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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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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.