No more negotiations for “The Tonight Show’s” Conan O’Brien. With his payout set, and his last episode scheduled for Friday night, the host is ready to pack his late-night bags and say goodbye to NBC. But O’Brien won’t simply deliver a not-so-fond farewell to the suits he’s skewered in his monologues for the last two weeks. No, along with them, he leaves behind his faithful dog.
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Due to the unavoidable issue of network ownership, it seems O’Brien must bid adieu to all characters he showcased and helped create during his talk show tenure at NBC. That, of course, includes longtime fan favorite Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.
One part Don Rickles, one part cigar-chomping plastic pup, Triumph, as guided by comedy writer Robert Smigel, mastered the art of aiming gutter-style wit at admittedly easy targets. It’s a bit that began on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” in 1997 and continued with the puppet’s last “Tonight Show” appearance in 2010. In between, the bawdy hound brought some of the best moments to both shows and beyond.
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“Attack of the Clones” premiere
Though it was a bit like shooting socially awkward fish in a barrel, Triumph’s comedic assault on the costumed crowds awaiting their first glimpse of “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” marked a highpoint in the pooch’s repertoire. Whether he was quizzing a towering Darth Vader as to which one of his chest panel buttons “calls your parents to come pick you up?” or simply initiating a fight for uber-dork status between a Jedi-wannabe and a wandering “Nerd of the Rings” wizard, Triumph’s lightspeed zingers even amused his targets.
Triumph began investigating L.A.’s pampered pooch scene shortly after the cross-country trek from “Late Night” to “The Tonight Show.” That’s where he discovered D.O.G. boutique, or as the puppet put it, the place “where dog owners with too much money and too little shame spend lavishly on their child substitutes.” After browsing the perfumes, clothes, and even beers made for the dog who has everything, Triumph offered a couple of slogans for his own line of t-shirts, including, “I’m Chew-miliated to be dressed like this,” and the equally apt, “I emBOWassed for my owner.”
Jay Leno’s ‘Tonight Show’
In 2003, the insult comic carried his act to Jay Leno’s version of “The Tonight Show.” Sure, he lacked a bone to pick at the time, but somehow Triumph’s O’Brien-loyal Leno barbs could work just as well in today’s contentious late-night TV climate. Sitting in the top guest spot, Triumph began by asking Leno’s right hand man, Kevin Eubanks, to “save some of those fake laughs for me! I know you had a workout in that monologue.” Near the end of the act, he told the host, “I had a dream I was kissing you last night,” quickly adding, “I have to remember not to sleep with my head so close to my butt.” Rimshot!
Bon Jovi concert
Triumph’s next “for me to poop on” victims were such big fans, they actually invited him to make fun of them. New Jersey natives Bon Jovi requested the dog join them at the Meadowlands, where they were soon to perform for “80,000 people with 200 steady jobs.” Once he’d finished insulting the band’s music (“You’re going to amplify this crap!?”) and complimenting Jon Bon Jovi on his then-upcoming movie, “Vampires: Los Muertos,” (“That’s good — finally a role that requires you to suck”), Triumph took the stage and performed a very special edition of “You Give Poop a Bad Name.”
The annual Bonnaroo music festival featured 100 percent more Yugoslavian Mountain Hound in 2009. That’s when O’Brien sent Triumph on an assignment that mostly involved giving Phish fans and other noodling enthusiasts a hard time. After soaking up the scene, the dog quickly determined that “for many, Bonnaroo is a chance to have four days of peace, love and music to break up the other 361 days of unemployment.” Watch part 2 here.
“American Idol” auditions
Who could resist the chance to play the part of an impromptu Simon Cowell to Hawaii hopefuls awaiting “American Idol” auditions? Certainly not Triumph, who practically put the acerbic judge to shame with his own tell-it-like-it-is approach. “How did you learn that breath control?” Triumph asked one would-be singer. “How do you learn to sing and suck and the same time?” Unfortunately, not everyone found the Triumph’s humor to their liking — namely the Fox security team that later ejected him from the event. Watch part 2 here.
Continuing the tour of L.A.’s canine comforts, Triumph made his way to D Pet Hotels, a luxury alternative to the average kennel. He toured suites fit for human families, lounge rooms, and met a dog so precious “her poop must not touch the ground ... (It’s) like the American flag.” Before leaving the candlelit rooms and seemingly unused doggy treadmills behind, Triumph made up a sympathy card for dog owners using the facility. It simply read, “My deepest condolences on the loss of your priorities.” Watch part 2 here.
The Eminem feud
The 2002 Video Music Awards ended in an infamous feud between Triumph and Eminem. It all started when Triumph found himself in the path of the rap star and techno-rocker Moby, a pair with a history of bad blood. It wasn’t long before a serious Eminem shoved the pooch out of his way. A neck-braced Triumph later gave a news conference, claiming the incident left him unable to lick himself, even in the presence of Christina Aguilera. The feud came to a sudden end two years later, when Eminem impersonated Triumph for his track “Ass Like That,” and even guided the puppet himself for the accompanying video.
Triumph’s final visit to the puppy version of the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” ended at The Club, a doggy day spa offering scented bubble baths, puppy estheticians, a yoga instructor and a private chef. While one pup enjoyed a rubdown, Triumph checked the wall for the masseur’s credentials. “I see you’ve got the certificate over there,” he noted. “The certificate of course completion from the University of Fake Diplomas.” And that punch line was practically kind compared to his query for the shop’s owner. “What’s it like coming in here in the morning and thinking, ‘I’m the reason Al Qaeda hates us?’” he asked without even softening the statement with his signature, “I kid. I kid.”
During Conan’s weeklong broadcast from Canada in 2004, Triumph traveled to Quebec and, despite the language barrier, found a way to insult everyone he met. If the citizens weren’t offended by his greeting (“You’re French and Canadian? So you’re obnoxious and dull.”), they likely were by his follow-up questions (“Does your national healthcare cover personality transplants?”). As if in an effort to ensure he’d never be invited back again, Triumph even translated the French street signs to English. Of course, when “Rue Saint-Flavien” became “Celine Dion Sucks Street,” it became clear accuracy wasn’t a priority.
Ree Hines is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com.
Ree Hines is a regular contributor to msnbc.com.
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