Smigel’s ‘TV Funhouse’ animates ‘SNL’ showcase

Times Staff Writer

Robert Smigel’s animated “TV Funhouse” segments get the best-of treatment this weekend on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” in an episode hosted by Smigel’s “Ambiguously Gay Duo.”

They’re a crime-fighting cartoon superhero team -- voiced by Stephen Colbert and Steve Carrell -- keeping America safe for everybody and homoerotic for themselves.

For years now, Smigel has operated as the unseen auteur of many a down-and-dirty (and exceedingly funny) late-night sketch. On “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” he came up with, among others, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, a cigar-chomping, foul-mouthed hand puppet of Borscht Belt descent.

“TV Funhouse,” in which Smigel is the puppet master of such cartoons as “Saddam and Osama” (on the Abu Dhabi Kids Network), has been part of “SNL,” airing in the back half of the show, since 1996; a more expansive version had a brief run on Comedy Central.

Saturday’s 90 minutes is a compendium of Smigel’s work, some of it a tad dated already but with the rawness intact.


Smigel uses treasured animation models such as Disney and Hanna-Barbera to lampoon the innocence of bygone Saturday mornings via pop culture broadsides. Stylistically, it’s a more direct hit on the Old Guard than “South Park,” but as “South Park” and “The Simpsons” have long proved, you can cut pretty close to the sociological bone behind the protective glass of the animated figure.

In “Saddam and Osama,” the two elude the infidels by morphing into a bag of pork rinds and the car from “The Dukes of Hazzard,” while in the Oval Office, Vice President Cheney, gorging on a pig, assures President Bush: “All is well, sir. Soon we will rename Iraq East Dakota.”

“Too many words,” says the president, drawn as a monkey. “No understand.”

That the entire cartoon is voiced in Arabic gives it an extra twist of the knife. In his comedy, Smigel’s anger is resonant; he reimagines the seasonal Clay-mation classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” as “The Narrator That Ruined Christmas,” the Burl Ives character stopping midintroduction to say he can’t care anymore about an abominable snowman.

Similarly, Smigel’s Mickey Mouse turns out to be a Walt Disney apologist giving two kids a tour of the vault, whereupon they unwittingly discover what Mickey calls “the very original” version of “Song of the South” that Disney “only played at parties.”

The version is, of course, unspeakably racist; Smigel’s is the kind of subversive comedy that tends to elicit a simultaneous combination of laughter and groaning (buggery, to that end, is a favorite theme). But usually it’s the powers that be in his sights, even when they look like Bambi.


‘Saturday Night Live: The Best of Saturday TV Funhouse’

Where: NBC

When: 11:30 p.m. Saturday

Rating: TV-14 LSD (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14 with advisories for coarse language, suggestive dialogue and sex)