Why Triumph the Insult Comic Dog Got Thrown Out of the Westminster Dog Show
Robert Smigel had never thought of taking Triumph the Insult Comic Dog on the road. But when Conan O’Brien writer Mike Sweeney came up with an idea to do a remote bit from the Westminster Dog Show, he knew the idea was gold. You know the comedy is good when your dog puppet nearly gets arrested.
Smigel and Triumph made multiple visits to the venerable canine competition, but Smigel went in without prepared jokes for the first one. “We just went in there to fuck around,” Smigel says on a recent Inside Conan podcast. “And it worked because it was so fresh and new.”
That first time around, Triumph was a relatively new character so he had the element of surprise on his side. Many of the dog owners and judges were “great sports,” excited at the idea of being on television. Others, of course, had their senses of humor challenged. On Triumph’s return visit to the show, “you really got into it with dog groomers,” says former head writer Jonathon Groff. “They really got bent out of shape.”
In Triumph’s inaugural appearance, the bit’s final “you’re out of here” scene (“I was thrown out really early,” says Smigel) was one of the first filmed. That meant Smigel had to improvise, with Triumph riffing on photographs of past contestants in the lobby. The made-up jokes worked great, but Triumph got tossed for his one pre-planned bit — a humping spree that violated both prize show dogs and frumpy judges alike. Turns out good-time grinding was frowned upon at the Westminster Dog Show.
But you can’t keep a good dog down. Triumph returned the following year, this time in disguise since he was canine non grata after the previous year’s violations. Smigel and Triumph also had the help of “devious” producer Jordan Schlansky, who snagged fake IDs for the Conan crew so they could sneak in and cause havoc a second time. The podcast roundtable agreed that Schlansky has been coasting on that accomplishment ever since.
Groff’s favorite Triumph moment also involves dogs, but not of the prize variety. The insult comic dog was leading a bus tour of famous Hollywood homes and made a stop at Ted Danson’s. “That might be the ultimate Triumph moment because he gets into a shouting match with these guard dogs and he's just cursing them,” Groff says. “The genius of Triumph, besides all the great jokes, is he interacts with real dogs. He just gets into it.”
“What I love about that is that Triumph’s pride is being compromised,” says Smigel. “He has this ego, and he’s told all these people that he’s going to get them into (Danson’s place). This guard dog is giving him shit and he gets so emotional.” (Check out the confrontation at the 5:20 mark.)
“That,” says Smigel, “is one of my favorite moments ever.”