Robert Smigel Shines as Schwarzenegger in ‘Hans and Franz’ Movie That Never Was
Back in the days when Wayne’s World turned into an unexpected comedy blockbuster, Lorne Michaels ordered up a bunch of screenplays to capitalize on the Saturday-Night-Live-to-cinema success story. Hans and Franz, the body-building cousins of Arnold Schwarzenegger, seem like unlikely big-screen stars, a one-joke premise that ran its catchphrase (“We’re going to pump — clap — you up!”) into the ground over 21 steroid-juiced appearances. But a crazy amount of comedy talent — Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon, Conan O’Brien and Robert (Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog) Smigel — collaborated on a screenplay that almost got made into a feature film. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the reason the movie almost got the greenlight — and definitely the reason it did not.
Give Schwarzenegger credit: He had a great sense of humor about a sketch that was essentially making fun of him. Though he’s somehow never hosted SNL, he cameoed in two Hans and Franz sketches, including this one where he enlisted his boneheaded relatives to aid his presidential physical fitness campaign.
When the Austrian strongman expressed interest in a feature film as well, Carvey, Nealon, O’Brien and Smigel came up with Hans and Franz: The Girlyman Dilemma, a musical (!) comedy that not only featured a Schwarzenegger scene or two but placed him in nearly every scene. When another self-parody film, The Last Action Hero, tanked at the box office, Schwarzenegger changed his mind about future self-deprecation, leaving a Hans and Franz movie without one of its main characters.
Until now! O’Brien recently invited Carvey, Nealon and Smigel to appear on four episodes of the Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend podcast where the old SNL pals would act out the never-produced screenplay. Who knows how the page would have translated to the screen, but the script is batshit-crazy, full of 1990s-specific celebrity cameos, insane special effects that might not have been possible (Arnold flexes his pecs so rapidly that they propel him into the air like a helicopter) and ludicrous locations. (Hans and Franz live in the Little Austria borough of New York; Schwarzenegger has a bodybuilding fortress featuring flexed arms as security gates and staircases made of welded-together Stairmasters.)
While Carvey and Nealon are predictably funny as Hans and Franz, the real star of the table read is Smigel, crushing everyone in his path as a comically exaggerated Schwarzenegger. It’s not Smigel’s first crack at the character — he often provided the Clutch Cargo-lips and heavy accent on Conan’s show back in the day. On the new podcast, Smigel reveals that he created Arnold’s tooth gap with a sliver of black electrical tape that would invariably fall off before the bit ended.
Call me crazy, but I believe Schwarzenegger made the wrong choice in opting for Last Action Hero over Hans and Franz: The Girlyman Dilemma. Or maybe it was Hollywood that made the wrong choice — if Arnold backed out, then studios should have opted for Smigel, hilarious as the global superstar devoted to physical fitness and his stupid cousins. No one gets more laughs around a table populated by professional funny men than Smigel, who has his co-stars in stitches every time he puts words in Arnold’s muscled mouth.
Would it have taken some Terminator 2-level special effects to sculpt Smigel into a strongman? Without a doubt. But for comedy’s sake, we would have loved to see Hans and Franz pump — clap! — Smigel up.