Bob Saget on celebrity, his testicles and how Funniest Home Videos created YouTube
Bob Saget will perform four shows at Comedy Works this weekend.
Anyone over 25 remembers him as heroic single dad Danny Tanner on Full House, or the jolly host of America's Funniest Home Videos. But anyone plugged into standup comedy over the last decade also knows him as the desperately foul-mouthed comic with jokes so vivid and foul he makes William Burroughs look like Mitt Romney.
Saget's on his way to Denver this weekend for a four-show run at Comedy Works South; in advance of those shows, we caught up with this chameleon of comedy to chat about ditching celebrity, penis puppetry and whether or not America's Funniest Home Videos invented YouTube.
Westword: Earlier today I was re-watching your special, That Ain't Right from 2007 -- was that the first time that America had been introduced to the dirty Bob Saget?
Bob Saget: The first time I guess was about ten years ago with The Aristocrats. That really changed people's perception of me.
Now that I think about it, though, the brief cameo you had in Half Baked back in 1998 was pretty out of left field. That line "I used to suck dick for coke -- you ever suck dick for some marijuana?"
[Laughs] Yeah, that was definitely a moment that people found very humorous, because it was so opposite of what they'd known me for. And That Ain't Right was the mass consumption of that material, where people were like, "What have you done to yourself?" It's a continual do-over, which is interesting. I've been writing a book lately that will be out in April called Dirty Daddy. It's part memoir, partly about my testicles, it's about death. I think that book helps explain what's happened here, how a comedian becomes what he becomes. That's one of the things I'm curious to talk to you about: Obviously there has been a huge sea change in your public persona, and I'm wondering if that was something that was there all along and was smothered during your years at Full House and America's Funniest Home Videos, or if you cultivated it based what was the most polar opposite from that family-friendly material?
It wasn't intentional. As silly as it sounds, that was a completely organic, artistic thing. I started comedy when I was seventeen, and my opening joke was, "I have the brain of a German shepherd, the body of a sixteen-year-old boy, and they're both in my car and I want you to see them." So it was always weird, esoteric things. I didn't curse that much, but it was always dirty.
I was trying to get jobs, and you couldn't curse a lot when you were trying to get on TV. I was on Rodney Dangerfield's first young comedians special, the same one Sam Kinison was on. And then I got on the Richard Pryor movie, Critical Condition, then there was a CBS show I got fired from -- and then Full House. I had a kid, I got married, I wanted to raise my child and be on a hit sitcom. So I took the job; and then a year later the clip show happened, and I took that. And that'll clip your gnads when you want to do something edgy. But I always did stand-up so I'd have a place to vent this kind of Jekyll and Hyde thing I had going. And I always found irreverence funny.
So you were still doing off-color material in the clubs at the same time you were doing Full House?
Yeah. I imagine whoever was booking you had a difficult time promoting promoting the show. I assume they'd want to market it as "see Bob Saget from Full House!" But they weren't going to see Bob Saget from Full House.
No, because that was just a character. That's like saying Anthony Hopkins is coming to your school and he's going to eat people. That doesn't make any sense. It was a character.
I agree that it's ridiculous, but that's how the industry works: You're promoted by what you're most famous for. And if you're famous for clean jokes, that's how you'll be marketed.
Most places I go now people know not to bring kids to the show. And when I come to Comedy Works people can openly smoke pot, so there'll be some free thinking. People already think of me as a cool dad, I guess. We all know the people from TV aren't real -- except for the Jersey Shore people.
So it was a pretty smooth transition between doing Full House and performing dirty stand-up?
Well, I think your point is right. For ten years people thought of me as one thing, and ten years is a long time. I remember doing an HBO show at the same time as Full House, and I was cursing a bit as most stand-ups do, no big deal, and people don't really remember it. Because it was HBO and was maybe seen by a few million people -- but Full House was seen by twenty million people. So you do become known for what the most people watch -- and now Full House is in syndication until the end of time. There was a stand-up show that recently premiered in Denver with your old friend Dave Coulier called The Clean Guys of Comedy. While both of you continued into stand-up after Full House, you both went in completely opposite directions with your material.
Yeah, we did. But I was just over at his house for dinner, and he was exploding gas out of his rear and miming wiping himself. I can't be that foul. He is the genuine article and I just talk about it. He would do puppetry with his penis.
But he wouldn't do it on stage.
No, he chose not to. And that's a choice. I couldn't do what he does; I don't even want to perform if there's kids in the audience. I like having a 21-and-up crowd. I want to talk to audiences how I talk to anyone, like how I'm talking to you right now, I don't want to put on act and censor myself. Dave doesn't do that either, he just does what he finds funny.
I'm sure I'm not the first person to mention this, but when looking back at America's Funniest Home Videos, it was a show where we laughed at amateur clips of everyday people or animals caught in unexpected slapstick situations. And that's basically what billions of people today use YouTube for.
Yup, and everybody's performing all the time now. They can post it on their own YouTube page, or give it Daniel Tosh. It's kind of a crazy culture, and a lot of people are getting hurt.
When you first started on the show did it feel really unique and groundbreaking?
Yeah. But I was worried people were going to get hurt.
Like with people deliberately staging and filming these scenarios so they could send them in to you?
Yeah, and they did that. We did a lot of self-effacing stuff on the show. There were videos like where a man rolls out of bed and falls on a pie, so you could tell it was planned. And we'd put together like five clips in a row where you knew it was planned. And that was the charm of it. It became a cultural iconoclast for about eight years. And it's still on with Tom Bergeron, and it still gets a good rating -- it doesn't get what it used to get because we all are on YouTube now.
I imagine you were getting a lot of strange videos that you could never put on ABC prime time.
Yeah, there was a bunch of stuff. About two specials ago I was talking about a video where these two very super-sized people that were in the shower, and they were pushing their parts against the shower door, and then the shower door broke. They were rolling on the ground laughing, and there was glass everywhere, but they didn't really care. And I believe the punchline was that there was a clapper in the room, so every time they smacked up against each other the lamp would go on and off. They were like two manatees -- not attractive. It was a real video, but we couldn't run it on the air.
There was a lot of crazy stuff; very much in the Jackass vein, but not done by professionals. People would be like, "Watch this, this is great," and they'd jump off a ladder and hit cement. And you'd hope they weren't dead. So I as a human being I started to get morally guilt-ridden hosting that show.
When you were getting all of that fame and success, did you ever feel personally or creatively trapped by it?
Yeah, but I was also directing things. When Full House and the video show ended, I directed things for four years. I just stopped wanting to be on camera. I did theater for three years. I was just trying to be an artist. I had made a lot of money being a non-artist, even though I was a pop-culture thing. The word celebrity means nothing to me; it is nothing. When someone says, "e have celebrities here!" it's sounds like you're being corralled into a place where they gas you. I love being a comedian, I love being a writer.
I embrace all the transitions I've gone through, and I'm going through one right now, which is pretty cool. Bob Saget will perform four shows starting Friday, October 11 through Saturday, October 12 at Comedy Works South, 5345 Landmark Place in Greenwood Village. Tickets are $38. For more information, visit www.comedyworks.com.
For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.