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Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 05/15/2009

The Interview: 'SNL' Writer/Animator Robert Smigel

By Michael Cavna

Robert Smigel: The man behind "Ambiguously Gay Duo" and "X-Presidents." (Gino Domenico/AP File Photo)

Tomorrow night, "SNL" wraps an especially stellar season -- from Tina Fey's Sarah Palin to Justin Timberlake's charismatic hosting -- and Sunday night, NBC will air a two-hour special of "Saturday Night Live" short films, hosted by the talented Andy Samberg). One of Comic Riffs' favorite contributors ever, though, remains largely unseen after a quarter-century with the show. That would be the satirically brilliant ROBERT SMIGEL, who creates the show's animated "TV Funhouse."

Smigel, one of the longest-serving members of "SNL" ever -- he joined the show as a writer in 1985 -- has co-written Adam Sandler films (most recently, "You Don't Mess With the Zohan") and created Triumph the Insult Comic Dog while a writer/producer with Conan O'Brien, among numerous other projects. But for us, the centerpiece of Smigel's Emmy-winning legacy will always be "TV Funhouse," Comic Riffs recently caught up with Smigel to talk life at "SNL."

MICHAEL CAVNA: So which "SNL" film shorts -- either your own or those by other people -- are your favorites from over the years?

ROBERT SMIGEL: Well, "[**Body Part**] in a Box" -- that's my favorite digital short. I have many favorite digital shorts, but that's my absolute favorite because they [Samberg and his The Lonely Island co-creators Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone] took a move to comedy that had been attempted [but not gone viral]: the juxtaposing of a love song and a specific dirty behavior. I had done it a few times, even with Triumph. ... But that short blew everything we did away. It had an extra layer of male ego, and it was creative. When something that dirty is so incredibly creative and sophisticated at the same time. that's great. So that's in my top five.

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, here during an appearance on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien." (Courtesy of NBC)

MC: So what else cracks your Top-5?

RS: Definitely "Lazy Sunday" [featuring Samberg and Chris Parnell]. That video put YouTube on the map. That was during a down time for "SNL" and those guys [The Lonely Island] came along. The show's cultural relevance really hasn't died down since. Those guys continue to make great shorts on the show. I think it had a huge impact on "SNL." Plus, the Internet allows viewers to focus on the shorts and showcases the great stuff and it gets out there. It gives the show a good vibe.

MC: Anything pre-YouTube make your list? Like the Synchronized Swimming bit with Martin Short and Harry Shearer, perhaps?

RS: I'd say the Martin Short lawyer character: Nathan Thurm. It's one of the best character pieces ever on the show. It wouldn't have worked live -- the tight close-ups and stark quiet and pauses. It is the best performance in the show's history, by Martin. Beautiful execution.

MC: What else makes the cut?
RS: Something by Tom Schiller. I loved everything he did. I hope he'll be well-represented -- like something with Chris Farley. In the "Best of Chris Farley," I [as a producer] included a short [Schillervisions Hidden Camera] in which coffee crystals are switched -- about a guy who is so angry about being fooled. Farley gave one of the best performances I've ever seen -- one of the funniest things I've ever seen on the show. The sudden rage on Farley's face. Magnificent.

Also, Gary Weiss did a lot of great stuff. One film called "Misty," about piano-bar cliches. There was the Rich Hall [supermarket] film. And obviously, Albert Brooks. ... And then there's Mr. Bill, which started it all. He was one of the show's first real stars -- one of the first "faces" of "SNL."

By Michael Cavna  | May 15, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists, The Animation  
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"D**k in a box" was funny, but now every short that Samberg writes sounds like "D**k in a box" with different words.

Posted by: tomtildrum | May 15, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Take a look at The Buckets cartoons for this week. Go to Now there's a get strip.

Posted by: oldgal49er | May 17, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

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