Robert Smigel is an American actor, comedian, puppeteer and writer, who gained public interest for his work featuring cartoons on “Saturday Night Live” (SNL), and as the voice and puppeteer behind the character of “Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.”

Early Life and Family

Robert Smigel was born on 7 February 1960, in New York City USA, to parents Irwin and Lucia Smigel. He and his only sister, Bellanca Smigel Rutter, were raised in a Jewish household, and were oftentimes sent to Jewish summer camps.

His father was an American aesthetic dental surgeon, called the “Father of Aesthetic Dentistry”, and a philanthropist – Dr. Smigel was the founder of the American Society for Dental Aesthetics in 1977, and served as its president until the day he died in 2016. His father launched and developed oral hygiene products including the first whitening and brightening toothpaste, “Supersmile.” It started as word of mouth, and then became a hot commodity when it was featured in various publications. Today, his mother along with his sister, Bellanca, continues to manage and distribute the oral hygiene care premium products his father created.

Education

Robert went to Cornell University, taking up a Pre-Dental course with the intention of following in his father’s footsteps. However, he ended up graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from New York University in 1983.

Career

Even in college, he was already into comedic sketches, and underwent training for comedic improvisation techniques with known improv pioneer Josephine Forsberg of The Players Workshop in Chicago.  He also joined a Chicago comedy troupe in the early 1980’s to hone his talents.

Robert Smigel

First Steps

Robert began writing for television in 1985, when he was asked to join the writing team of SNL, an American nightly live comedy TV show – SNL Producers Al Franken and Tom Davis were impressed with Robert when he performed in a show in Chicago. It was a disappointing season and Lorne Michaels, the executive producer, reorganized the show, firing almost everyone including some of the cast and writers. Robert was retained, and took this opportunity to show his writing skills. One of his most notable comedy sketches was when William Shatner as Captain Kirk told all his loyal fans in a convention to “get a life.” Robert would also sometimes appear as a recurring character in “Bill Swerski’s Superfans” comedy sketch.

During a writer’s strike in the following season of SNL, he wrote for an improvisational comedy show called “Happy Happy Good Show” in Chicago, along with Conan O’Brien and Bob Odenkirk. He again worked with Conan and co-wrote another potential comedy show, “Lookwell,” for NBC, but it was never picked up; it was only seen by the public when it was shown on a TV show featuring unaired pilots.

Further Success

When Conan O’Brien launched his own TV show, “Late Night with Conan,” in 1993, Robert was hired as the first head writer of the show.

He collaborated with Conan on some of his memorable comedy sketches on late night TV. Robert also used Syncro-Vox, a new cost-saving technique in which they would just super-imposed his lips on the photos of actual people when doing the monologues.

Three years later, Dana Carvey launched his own TV show on ABC, and Robert took part in it, and although it didn’t last long, the good thing was that Robert was able to debut his first cartoon, “The Ambiguously Gay Duo,” which he later said was never planned but just one of those impulsive acts he did for “The Dana Carvey Show.”

His career creating cartoons thrived, especially when he created “TV Funhouse,” a short animated segment that was shown on SNL, one of the favorite parts with the viewing public, which loved the funny satire of known public figures, as well as pop culture in general. He became the longest‑running writer for the show, contributing comedy sketches from 1985 to 2013. This cartoon segment gave birth to an idea for a TV show on Comedy Central. This time instead of just cartoons, puppets were also used in the comedy sketches.

Out of all the characters that Robert created, the most popular is “Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.”

Robert Smigel visits AOL Hq for Build on March 1, 2016 in New York. Photos by Gino DePinto, AOL

Posted by BUILD Series on Wednesday, March 2, 2016

It is a cigar-puffing Rottweiler that would mock and insult celebrities and public figures. The character debuted in “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” in 1997, and made a string of guest appearances including in “American Idol” during its Honolulu auditions, and several presidential campaigns on TV, in which he would be pitted against other presidential candidates.

Robert also collaborated with SNL alumni Adam Sandler, in co-writing scripts in Adam’s movies including “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” in 2008, and lent his voice for a bulldog character in “Little Nicky.” Later on, he wrote and co-produced Adam’s “Hotel Transylvania” films, the first in 2012, and the second – “Hotel Transylvania 2” – in 2015, when he again lent his voice for the fake Dracula character.

In 2018, he co-wrote, directed and co-produced the movie “The Week Of,” with Adam Sandler, and Chris Rock and Steve Buscemi in the cast, released on Netflix.

Personal Life

Robert was married to Michelle Saks and had three children, with the eldest, son Daniel, diagnosed with autism. The couple is very active in supporting families with autism, and spreading awareness about the affliction. Robert created a fundraising telethon in support of autism education, and called it “Night of Too Many Stars.”  TV host-comedian Jon Stewart hosted the show, and they’ve held it every two or three years in New York City since 2003, when Robert was informed of his son’s condition.

Awards and Nominations

Robert has received numerous nominations from major award‑giving bodies, such as Emmy Awards and Writers Guild of America. He

  • won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program along with other writers of “Saturday Night Live” in 1989 and 2002.
  • won an Emmy for Outstanding Interactive Program for “Night of Too Many Stars” in 2013.
  • won Writer’s Guild of America for Best Comedy/Variety – (Including Talk) Series – Television for “Saturday Night Live” in 2007 and 2009.
  • won Writer’s Guild of America for Best Comedy/Variety – (Including Talk) Series – Television for “Late Night Show with Conan O’Brien” in 2007.

Appearance

Robert is 5ft 9ins (1.80m) tall. He is Caucasian with grayish black hair, sporting a grayish black beard, and has dark brown eyes.

Net worth

Sources estimated his net worth at around $3 million, as of May 2020.

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