Over the last three decades, Robert Smigel has seemingly held every kind of job—and often the most coveted titles—in comedy. A former writer and producer for Saturday Night Live, Late Night With Conan O’Brien and The Dana Carvey Show, Smigel—an actor who frequently appears as minor but memorable characters in Adam Sandler’s movies—created the animated series TV Funhouse and the trash-talking puppet Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. But his latest project, the Netflix comedy The Week Of, which he co-wrote with longtime friend and producing partner Sandler, adds an entirely new credit to his already exhaustive resume: director of a feature film.
An unlikely pitch from Sandler eventually made Smigel reconsider. “He said, ‘I’d like the movie to feel more verité—you know, more naturalistic,’” says Smigel, who acknowledges that Sandler’s cartoonishly slapstick, occasionally offensive comedies like Jack and Jill and You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (Smigel shares writing credits on both) might be considered the exact opposite of cinéma verité. “Any time I use these highfalutin words next to Adam, I just imagine people thinking of Adam saying it in his goofy voice,” says Smigel, doing his best impression of Sandler in Little Nicky. “But he’s actually, you know, a student of film and loves all kinds of movies.”
Any time I use these highfalutin words next to Adam [Sandler], I just imagine people thinking of Adam saying it in his goofy voice.
In an attempt to replicate the sense of chaos on-screen, Smigel opted to shoot the movie in a cramped house on the North Shore of Long Island, rather than on a set. It also forced the cast, which includes SNL veteran Rachel Dratch as the mother of the bride and Sandler favorite Steve Buscemi as a pervy relative, to get a lot closer—literally. “We basically spent days and days at this house in the middle of an Italian neighborhood in Glen Cove, and you know, it was very intimate and made everybody feel that much more like a family,” says Smigel. “At the same time, we would have neighbors come over with cannolis, and people would basically make cookies and cannolis for us every day … So if Adam gains a little weight over the course of the movie, that’s the reason why.”
Smigel agreed to direct the project just after he finished producing his Funny or Die miniseries Triumph’s Election Watch 2016, which had him traveling—in the guise of his filthy-mouthed, cigar-chomping canine alter ego—to political conventions and rallies during the presidential primaries to grill then-candidates like Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee. The timing couldn’t have worked out better. “There was a part of me that kind of felt like, ‘Well, now there’s one man standing [Trump], and everybody’s, you know, everybody’s kind of making fun of the same thing right now,’” says Smigel. “That’s a little less interesting to me, and it felt like a time where I didn’t necessarily feel like I would be adding that much.”
After taking a year away from the political spotlight to hang out in a house in Long Island with Sandler and his old pals from SNL, Smigel says he’s ready to plot his next moves for Triumph—which may or may not take aim at the person occupying the White House. “I do have a couple of crazy things that I’d like to do with Triumph that I’m sort of working on right now,” he says. “They may be too complicated to pull off, but I’m talking to people about it. That’s all I can say right now.”
The Week Of is currently streaming on Netflix.