Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (and Comedian Robert Smigel) on the Cubs, Chicago Pizza and Rod Blagojevich

Robert Smigel as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. (Credit: Exploring the Right Brain)

Robert Smigel as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. (Credit: Exploring the Right Brain via Flickr)

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Robert Smigel may be best known as the breeder behind Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, the crass canine puppet whose jokes make Don Rickles look housebroken. 

But Smigel also created and performed in the Superfans sketch (“Da Bears”) for “Saturday Night Live,” and he’s written for and collaborated with Adam Sandler and Conan O’Brien, who introduced Triumph on his talk show in 1997. Rounding out the references on Smigel’s resume, Tucker Carlson once accused him of insurrection. 

The native New Yorker was discovered in Chicago and hired to work on “Saturday Night Live” in 1985, and his career was launched. 

On Monday, Smigel — as the famed canine puppet — returns to Chicago at the Den Theatre in Wicker Park. There, Triumph will host a live game show with celebrity contestants, including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted on corruption charges after he attempted to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then President-elect Barack Obama. 

WTTW News spoke to Smigel, who was in and out of character as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Sometimes we’d hear both Rob and Triumph within a single sentence. The two are inseparable. 

Be advised the interview contains adult themes, childishly delivered. There are low blows and cheap shots — the sort of things one expects from an “insult comic dog.” 

Also, this interview was conducted hours before former President Donald Trump was convicted of dozens of felonies.

This interview was edited for length.

WTTW News: Rob Smigel, welcome back. You’ve spent a lot of time in Chicago, correct? 

Smigel: Yeah, I worked in Chicago for three years before I got on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ I was in a comedy group called All You Can Eat, and that’s how I was discovered by SNL. I just fell in love with the city on so many levels. 

What do you do for fun when you’re in town? 

My idea of fun is just going to a Giordano’s and eating an entire pizza by myself. I dream about it all year long. I still don’t understand why they can’t bake them in other cities, but I’m grateful because I’d look like George Wendt and Chris Farley combined if deep dish pizza was available to me every day. 

I grew up in Manhattan and I remember driving to Chicago and just being amazed that you had a lake. We have the crappy Hudson River that nobody can swim in, and you guys had a beach. And then I went to Wrigley Field and I was able to get seats in the front row — you could never do that at Shea Stadium. I walked up to the box office and said, ‘You got any good seats?’ and they said, [in Superfans voice] ‘Yeah, we got some right behind the dugout. Dat good? You want dat?’ Now it’s a little more gentrified of course. 

I got to be in Chicago the night the Cubs won the World Series. Triumph covered it. I was doing a show for Hulu as Triumph, and it was a political show, but I was the boss. I was the producer and star of the show and Game 7 was happening and I was like, wait a minute, I could just say I want Triumph to go to the World Series and they’ll fly me there. Then I was like, no, I don’t want to be in Cleveland for Game 7. I want to be right outside Wrigley, because if they win it’s going to be the greatest thing ever, and if they lose it’ll be really funny [laughs]. And we also went back to the Wiener’s Circle that night.  

One of Triumph’s most famous confrontations was at the Wiener’s Circle. The lady from the Wiener’s Circle that Triumph yelled at the most — Triumph called her Skanky Smurf — she’s going to be at the Monday night show at the Den Theatre as well. 

And who will the contestants be on Monday? 

We have Rod Blagojevich, Ryan Dempster and Paul Konrad from WGN. They’re all going to be there, and Triumph’s going to humiliate them all, but they’re also going to play a game with Triumph called ‘Let’s Make a Poop.’ 

Sounds like a collaborative game. 

It is a very collaborative game because the correct answer is never the correct answer. You’re supposed to guess a funny answer. Triumph could give you some examples. 

Yes, let’s hear from Triumph and his vaguely Eastern European accent. Triumph, give us a sample clue that we might hear in your game show. 

Triumph: Okay, human beings are separated from this by only one single chromosome. By the way, it’s great to be here. 

Hmm, let’s say cicadas. 

Sorry, the correct answer is ‘What is Marjorie Taylor Greene?’ We also would have accepted ‘Jake and Logan Paul.’ 

Give us one more. 

In 2023, sales of Bud Light dropped significantly due to this.

I give up.

What is Ben Affleck having a dry January? 

Triumph, do you know Rod Blagojevich? 

I have never met the man, but we still have four days to pry him out of Trump’s butthole. 

Did you feel justice was served when Trump commuted Blago’s prison sentence? 

Honestly, I was schtupping a Bichon at the time. I’m happy for Rod, and to honor him, at the show on Monday night, instead of Ticketmaster we’re just going to be selling any seats left open to the highest bidder.  

In April you were outside the Manhattan courthouse for the Trump trial. What did you experience? 

Oh my God. What do you think? Pins and needles, you know — who do you think is going to win the case, the bleached blonde with the huge jugs or Stormy Daniels? The stakes are sky high. Let’s face it, if Trump is found guilty, he could serve up to four years in the White House. I feel bad for the guy, I really do. I mean, the one time he actually pays someone, and they indict him for it. 

Triumph, any thoughts on the upcoming presidential election?

Well, they’re both getting up in years, and it’s an important decision that Americans have to take very seriously. When you make that choice in November you’ve got to ask yourself: What kind of dementia do you want in the White House? If you want the wandering-around-the-parking-lot dementia, that’s fine. Or if you want the kind of weird randomness and noises and [Trump voice] ‘Hannibal Lecter was quite a guy!’ then you’re more of a Trump guy. 

Triumph, insults are your stock and trade. Are you afraid of offending someone and being canceled?

[pretend scared] Oooh, cancel culture. No, I’m not afraid of cancel culture. I work with a hand up my ass, and that guy has had more shows canceled than anybody. 

Do you watch a lot of PBS? 

PBS, you mean the Poop Broadcasting System? 

No, it’s public broadcasting. 

Ah, public broadcasting. No, no, but the Poop Broadcasting System is excellent. It’s 24 hours a day, all Joey Fatone. All poop, all the time. Exponential poop. 

Triumph, how is Conan O’Brien? Are you still friends? 

He does the podcast now, and I’m so proud of him and how he’s evolved. You know, he used to be a nervous host who’d cut off his guests. Now on his podcast he’s an experienced, confident host who cuts off his guests. 

Thank you, Triumph. Please put Rob on the phone. Rob, when will we see Superfans again? 

Well, you can’t kill that catchphrase. It will never go away. This weekend we’re doing a Superfans sketch at Big Slick, an annual charity event in Kansas City [benefitting Children’s Mercy Hospital]. It’ll be me and George Wendt — and on Monday you might see a hint of something from Superfans. 

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