There is a good reason for Jack McBrayer to have an executive producer credit on the new Adult Swim sitcom “The Jack & Triumph Show.”
“I go around apologizing to people after the fact,” explained the indomitably cheerful actor who also costars in the series. “It is a great deal of apologizing.”
Such is show business life when you play the sidekick to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, the puppet handled by comedy writer Robert Smigel. A stogie-chomping rubber canine whose guttural delivery sounds like an Eastern European Don Rickles on steroids, Triumph became an immediate favorite when he unloaded his unfiltered comedic assaults on guests who visited “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” in the late 1990s.
But Triumph started hitting for real comedy power when Smigel brought the act on location to comment on the Westminster Dog Show (where the puppet attempted to assault a poodle), or accost “Star Wars"-costumed fans lined up outside a Manhattan theater waiting to see “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones.” (“How do you explain this to your imaginary girlfriend?”)
Triumph’s insult-comic-dog-bites-man on the street bits are built into the throwback sitcom format of “Jack & Triumph,” which premieres Friday. Unlike the scripted portions of the show that are taped in front of a live audience on Manhattan’s West Side, McBrayer said he’s never quite sure how it’s going to go when he joins Smigel on remotes.
In one episode shot outside an Apple store in New Jersey, Triumph tries to get a place in an iPhone line by offering a hipster-looking Apple customer bribes of artisanal cheese, Arcade Fire concert tickets and a photo of public radio host Ira Glass.
“It hasn’t gotten to a point where I felt in danger,” McBrayer said. “The worst part for me is getting wind that we’re going to be asked to leave a location.”
When asked where that has happened, McBrayer replied, “Pick one.”
But Smigel notes that all civilians who get roasted on camera by Triumph are asked ahead of time and usually know what they are in for. “A lot of times I have a puppet in my right hand and a script with a list of jokes and a paw in my left,” he said. “It reminds people that none of that should be taken seriously.”
The sitcom premise has McBrayer playing a former child star who fell on hard times after co-starring with Triumph in a long-running TV family drama called “Triumph’s Boy.” The two are reunited after an estrangement, and many of the plots are built around Triumph trying to get them back into showbiz or coming up with get-rich-quick schemes. Many involve the help of B-list and C-list celebrity guest stars (Joey Fatone, Tony Little, Michael Winslow, Alan Thicke and Leonard Maltin) who play themselves.
Academy Award-nominated actress June Squibb is also in the cast as Jack’s former TV mom. “We didn’t think we could get her,” said Smigel. “Then her agent told us she’s a big Triumph fan.”
Triumph has endured as a comedy character because a little of his caustic humor goes a long way. Until the Adult Swim series, Smigel passed on Triumph offers that included hosting his own talk show, having a game show or starring in a theatrical film.
“Creatively, I didn’t want to turn into this dog,” said Smigel, who for years wrote the animated “TV Funhouse” segments on “Saturday Night Live” and performed and wrote for Conan O’Brien’s shows. (O’Brien is also an executive producer on “Jack & Triumph.”)
Smigel also made sure his career endeavors allowed him enough time to care for his teenage son, who has autism. He has used his industry contacts to book “Night of Too Many Stars,” a benefit to raise money for autism programs. The annual special airs March 8 on Comedy Central.
But Smigel saw immediate sitcom potential when he used the ever-innocent McBrayer in a Triumph remote for “Conan.” The mismatched pair visited the Wieners Circle, a Chicago hot dog stand known for its verbally abusive servers. The seven-hour shoot produced a raunchy but hilarious video that has been viewed more than 4.7 million times on YouTube.
It makes you wonder how McBrayer explains what he does to his family back in Georgia. According to the former “30 Rock” costar, it’s not a problem: “Nobody back home watches anything at 11:30.”
‘The Jack and Triumph Show’
Where: Cartoon Network (Adult Swim)
When: 11:30 p.m. Friday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)