If you don’t know who Triumph the Insult Comic Dog is, not to worry. Most of the hilariously offensive, cigar-smoking puppet’s original segments from the Late Night with Conan O’Brien have been uploaded to YouTube for all to see. These are great for a quick refresher, but not really necessary for watching the character’s new joint venture with Hulu and Funny or Die, Triumph’s Election Special 2016. The 85-minute media and political satire premiered Monday on Hulu, and while many of its bits have been previewed officially (and otherwise) around the web, it packs plenty of new material to keep fans of writer and comedian Robert Smigel’s creation entertained.
Yet longtime fans of and newcomers to Triumph will feel the same feeling as soon as he delivers his first joke 20 seconds in — confusion. That’s because, unlike the character’s usual appearances on Conan, Triumph’s Election Special 2016 is all about him. These aren’t separate vignettes meant for another late night talk show or comedy program. So, why are people clapping? Is that canned laughter, or a “live” studio audience? And if it’s the latter, are they simply sitting in a physical studio watching clip after clip? Being that the special begins with a remote from the New Hampshire First in the Nation Town Hall, it’s difficult to decipher what the format — if any — will be.
At least until the three-and-a-half-minute opener concludes, then transitions via a Daily Show-inspired intro to Triumph sitting behind (and Smigel squatting under) a large desk. Fair Warning, “Chicago’s leading Van Halen cover band,” provides an infrequent post-joke rim shot while presumably entertaining the crowd between takes. (The group also features prominently in a Donald Trump-themed bit later on in the show.) Meanwhile, the audience cheers from the stands before the stage. Considering the evidence presented to the viewers at home, Triumph’s Election Special 2016 looks, acts and poops like any other mashup of a talk show and a news magazine program. Much like those genres’ extant Comedy Central parodies — The Daily Show and The Nightly Show — it cobbles together field reports about the election and related stories, connects these with Triumph’s behind-the-desk machinations, and even throws in a panel discussion for good measure.