Robert Smigel knows putting his Triumph the Insult Comic Dog figure into a multi-cam comedy — The Jack And Triumph Show, on Adult Swim — is “an odd experiment” further complicated by the fact Triumph’s sidekick in the show, Jack McBrayer, previously played in a very sophisticated single-cam comedy. The Jack And Triumph Show premieres on Friday, February 20 at 11:30 PM.
“We have a big concern that people are going to look at the aesthetics and just dismiss it,” Smigel told TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2015. Viewers could “easily assume these guys are slumming in a multi-cam.” But the whole point of the experiment is to put Triumph into a “format considered kinda lame in 2015 and mess with it,” Triumph’s creator said.
“I wouldn’t call it a parody of a multi-cam, because we stick with the conventions, but we’re definitely having fun with the conventions…We want you to watch the show and get past the fear it’s a corny multi-cam.”
The idea for the show was born of a 2012 remote Smigel did with McBrayer for TBS’ Conan, when Conan O’Brien took his late-night show to Chicago. It remains one of Triumph’s most popular performances, Smigel said. “We had so much fun playing off each other. It was the first time I ever thought of doing a sitcom.”
In May, Adult Swim announced 30 Rock alum McBrayer and Triumph were teaming for the show, in which McBrayer plays the former child star of a popular Lassie-type series that ran in the ’80s and ’90s, whose life spiraled after the show was canceled. Fifteen years later, Jack has recovered, but Triumph finds his way back into Jack’s life.
Smigel said they went with Adult Swim because the programmer offered 20 episodes straight to series. “We knew we’d make lots of mistakes,” he said, and 20 episodes give them that luxury. Plus, he explained, “I think there’s going to be a learning curve for the audience too, not just us… You kind of have to go with it and discover what we’re doing as we do it, and hopefully enjoy the spontaneity that we’re slipping in there.” Each episode will feature a non-scripted remote segment featuring Triumph, often mocking celebrities, that his fans know and love.
One TV critic wondered if Smigel was worried Triumph would ever find himself “in a Charlie Hebdo situation.”
“I’ve done some terrible stuff on SNL with my cartoons, but I never wanted to hurt people’s feelings in a serious way with Triumph,” Smigel insisted. “I started as a parody of insult comics,” he said. “We do get in there and challenge people, and say harsh things,” he acknowledged, but said he mostly likes playing Triumph off of “people who are up for it,” adding, “I don’t think there is a heavy feeling of mean-spiritedness” and that people know they’re “watching something incredibly silly.”
(Demonstrating his point, Triumph kicked off the appearance at the Q&A going after TV critic Alan Sepinwall, after asking Sepinwall’s permission ahead of time. He poked fun at Sepinwall’s size, saying he’s now “on a strict diet of Matt Weiner’s asshole,” after which he broke it to TV critics in the hall that sitting on a couch watching television 10 hours a day is not a career, “it’s a symptom of bipolar depressive disorder.”)
On the other hand, Smigel boasted Triumph has been tossed out of Westminster Kennel Club dog show more than once, tossed from both political conventions, and banned from a Twilight premiere. Triumph’s most difficult assignment, however, was the Michael Jackson trial, where fans of the pop star had lined up for days to show support. Those true believers scuttled Triumph’s first day of remotes by shouting “Fuck! Fuck!’ to render all the audio unusable. Triumph and crew went back another day, this time offering suntan lotion and lemonade to the Jackson super-fans, “and we wore down enough of them to get interviews.”