Smigel was born to a Jewish family in New York City. His father is Dr. Irwin Smigel, DDS, "The Father of Cosmetic Dentistry", and the founder and president of the American Society for Dental Aesthetics. He attended and graduated from NYU.
Smigel began developing his comedic talent at The Players Workshop in Chicago, where he studied improvisation with Josephine Forsberg. Fellow students included Bob Odenkirk. Smigel was also a member of the Chicago comedy troupe "All You Can Eat" in the early 1980s.
Smigel first established himself as a writer on Saturday Night Live by joining the writing staff when Lorne Michaels returned as executive producer for the 1985-1986 season. Smigel was hired after then SNL producers Al Franken and Tom Davis saw Smigel in a Chicago sketch show. After the 1985-1986 season proved to be a disappointment with critics, in the ratings, and with Brandon Tartikoff (who was planning to have SNL cancelled by the last episode of season 11 due to its sliding ratings), Michaels fired most of the cast and writers, retained the cast and writers who were standouts during the otherwise dismal season (Smigel being one of them), and hired new ones for the 1986-1987 season. This is when Smigel began to write more memorable sketches, including one where host William Shatner urged worshipful attendees at a Star Trek convention to "get a life." Smigel rarely appeared on screen, although, he was credited as a feature player in the early 1990s and has played a recurring character in the Bill Swerski's Superfans sketches.
While on a writers' strike from Saturday Night Live following the 1987-88 season, Smigel wrote for an improvisational comedy revue in Chicago with fellow SNL writers Bob Odenkirk and Conan O'Brien called Happy Happy Good Show.
Smigel co-wrote Lookwell with Conan O'Brien for NBC. The pilot never went to series, but it has become a cult hit and has screened live at "The Other Network", a festival of un-aired TV pilots produced by Un-Cabaret, featuring live and taped intros by Smigel. Smigel later became the first head writer at Late Night with Conan O'Brien, where he created numerous successful comedy bits, including one where Smigel performed only the lips of public figures which were superimposed on photos of the actual people. (This technique was pioneered on the Clutch Cargo cartoon series as a cost-saving measure, and was known as Syncro-Vox.)
In 1996, Smigel wrote and performed on the short-lived Dana Carvey Show, a primetime sketch comedy programme on ABC. Despite its premature end, the show provided Smigel the opportunity to debut his first cartoon, The Ambiguously Gay Duo. Upon the show's cancellation, Smigel continued developing more cartoon ideas the following summer and would begin airing them on Saturday Night Live under the TV Funhouse banner. Smigel would later claim, "My whole career came out of the impulse to do cartoons on The Dana Carvey Show."
Smigel's most famous creation, however, would be the foul-mouthed puppet Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, who mercilessly mocks celebrities and others in the style of a Borscht Belt comedian. This character debuted on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in February 1997 and would continue to make appearances on the show, as well as others, for many years to come.
Smigel continues to establish himself on Saturday Night Live by producing infamous, provocative, short animated segments under the title TV Funhouse, which usually satirizes public figures and popular culture. It spawned a TV show on Comedy Central featuring a mix of puppets, animation, and short sketches, although only eight episodes were aired (during the winter of 2000-2001). Smigel occasionally appears in films (usually alongside SNL veterans such as Adam Sandler). According to interviews, Smigel helped punch up the scripts for Little Nicky and the Wedding Singer. Smigel acted alongside fellow SNL writer Bob Odenkirk in Wayne's World 2 as a nerd backstage at an Aerosmith concert. His contributions were uncredited.
No TV Funhouse segments were produced for the 2009-10 season of SNL, and his future with the show is unknown.
Currently Smigel is working on an animated sitcom for Fox called Animals. Fox has not made any official statement regarding the show. Additionally, Smigel played a gay mailman in the Adam Sandler film I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and Yari the Mechanic in the "Mister Softee" episode of "Curb You Enthusiasm".
Smigel, along with Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow, wrote the script for the film You Don't Mess with the Zohan. In the film he played Yosi, an Israeli electronics salesman. The film was released June 6, 2008. Smigel is also one of the executive producers of the film which is a first for him despite his frequent collaborations with Sandler.
Smigel has a child with autism and is active in raising money for New Jersey based autism services.
Recurring Characters on SNLEdit
- Carl Wollarski, from "Bill Swerski's Superfans"
- Hank Fielding, with "The Moron's Perspective" on Weekend Update
- One of the Hub's Gyros employees (aka the "You like-ah the Juice?" guys)
- Avi, the "Sabra's Price is Right" announcer
- Bighead, in "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" cartoons
- Alan Dershowitz (on SNL)
- Woody Allen (on SNL)
- Al Sharpton (on SNL TV funhouse cartoon)
- Al Franken (on SNL TV funhouse cartoon)
- William Ginsburg (on SNL TV funhouse cartoon)
- Don McLean (on SNL TV funhouse cartoon)
- Lorne Michaels (on SNL TV funhouse cartoon)
- Pat Robertson (on SNL TV funhouse cartoon)
- Michael Gross (on SNL TV funhouse cartoon)
- Thomas Mesereau (on SNL TV funhouse cartoon)
- Sinbad (on SNL TV funhouse cartoon)
- Bob Dole (on The Dana Carvey Show)
- Gene Shalit (on The Dana Carvey Show)
- Joel Siegel (on The Dana Carvey Show)
- Bob Ross (on The Dana Carvey Show)
- Rip Torn (on The Dana Carvey Show)
- Bill Walton (on The Dana Carvey Show)
- Richard Nixon (on The Dana Carvey Show)
- Sam Donaldson (on The Dana Carvey Show)
- Hussein of Jordan (on The Dana Carvey Show)
- Quentin Tarantino (on The Dana Carvey Show)
- Ringo Starr (on The Dana Carvey Show)
Recurring Characters on Late Night with Conan O'BrienEdit
- Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog
- "Clutch Cargo" celebrity interviews (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Don King, Bob Dole, etc.)
- One of the "Nicknames for Conan" guys (aka the "Conan the Barbarian" guys)
- One of the "Ameri-clan" guys (with Doug Dale, Louis CK and Dino Stamatopoulos)
- Voice of "The Late Night Emergency Guest" mannequin
- Gibberish Speaking Ronald Reagan on the Phone
- Ira, Conan's publicist