Robert Smigel is the voice -- and brains -- behind Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, the butt-sniffing puppet that skewers everyone from Tony nominees to 'Star Wars' fans. He's also a longtime writer for 'Saturday Night Live' and Conan O'Brien, and a certified FOAS (Friend of Adam Sandler). He, Sandler and Judd Apatow co-wrote Sandler's latest, 'You Don't Mess With the Zohan,' and we caught up with the funnyman to talk about 'Zohan''s racy subplot, his many failed movie ideas and his dustup with Clay Aiken. -- By Angie Argabrite
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1. Who had the idea for 'You Don't Mess With the Zohan'?
Adam had the idea of this kickass Israeli commando whose dream is to be a hairstylist. And then when he becomes one, he still has the Charles Bronson moments where he kicks a guy in the face or whatever. I brought in the idea that he's sexually aggressive and casually goes after any woman he encounters ... It's funny to read critics guessing. Some assume it's Judd [Apatow] because he's had some ... funny, dirty stuff. And in his last few movies, he's pushed it pretty far. But ... this was my responsibility, credit, blame. Take your pick.
2. The movie is pretty outrageous. Were there things that you guys came up with that were too much even for you to put in the movie?
Yes. That's a good segue into the unrated DVD, where you'll see more graphic sex, and you'll see a streaker. You'll see a little more Lainie Kazan ... [though] I think you see plenty [of her in the movie]. And... some funny outtakes with Chris Rock. He did some inappropriate improvising that was a lot of fun. So we have that. And I'm just trying to think. More hot women. Sure, I don't know what to say. People like hot women.
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3. Why do you think people will see 'Zohan'?
They'll go for the stuffed crotches, they'll stay for the ... hummus.
4. Is 'Zohan' your first official film-writing credit?
Yeah [laughs]. I've run into bad luck with writing for specific talent that then was unavailable or lost interest. The first one I ever worked on, [Arnold] Schwarzenegger called Dana Carvey and wanted to do a Hans and Franz movie, which I thought was a terrible idea. But then I thought if we made it a musical that would be funny and different. So we wrote this whole thing and then 'Last Action Hero' bomb[ed] as we were submitting the script, and Arnold was just like, "I can never play myself in the movie again. That's my rule. I made a mistake."
5. What is an out-there concept you've had for a movie?
One was about an animal theme park where Sandler and Chris Farley were carnies who ended up working at a Disney kind of animal theme park. And then the animals were severely overtrained, almost to the point where they're doing slave labor in the underground tunnels ... I pictured animals working in sweatshops, making all the clothes, making all the merchandise. They have like a 'Norma Rae' kind of revolt. You can imagine how excited the studios were. A $90 million movie about animals. Farley backed out of that one.
6. Do any of your movie ideas involve Triumph?
I pitched one to Tom Hanks' partner ... The premise was that all the goodwill and all the good movies that [Tom Hanks] made were part of a plan to ... be able to get this 'Turner & Hooch' sequel done. He says, "It's finally time," to his wife Rita [Wilson] and then there's a montage of him pitching the idea ... and everybody rejects him ... and Tom ha[s] temper tantrums then sadly go[es] to his subbasement where the original Hooch is cryogenically preserved. And somehow a studio agrees to it because they actually want Triumph to play Hooch.
7. Was there a Triumph movie that got off the ground?
We shot the beginning of a Triumph movie in 2004 because I wanted to cover the election. We didn't start till the Democratic National Convention. I think I got thrown out of the DNC like three times that week. One time ... Michael Moore happened to come just at the moment I was getting thrown out. He said, "He's with me." He walked me into an interview that he was about to have with Bill O'Reilly. I had this exchange with Bill O'Reilly. But the [film backers] panicked; the whole thing went under. So somewhere there's crazy footage of Triumph at this convention ...
8. Triumph goes after Bob Barker on his album, and Adam had a fight with him in 'Happy Gilmore' ...
That's one of the funniest scenes I've ever seen in a comedy ... Adam and Bob Barker. [Barker] did prevail ultimately. But Adam got a few licks in. Considering it was Bob Barker, I think Adam fared pretty well. Because Bob Barker is formidable. Adam's lucky he didn't get spayed and neutered.
9. Triumph is very anti-neutering, but you worked with PETA, right?
We put a band-aid on [Triumph's] crotch. And we suggested slogans. I wanted "Chop them off. They never tasted that good anyway." But another one I suggested was "Get neutered. It didn't hurt Clay Aiken." And [PETA] loved that; I was like, "I like the other one better, but fine, we'll do that." So they did a press release, "PETA takes special satisfaction in Triumph's target because Clay Aiken recently said in Rolling Stone that he wanted to kill a cat." They took his quote out of context, and ... they attached it to my ad, and I told them, "You can't do this."