With its unknown host and unorthodox approach to comedy, NBC’s then-new Late Night With Conan O’Brien might have been in constant danger of cancellation when it debuted in 1993. But at least it had one of the most formidable writing rooms in all of television, including Bob Odenkirk, Dino “Starburns” Stamatopoulos, and a couple of up-and-comers named Louis CK and Robert Smigel. Through the character of Triumph The Insult Comic Dog and numerous Syncro-Vox-style interviews (with his lips superimposed over the faces of celebrities), Smigel would frequently take part in on-air pieces at Late Night over the years, essentially becoming part of the cast. But a vintage clip of the show that has recently resurfaced on YouTube captures a rare instance when both Smigel and a beardless CK appeared in tandem on the panel, surrounded by adorable dogs. The premise is that the two writers are portraying dog experts who have penned a book called What I’m Telling You about how canines communicate. With their various barks, growls, and gestures, dogs are trying to send messages to their human overlords, these men say. Also, if dogs could talk, they would do so in ridiculously accented pidgin English.
The bit is essentially an excuse for Smigel to do the vaguely Eastern European “dog voice” he uses for Triumph, just in a slightly different setting. But the piece requires CK to perform the voice, too, and he does so enthusiastically and without embarrassment. O’Brien attempts the voice at one point, too, but Smigel shuts him down: “That’s not how a cocker spaniel sounds.” Smigel’s buddy and frequent costar, Adam Sandler, then midway through his stint on Saturday Night Live, also shows up for a few seconds to do the silly voice. That’s how it goes. The piece isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it’s a great opportunity to see two rising stars of comedy at a formative stage in their respective careers. O’Brien and CK later revisited those early, shaky days of Late Night during a segment on Conan that’s well worth watching for comedy historians.