigel got to put his stamp on the show in its infancy. One of his longest running bits was “Via Satellite,” in which Smigel’s lips would be superimposed on top of the picture of some notable person, and he’d run roughshod over them. From Bill Clinton to Arnold Schwarzenegger, these insane impressions undercut a whole era of politics and pop culture.


6. Night of Too Many Stars

While Smigel has climbed to the top of the comedy heap, his life isn’t without its complications. He and his wife are parents to a child with autism, and as a result he’s become highly involved in charity work surrounding the disorder, even serving on the board of New York Collaborates for Autism. Smigel’s activism has also led him to oversee the “Night of Too Many Stars” telethon, in which he gathers all of his showbiz friends — from Jon Stewart and Paul Rudd to Katy Perry and Amy Schumer — and puts on a show, all to raise money for autism-related education and support.


5. World leaders And Their Baths from The Dana Carvey Show

Speaking of fireworks, The Dana Carvey Show shone so brightly that it burned out after only seven episodes on ABC back in 1996. Smigel was brought in by head writer Louis C.K., who oversaw a staff that included such future superstars as Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Charlie Kaufman and Jon Glaser. Much like his days on SNL, Smigel used the short-lived show as an opportunity to pop up in the occasional sketch or two, like the one above in which he showed us the softer side of one of our favorite dictators.


4. Wonderman from TV Funhouse

Back in 2000, Comedy Central gave Smigel a showcase for his warped sensibility with TV Funhouse, a spin-off of his popular SNL segment that featured cartoons and live-action Pee-wee’s Playhouse-style bits. Hilarious and boundary-pushing, the show struggled to find an audience and was canceled after one season. But it gave us some memorable sketches, including Wonderman, a Superman spoof featuring a superhero who fights crime in the name of truth, justice and getting his secret identity laid.


3. Lookwell pilot starring Adam West

Perhaps the most famous pilot to never make it to series, Lookwell starred Adam West as a washed-up TV detective who decides to start solving cases in real life. Smigel created the show with friend and fellow SNL writer Conan O’Brien, and the cast includes In the Bedroom director Todd Field as West’s reluctant sidekick. Shot single camera in the style of contemporary shows like The Office and Arrested Development, the pilot was ahead of its time when it was made back in 1991. Lookwell did air once as a special, but as O’Brien joked, “[it] was the second-lowest rated television show of all time. It’s tied with a test pattern they show in Nova Scotia.” Word of mouth led to bootleg copies being circulated in the VHS era, and it eventually turned up on YouTube where it finally found an audience of cult comedy fans. And maybe that’s what was always supposed to happen, because years later Smigel and O’Brien admitted they had no idea what they were going to do for the second episode, much less an entire season.


2. Saturday TV Funhouse

No matter where Smigel has gone, he’s always found a way to color outside the lines. On SNL that meant his long-running and bitingly absurd “Saturday TV Funhouse” cartoons. The segments varied widely, parodying everything from Rankin/Bass Claymation specials to Disney movies to Saturday morning cartoons. One of the most popular bits from Funhouse was “The Ambiguously Gay Duo,” a recurring sketch about a crime fighting duo who seemed a bit too close. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


1. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog

And then there is Smigel’s most popular creation, a cheap dog puppet with a cigar who will happily insult you to your face or hump your leg. His first appearance was way back in 1997, on a Late Night remote piece from the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The character has since gone on to host a variety of shows and specials. Famous for his distinct accent, which Triumph insists is just how dogs sound, he has spent the better part of the last three decades insulting everyone from celebrities to politicians to 35-year-old Star Wars fans/virgins. Most recently he hosted Triumph’s Election Special 2016 for Hulu, in which he taught a bunch of millennials what a microaggression really sounds likes.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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