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Robert Smigel's 'Toons: 'SNL's' Secret Weapon

By Greg Braxton

You may not have immediately noticed if you tuned into "Saturday Night Live" last week. But television history was made.

At least Robert Smigel -- in his own mischievous way--thinks so.

The "milestone" came during "Oscar's Greatest Moments," the latest in Smigel's animated "TV Funhouse" segments, which include the suggestive humor of "The Ambiguously Gay Duo," a pair of male superheroes who bond a bit too much as far as their enemies are concerned, and "X-Presidents," featuring the crime-fighting adventures of Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George Bush.

In "Oscar's Greatest Moments," legendary producer Walter Mirsch, a recipient of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, is attacked by a small white cat who turns vicious. While the speech (Mirsch's comments from the actual 1977 Oscar ceremony when he was honored) continues without a hitch, Mirsch battles the kitty, who during the course of the conflict throws up, urinates and slashes off the head of a dog who comes to Mirsch's defense.

As Smigel, 39, was overseeing the final touches of the cartoon, it suddenly seemed to dawn on him what he had conceived.

"Wow, blood, urine and vomit all in one swipe," quipped Smigel. "I seem to have reached the royal triumvirate in three minutes. That's probably a first. Maybe not. There may have been an episode of 'Here's Lucy.' . . . "

With the new boom in prime-time animation, Smigel is hoping to branch out from his periodic "SNL" gig. At the moment, his future hangs on a new pilot, blending live action and animation, that he's developed for Fox, "Robert Smigel's TV Funhouse."

The "adults only" comedy, which Smigel is targeting for late-night, makes fun of the kiddie show genre, and would star Smigel as the voice of Prozo, a clown with an attitude. Fox has yet to decide whether to turn it into a series.

To be sure, few of Smigel's cartoons, which he creates with animator J.J. Sedelmaier, are as graphic or overrun with bodily fluids as "Oscar's Greatest Moments." He's more likely to have wicked fun tweaking interviews, speeches and sound bites in his "Fun With Real Audio" shorts, in which President Clinton, Barbara Walters, Larry King and others are ridiculed, and satirizing other figures such as Michael Jackson.

Despite his boyish demeanor and soft-spoken nature, Smigel is behind some of the loudest and most outrageous comedy in late-night television. In addition to his "TV Funhouse" menagerie, Smigel is the force--or rather the lips and voice--behind the "Clutch Cargo"-style interviews on NBC's "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," in which O'Brien conducts "interviews" with portraits of Clinton, Monica Lewinsky or Don King. He is also the notorious sock puppet "Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog."

"I have a real nice balance in my life," said Smigel. "I can work out of my home and write the cartoons, but cartooning is so anal retentive. Every detail is important. Then I can go on 'Conan' and scream my [expletive] off."

His humor ranges from the downright silly to the relevant. "Ambiguously Gay Duo" is his swipe at homophobia. "X-Presidents" is just good clean, political fun, particularly at the end of the segments in which the former presidents start singing a la "The Archies." One cartoon about Michael Jackson was done in the manner of a vintage Hanna-Barbera cartoon, with Jackson going through bug-eyed facial contortions when he saw a young boy. "Triumph," who verbally bites celebrities such as Tom Arnold and John Tesh, is the "ultimate pinnacle of stupidity."

"Generally I'm a moron who just wants to make people laugh," Smigel said. "But there are those times when there are points I'm trying to make."

Source: LA Times


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