When I decided to wait outside the Ziegfeld Theater in May 2002 for Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, I hoped to be part of history. That happened—but it wasn’t how I expected.
You see, that was when Late Night with Conan O’Brien show sent Robert Smigel’s ultra popular creation Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to make fun of Star Wars fans in a skit that has since become legendary. And I watched the whole thing unfold in person. You can watch it above, if you’ve never seen it.
For me, I’d hoped Star Wars history would be made by being among the first to see George Lucas’ latest movie, a moment I’d been eagerly anticipating for years. But no. History hasn’t been kind to Attack of the Clones, but it has been exceedingly kind to Triumph’s skit, for good reason. It’s absolutely hilarious.
“It’s still the Triumph sketch I hear the most about and I’d say it’s still the best,” Smigel told io9. “The simplest explanation is that it features the funniest straight men Triumph’s ever encountered. So you’re laughing not only at the jokes but the faces, the costumes and committment. There’s so much to enjoy.”
Every few weeks, someone will tweet a link to the skit—as a reminder of not just how funny Triumph is, but of how idiotic Star Wars fans can be. Sometimes I’ll chime in and say “I’m in that video.” Other times, I’ll just say something like, “You don’t know the half of what happened.” And in all that time, over 13 years now, I’ve never written about it. Until today.
Honestly, I don’t have any kind of big smoking gun reveal. But, the fact of the matter is, the whole skit was heavily choreographed. Shocker, I know. A TV show used rehearsed jokes and staged events to make something funny. That’s like saying, “You know, Luke Skywalker wasn’t a real person, right? He was an actor and there were cameras around him on something called a set.” Yes, it’s obvious. No matter. It was a crazy experience to be a part of.
First thing to remember about the Triumph skit is, Robert Smigel and his crew were at the theater shooting over the course of two days. This wasn’t some kind of spontaneous thing. Not everything in the skit happened in the few hours leading up to the premiere. They shot a lot of footage over those two days. “We always write some jokes in advance, then show up and use a bunch and improvise some as well,” he said.
Another thing that’s lost on some people is that everyone there was in on it. After all, we were nerds camping on a sidewalk to see a Star Wars movie. We were very much aware of who Conan O’Brien was, and what Triumph was all about. Everyone there was a fan and if you watch the video, people are hunched over laughing in the background in basically every shot. We were glad to let him mock us. In fact, we helped.
“The Star Wars remote was probably the most fun I’ve ever had doing Triumph,” Smigel said. “Yes, the people on line were suitably nerdy, and, as a consequence, there was a happy overlap with fans of late night comedy and Conan in particular. So they were great sports, and, for the first time, we actually had people crowding around Triumph hoping to get called on.”
Case in point, the producers said they needed a few people to sit down and play Star Wars themed board games. I jumped at the chance and sat down opposite someone I didn’t know. In front of me was a Stratego board, a game I’d never played, and still haven’t. I let them know I hadn’t played the game before, but they said it didn’t matter. Just fake it, move the pieces. So I did.
“We never try and manipulate reality,” Smigel insisted. “If someone was asked to play a game, I imagine it was a game they already had on hand and would’ve played at some point in the day.”
You see some of that at 1:04 in the video (as well as the still above). That’s me in the black striped Adidas pants, terribly pretending to play Stratego. Triumph actually did come up and make fun of me, but the footage didn’t make the final cut. However, a few of the jokes he used on me were recycled with other people and did make the final cut. The one that stands out is “Which ever one of you wins is the uber dork.”
You next see me at 3:38, in probably one of the most iconic scenes in the skit. Triumph asks a pregnant fan about her baby. He then says when the baby is born, it’ll be the last time he sees female genitalia. I’m sitting right beside her (again, a still is above) and I remember laughing so hard, I cried. You can also notice, she’s in the Risk seat but is obviously not playing Risk.
But maybe the craziest thing that happened while I was there was when they asked a bunch of people to line up to do some trivia questions. (Seen about 9 minutes into the video). A bunch of people ran up to do it, and I didn’t get there in time. So I watched from the sidelines.
In the middle of the crowd was a young man who looked exactly like Jude Law. Meaning, he looked like he would be more comfortable on a runway than a Star Wars line. But he’d been there for several days and was a huge fan. (He may have even flown in from Australia, if memory serves.) Anyway, the producers looked at him and asked him to get out of the shot. When he asked why, they were incredibly honest. “You’re too good-looking,” they said. And that’s when it hit me how specific the vision for this whole skit really was.
To be fair, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that some things in the skit that seem staged absolutely were not. I wasn’t there for the wedding, or the Gandalf cosplayer—but the live reenactment of the movie? That happened organically. I remember thinking it was pretty cool in the moment but, in retrospect, it was not. Actually, I find it hard to watch now, it’s so embarrassing.
But I’m not embarrassed about the experience as a whole. At the time, it was a bit weird to see myself on TV and on the Internet. I loved Star Wars, but I’d never put myself out there like this. Now though, I’m so glad I did it. I don’t have a ton of memories from actually watching that movie, but I have fond memories of lining up, thanks in large part to Triumph’s nerd evisceration.
I can’t speak for Blackwolf the Dragon Master or some of the other stars of the video, but as someone who was literally on the periphery of the whole experience, I’m incredibly glad that Triumph decided to make fun of us. It immortalized a moment in my life.
Here are some outtakes you may not have seen before.
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