Robert Smigel and Triumph Are the Real Winners of This Insane Election
During an election as absurd as the 2016 Presidential race, it only makes sense that one of our strongest political satirists could be a loud-mouthed, cigar-chomping, leg-humping dog puppet.
Triumph The Insult Comic Dog’s second election special for Hulu moves on from the primary race to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in Cleveland and Philly, where Robert Smigel and crew tackled Bernie Bros, Trump supporters, and people who do not have a sense of humor about Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. It’s available as of today.
In addition to Triumph’s traditional roasting of people at the conventions, he pulls off some pretty unbelievable stunts and experiments that show just how confusing this election has been, and what people are willing to believe. From setting up a Dunk-A-Muslim tank at the RNC, to driving a Trump impersonator through the streets of Cleveland in an actual tank. A Roger Ailes impersonator gets him better access at the RNC. He gets people to think Tim Meadows is Ben Carson. And, at a mind-blowing Donald Trump focus group, Triumph can only facepalm from the sound booth as real Americans show the Apprentice star has gotten this far.
The special also features a panel of Rep. Barney Frank, some traditional pundits and reporters, a former Trump campaign advisor and Triumph’s old friend Blackwolf the Dragonmaster. So, pretty much everyone you need for a solid political discussion.
In a phone interview, Smigel shared more about the making of the special, his experiences at the conventions, and what’s to come before the election. With three months until election day, there will be even more for Triumph to poop on.
How did working the conventions compare to working the debates and rallies of the primaries? The conventions felt much more intense, and I noticed that you didn’t crack up as often.
Well, did you see the Ben Franklin bit? I was just editing that the other day and there were a couple of moments where I was cuing ‘Mr. Belding’ (Ben Franklin) and laughing at what I was saying to him, which is something Triumph does often. But maybe you’re right. It’s usually just a line or two that makes me laugh — either I can’t believe I’m saying it to the person, or it’s just a really funny joke to me. Or maybe I was just tired [laughs]. But I’ve always been terrible about keeping a straight face.
But the atmosphere of the conventions must have been crazier, especially with all the Trump and Bernie protesters and supporters.
Oh yeah, I mean each place was like ground zero for everything that’s going on. It’s very different. This was a big concern of mine going in, because the Iowa and New Hampshire [settings] attracted me to doing all this. I thought oh, I’m gonna get to go to these places that are kind of desolate and then they’re flooded with politicians for a few months and the politicians allow you so much access you get sick of them. It was almost like an inverse event compared to what political campaigns normally are. With this, it was the opposite, I thought, I’m just going to be covering what everyone else is covering, and how are we going to make this interesting?
You pulled off some pretty incredible stunts.
There are two full parts where Triumph just runs around being an idiot at both conventions, and that feel just like old fashioned Triumph remotes. And like the last one, there are segments where Triumph isn’t really the main participant — they’re ideas that Triumph presumably came up with because there’s a cynical sensibility behind them. We shot about four or five bits like that, and some of them are in this show and some will be in a subsequent show because we shot too much material.
So there will be more coming soon?
We’re talking to Hulu about doing another show fairly soon, where we could show some of the material that couldn’t make this one. It’s only an hour-long show; the last one was like 85 minutes. Plus, we have a panel this time that we go to a few times during the show. It was fun to see Barney Frank get fed up with Blackwolf the Dragonmaster.
Triumph gets recognized by both Democrats and Republicans, but with whom is he more popular?
It was really very even this time. Republicans seem to have evolved, but really — I’m so old, I can’t believe how many people in their 30s talk to me about how Triumph was a part of their childhood [laughs]. So it feels like some people, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, they have an affection for this puppet that goes back to when they were teenagers watching Conan in the 90s. And I find that very interesting. I mean, as much as I was rushing around trying to get into different parts of the building and looking for people to harass, I probably spent 40% of my time at the conventions taking selfies.
Which convention had a better of a sense of humor about themselves?
That’s interesting too. I would say it was a balance. Back when I did this 12 years ago, in 2004, generally the Democrats had a better sense of humor about me roaming around — although I got thrown out of both conventions that year. Now it’s somewhat of a challenge; it’s double-edged, because you get better access and more people are willing to talk to you, the way Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was willing to talk to Triumph so frankly in the first special, which was fantastic, but on the other hand you want to be able to agitate people a little bit. And I don’t go out of my way to do that, but I enjoy when Triumph baffles people a little bit. I still enjoy the people who don’t have a clue who this dog puppet is.
At the RNC, there’s a Trump supporter selling merch who gets so agitated that he actually rips Triumph’s head off. Does that happen frequently?
Ohh, yeah, that doesn’t happen too often. There were a few people who put their hands on Triumph and got a little physical at these conventions. One guy, I was talking to delegates in the middle of — I think it was the President of Donald Trump Wine making a speech — and I was making some cracks and this guy in front of me was like, “Get outta here, ya schmuck!” and started to put his hands on the dog puppet the way Eminem did years ago. And then at the Democratic one, [there was] the day I dressed Triumph up as Debbie Wasserman-Schultz by putting fusilli pasta on his head. A lot of the delegates were laughing, but the head of the delegation was almost more violent than the Trump guy. She was so angry. I can’t deny that part of me enjoyed it. I mean, all I’m doing is wearing pasta on [a puppet’s] head. When you think about what agitates people, it’s just…
The most jaw-dropping moments came from the Donald Trump campaign ad focus group. The participants let you use their responses even after finding out it was fake?
We weren’t allowed to have them sign the release until afterwards, when they were informed that it was all a prank. And they all signed. It was amazing. In that case, maybe it was because they had all been paid to actually be in the focus group, so maybe they were in a better mood. That was a happy surprise for us. We didn’t know what was going to happen there.
What do you think it ultimately means for comedy if Trump is elected president?
I think some people will take four years off, they’ll be so sick of doing Trump jokes. I know a few comedians like that, who are just completely staying out of it now because it feels so easy. They don’t even want to participate. For me, I enjoy it as long as I’m not relying too heavily on Trump. I had more fun giving Ted Cruz a hard time back in January than I did with the Trump people. There’s almost too much of an expectation with the Trump people that they can never live up to it. I know when I went to Iowa and went to the rallies, most people were totally reasonable — and consequently unusable [laughs].