Triumph’s Election Special 2016
If you ever wanted to see a rousing political panel show including the Dell Dude, Chocolate Rain Guy, and Sanjaya from American Idol, this is about as close as you’re gonna get. Midway through Triumph’s Election Special, those footnote figures of yore share the stage, and are given equal footing, with professional guest commentators such as Ron Fournier and Professor Alan Dershowitz. At center, moderating this motley bunch, is Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, that resilient canine puppet birthed from the uber-eccentric Conan O’Brien universe in the 1990s and voiced by comedian/cartoonist Robert Smigel.
That a two-decade running gag predicated on a certain type of Catskills personality — one mostly dormant since the halcyon days of Don Rickles — could feel timeless is a magical feat. Whatever the sleight of hand employed, it works as Triumph’s Election Special is consistently crass and furiously funny. While much of the humor is rooted in now well-worn stereotypes of the endless election season — Christie is fat, Sanders is old, Trump is crazy, Cruz is creepy, O’Malley is… is… well, exactly — Smigel is lightning swift on his feet and a master of crowd work and takes the tropes in wild and imaginative directions — from training an admittedly game Mike Huckabee on matching barbs with Trump to a downright quaint exchange with a local Iowan who used a stall directly after Christie.
He’s also genius at reading the room, sensing levels of discomfort, and milking the awkwardness in between. The longest bit comes when he visits the University of New Hampshire, home of a handbook on bias-free language, to confront a group of woefully unprepared PC-touting students in the world’s most delicate, yet emotionally deadly, game of Scared Straight. He senses blood in the water after offering a very personal, brutal, and genuinely funny, example of “trigger words,” passes out name tags with phrases like “Renaissance Faire Groupie” and “Future Psycho Nanny” and launches into an extended riff culminating in a hilarious experiment on the dangers of weaselly language. Frankly, I tend to find jokes about PC lazy and an excuse for casual bigotry, but Smigel, through Triumph, finds the natural essence of truth in such humor.
Even the only semi-flaw in the endeavor, the show’s loose structure, adds to the unpredictability and nervous energy. In addition to Triumph’s travels — from visiting a Trump rally (with shockingly good-sport attendees) to stalking an elusive Cruz from diner to hall to field — TES2016 features funny, non-dog-puppet moments, including Tim Meadows giving his all spouting insanities like “I won’t even visit Washington if elected” to credulous restaurant patrons, and FoxNews-style attractive women fanning out with mics seeing just how big a whopper Republicans will buy (and they manage to pull in Rick Santorum, although Rand Paul sees through it).
While he can seem brusque and overbearing at times, like Michael Moore, Triumph’s greatest triumphs (sorry) draw from letting celebrities and regular souls reveal themselves. Triumph’s Election Special 2016 is both a Daily Show: Indescision-level font of political insight and a raucous, ribald barrel of laughs.
Watch it on Hulu.