Robert Smigel on Why He Was ‘Shocked’ by Triumph’s Donald Trump Focus Group (Listen)

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog
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One segment of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog’s recent “Summer Election Special” is getting a lot of traction virally — it’s a real-life focus group of supporters of Donald Trump reacting to outrageous, fake 30-second Trump campaign spots.

In one of the faux spots, Trump boasts of a plan to outfit Mexicans with shock collars to prevent them from crossing an invisible fence on the U.S.-Mexican border. Not only did the focus group seem to accept that the ad was really one under consideration by the Trump campaign, but one woman in the group suggested that perhaps a better idea would be to inoculate would-be illegal immigrants with a vaccine that would be like a tracking device.

The segment has generated more than 2.2 million views on YouTube.

“I was shocked, to be honest with you,” Robert Smigel, the man behind Triumph and creator of the puppet character, tells Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM. “All we were really hoping for is that they would believe that the ads were real. That was the goal, to fool them, and give the piece some added life by seeing people just react honestly to it, hopefully not condemn it.”

Smigel’s special — produced by Funny or Die and posted on Hulu — also includes Triumph’s visits to the Republican and Democratic conventions. Triumph is an equal opportunity insulter, and he gets the chilliest reaction from the Democratic Florida delegation, particularly after he wears a wig of loopy pasta and poses as former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Smigel also says that as astonishing as it was that the focus group apparently believed the ads were real, “I don’t believe that all of his supporters are raving lunatics.”

“I have also been to Trump rallies in Iowa and in fairness there are a lot of reasonable people out there who are really just responding to the freshness of Trump’s message, compared to the old boilerplate Republican lines about lowering taxes and stimulating the economy that way,” he says. “His whole message of reform really has resonated with sensible people in the Republican party.”

He says that the Triumph segments are also becoming part of the partisan fray. “Triumph has been so above the fray all these years, if you can call a gross dog puppet above anything. Now that I am covering politics in such depth, it is fascinating to me to see one side or the other embrace one of Triumph’s pieces and use it as almost propaganda.”

Triumph’s election special from earlier this year was recently nominated for an Emmy.

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“PopPolitics,” hosted by Ted Johnson, airs Thursdays at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.