Who is Robert Smigel?
Robert Smigel is an American humorist, actor, puppeteer, writer and director best known for his cartoon shorts ‘TV Funhouse’ on the ‘Saturday Night Live’ (SNL). His most famous creation is ‘Triumph the Insult Comic Dog,’ a puppet who mocks celebrities and other public figures in a ‘Borscht Belt comedian’ style. Though the character was created for ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien,’ it became so popular that Smigel would attend movie openings, award shows and other events with the puppet for mockery and comedy. With memorable sketches and parodies like ‘The McLaughlin group,’ ‘The William Shatner Star Trek Convention’ and ‘Superfans,’ he helped ‘SNL’ usher into its second golden era after being hired as a writer for the 1985-86 season. He continued to write for the show through 2013, becoming the longest running writer in the history of the show. He also made his mark in films by writing scripts for the ‘Hotel Transylvania’ films and the cult famous ‘You Don’t Mess with the Zohan’.
Childhood & Early Life
Robert Smigel was born on February 7, 1960, in New York City to Irwin and Lucia Smigel. Dr. Irwin Smigel was an aesthetic dentist and philanthropist who founded the ‘American Society for Dental Aesthetics’. His mother was the president and CEO of Supersmile.
Growing up in Manhattan, he had a Jewish upbringing in a conservative household. He attended a Jewish day school through grade five.
He gave up studying pre-dental at Cornell University and transferred to New York University where he graduated in political science in 1983
He went to Chicago to take up a class at ‘The Players Workshop’ on the advice of actor Tim Kazurinsky. Here, he studied and honed his skills in comedy and improvisation.
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Robert Smigel was hired as a writer for the ‘Saturday Night Live’ during the show’s 1985-86 run. After a dismal season, executive producer Lorne Michaels purged most of the cast members and writers. Smigel was amongst the handful who stood-out and was retained.
He performed and wrote for the 1996 ABC series ‘The Dana Carvey Show’ that featured his first cartoon ‘The Ambiguously Gay Duo.’ ABC canceled the final episode cutting the series to only seven episodes after poor feedback from advertisers and viewers.
NBC broadcasted the lone episode of the cult classic ‘Lookwell’ in the summer of 1991, a television pilot co-written and co-produced by Smigel with Conan O’Brien, as the pilot was not picked up for a series.
From 1993, he served as the head writer at ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien’. After his departure as a writer in 1995, he continued to work on the show creating one of its most iconic characters, ‘Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’. The puppet first appeared in February 1997 and would ‘insult’ celebrities and popular culture in an ‘Eastern European’ accent.
His cartoon segment on ‘The Dana Carvey Show’ was so popular that Smigel imported them to ‘SNL’ in 1996. The special animated segment was branded as ‘TV Funhouse’ and created some of the most popular comedy sketches of the time. The segment was a satire on popular culture and public figures.
He was involved with the scripts for ‘The Wedding Singer’ and Little Nicky where he also did the voice-over for the sage bulldog.
Smigel wrote the script for the 2008 released film ‘You Don’t Mess with the Zohan’ along with Judd Apatow and Adam Sandler. The film was a box office hit that grossed $199.9 million worldwide. He was the executive producer of the film and also featured in the film as an Israeli salesman called Yosi.
He co-wrote the screenplay for ‘Hotel Transylvania’ (2012) along with Peter Baynham and was involved in the writing of three soundtracks in the film: ‘Where Did the Time Go Girl’, ‘Daddy’s Girl’, and ‘The Zing’.
He also wrote the script for ‘Hotel Transylvania 2’ which released in 2015 and grossed $474 million worldwide. Here, he voiced the monster magician ‘Harry Three-eye’.
He created the live-action series ‘The Jack and Triumph Show’ in 2015 in which Triumph, played by Robert, was co-starred along with Jack Mlicki, played by Jack McBrayer. Though the show was planned to run for 20 episodes, only seven episodes were aired by Universal Television.
Family & Personal life
Robert Smigel is married to Michelle Saks who he met in Chicago during his time at ‘The Players Workshop’. The couple has three sons, Daniel Smigel, and a pair of twins.
Robert and Michelle are actively involved in initiatives for autistic children as their eldest son Daniel suffers from autism. They are board members of ‘New York Collaborates for Autism’, a non-profit-organisation that helps families and individuals with autism.
The idea for the puppet ‘Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’ first came to his wife Michelle while on a trip to Mexico.