Idea for hot dog comedy ‘The Jack and Triumph Show’ cooked up at Wieners Circle
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Many a drunken night has ended at The Wieners Circle.
Here’s something that got its start at Chicago’s surly hotdog stand: Adult Swim’s new comedy “The Jack and Triumph Show.”
Debuting at 10:30 p.m. Friday on the Adult Swim cable network, this irreverent spin on traditional sitcoms shot in front of a live studio audience stars Jack McBrayer (“30 Rock”) and the smack-talking puppet Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (“Conan”).
McBrayer plays Jack, the former star of a Lassie-type TV show, “Triumph’s Boy.” Like a lot of child actors, Jack hit rock bottom after his popular series ended. With the help of his TV mom (Academy Award nominee June Squibb, “Nebraska”), Jack cleaned up his act and said goodbye to the corrupting forces of show biz. Fifteen years later, his crude canine co-star has wormed his way back into Jack’s life, eager to relive their glory days of fame and debauchery.
“Jack and I are like Chris Christie’s legs in a coach seat: We can’t be separated,” Triumph declares in the pilot.
Triumph and McBrayer first teamed up in 2012, when late-night host Conan O’Brien brought his TBS series to Chicago. In a taped bit for the show, the famously polite McBrayer and the infamously rude Triumph braved the Lincoln Park eatery, where the shade-throwing hotdog sellers met their match in the cigar-chomping, foul-mouthed dog.
“That remote we did for ‘Conan’ made it a very easy pitch when we decided to try to make a show out of this,” said McBrayer, who cut his comedic teeth at Chicago’s Second City, iO and Annoyance Theatre before being cast as overly earnest NBC page Kenneth on “30 Rock.”
(With his trademark toothy grin, McBrayer smiled at the memory of that auspicious experience at Wieners Circle: “By the end of the night, with the dynamic of what was going on between the staff and the customers, I was more comfortable behind the counter with the rude staff than I was in that sea of rich white children.”)
‘THE JACK AND TRIUMPH SHOW’
Rating: [s3r star=3/4]
When: 10:30 p.m. Fridays
Where: Adult Swim
Sending the unlikely duo into the hotdog stand was the idea of Conan’s longtime collaborator Robert Smigel, a Chicago-trained comic who introduced the puppet he voices almost two decades ago on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”
“We just had so much fun playing off each other [in the Wieners Circle skit], that was the first time I even thought of doing a sitcom,” said Smigel, noting that it wasn’t difficult to pique networks’ interest.
“Everybody wanted to do a pilot; Adult Swim gave us a 20-episode guarantee,” he said. “That was irresistible because I knew that, on a show like this, it would be inevitable that we would make mistakes. It’s such a crazy experiment. It reminded me of when we started ‘Conan,’ and we just wanted to do everything [David] Letterman wasn’t doing. We tried so many different bits and we got savaged. But NBC gave us time and so it worked out.”
Set in Los Angeles but filmed in New York, “The Jack and Triumph Show” isn’t as much a parody of your typical multi-camera sitcom as it is a self-aware version of that familiar format — shaken up with a few unconventional twists.
Some of the show is unscripted, with guest stars like Chris Meloni (“Law & Order: SVU,” “True Blood”) having no idea what Triumph is about to bark at them.
Some of it takes place outside the studio, in the man-on-the-street-type skits that Triumph is well known for.
“In one of the episodes we call [Oprah’s Chicago-based] Harpo Productions because Triumph is desperately trying to get Jack on an apology tour,” Smigel said, noting that it was a live call to a real Harpo employee. “Jack needs an apology tour because Triumph tricked him into saying something racist and recorded it. He wants Jack to become famous in any manner possible.”
Speaking of fame, Smigel’s dad, Irwin, is a big deal in the dental world.
“My father developed tooth bonding,” Smigel said. “It’s always been weird that I’m the person in the family that gets attention. He’s way more important to dentistry than I’ll ever be to comedy.”
Smigel launched his comedy career in Chicago, where he moved from New York in the early ’80s to study improv at the now-shuttered Players Workshop. He went back to New York to take a job on “Saturday Night Live,” creating the show’s TV Funhouse animated shorts and playing one of Bill Swerski’s “Da Bears”-loving Super Fans, among other things.
“When I was hired for ‘SNL’ it was the most exciting thing ever, but I was so happy in Chicago I didn’t want to go,” said Smigel, whose idea for another TV comedy, like “The Jack and Triumph Show,” has roots in the city.
“I did a Bozo parody [pilot] in 1988 for Fox,” he said (clip below). “I played Bob Bell, the original Bozo. I still fantasize about doing a messed-up parody of Bozo that would be shot in Chicago.”