Dave Coulier on forever being Uncle Joey, clean comedy and that Alanis Morissette song
Melissa Bring Photography
Since the beginning of his career, Dave Coulier has worked in the realm of family-friendly comedy. His first major television role was in 1984, hosting Nickelodeon's children's sketch-comedy show Out of Control, where he became known for his goofy voices and the catch phrase "Cut it out." He took that with him to the role he's best known for: mullet-wearing jokester Uncle Joey on the late '80s, early '90s sitcom Full House.
Coulier recalls Jay Leno advising him to stick with clean comedy when he was first starting out, and he's followed that advice into his newest venture, the Clean Guys of Comedy. The standup special, live at the Temple Buell Theater at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 19, features sets your mother would approve of from Coulier, Jamie Kennedy, Andy Hendrickson, Ralph Harris and Heather McDonald. The Denver show will be broadcast to over 660 movie theaters across the country that day (a second show will be aired at 7:30 p.m. September 26). In advance of his appearance, we caught up with Coulier to ask about what it's like to be forever Uncle Joey, Alanis Morissette's bitter break-up song that may or may not have been written about him, and clean comedy's place in a world full of filth.
See also: Dirty Danny Tanner
Westword: What made you want to be involved in the Clean Guys of Comedy?
Dave Coulier: I've been doing stand-up for a long time and I've been involved with a lot of family entertainment over the years, starting from my days of hosting a series on Nickelodeon called Out of Control, and so from that and always doing clean stand-up I decided that audiences just want a laugh without that F-bomb aftertaste. I've never been a prude. I love the Richard Pryors and George Carlins of the world and those guys make me laugh really hard, but my style has always been just kind of family-friendly.
What do you think is the place of clean comedy in the comedy world today?
Well, I think that there's still a huge audience that loves it. If you look at the two most successful touring comedians right now, Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan, they work completely clean. I think that clean comedy is an alternative for people because you can see filthy humor anywhere. You can see it in the movies, you can see it on any cable network. But I think people just a lot of times want to be there with their family and not feel embarrassed. Or with their parents, or with their work associates. I think sometimes just having that alternative is a really good thing for a lot of people. I think that's really where Clean Guys fits in the demographic.
When I first started, my whole objective was to get on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, because that was really the only late-night exposure for comedians. If you wanted to get on the Tonight Show, you had to have a clean set ready for a national audience. And so I did my first one with Johnny in 1984 and I just never veered away from that style, I guess.
How do you define clean comedy?
Therein lies a very smart question, because people have varying degrees of what they find insulting or obnoxious or over the line. Some people think the words "damn" and "hell" are really awful. But I'll say to those same people, well, the words "damn" and "hell" are in the Bible, so how bad can they be? And then you get into the semantics argument of well, you're taking things out of context, and I'm like, everybody has their own dividing line. I think for what we're trying to do, if you can say it on national television, that's what we're defining clean as. Because we can't really define it. That's for the audience to define.
Do you feel like your time on Full House influenced your desire to keep doing family friendly comedy?
Well, there's a huge Full House audience there, and so they know me as being family-friendly. Like I said, I never had to change my style. If I worked dirty I would have to edit back a joke or rewrite this joke. Jay Leno said it to me when I was twenty years old: One night he came up to me at the Comedy Store and he said, "Hey, Coulier, I saw your set. Really good, clean stuff." He said, "You know, if you work clean. you'll work anywhere." I just never forgot that.
Can you talk about the lineup of the show and how the other comedians were chosen?
We threw the net very wide to a lot of comedians, and out there to comedians who people probably wouldn't perceive as being necessarily clean. We really wanted to get comedians into doing that national kind of Tonight Show-type set. The four comedians that we have -- Jamie Kennedy, Andy Hendrickson, Ralph Harris and Heather McDonald -- really responded. They really got the concept and wanted to be a part of this new way of presenting stand-up to the masses. With their enthusiasm combined with their understanding of what we were trying to market, it just really clicked. I thought it was a really great, very diverse lineup. You've got a storyteller, you've got a guy who's great at jokes with Andy Hendrickson, you've got Heather McDonald, who really has the female point of view. You've got Jamie Kennedy who does characters and does some great observational stuff, and you've got me. I do music and voices and impressions. So it's a really well-rounded roster.
You mentioned your impressions and voices, which you were well-known for on Full House with characters like Mr. Woodchuck. Did those come from your stand-up before you were on the show or did those develop while you were working on Full House ?
The first season of Full House, all the writers from the show came down and watched me do stand-up because they wanted to incorporate that stuff into the scripts. So I had already been doing a lot of voices and was kind of known for that, and so once they came down and saw what I did onstage, they really wanted to make that a big part of my character.
Do people still often recognize you as Uncle Joey?
Yeah. It's one of those shows that just is very cross-generational and so a lot of people still recognize me as that character. That's never gonna go away. Some people have asked me, they go, "Doesn't it bother you that people come up to you and say 'Joey'?" And I say, heck no. When you're starting out in show business, you pray for a Full House every single day. So why would I turn around and have any kind of negative feeling toward all those people who came to love our show?
I watched that show every day as a kid when I came home from school.
[Laughs]. Yeah! I have friends now who say, "I grew up watching the show and now my kids watch the show and it's just freaky, because I'll sit down and go, I remember this episode." It's become really this timeless television icon with really bad mullets and bad outfits. But people always love to hear a great story, and we told 192 stories and so I think it just really translates to a very wide demographic and we're very proud.
In 2008 you told the Calgary Herald that you thought that the Alanis Morissette song "You Oughta Know" was written about you. How did you feel when you heard the song and have you spoken with Morissette since then?
I haven't talked to her since I talked with the Calgary Herald, but we're talking about really old information. [Laughs]. I mean, we dated each other in 1992, so it's amazing to me that this question still keeps popping up. She's great, you know, and I will always take the high road with her because she's just an outstanding human being and just for us and trying to have a relationship it was kind of bad timing at the time. There were a lot of things happening in both of our lives, and it was more of a timing issue. But we saw each other many years later and I can just say that she's a friend and I will always think great thoughts about her. Now, is the song really about me? You gotta ask Alanis that question because I can only kind of assume certain things. She was writing a lot of that music when we were dating and there's a lot of common thoughts in there, like, oh, I remember hearing her say that, you know? You have to ask her that question.
Why do you think the mystery of who that song is about is such a piece of pop culture that has stuck with us?
Well, because it was such a huge record and I think a lot of people wanted to know who was this guy that stirred up all this anger inside this woman, and so people started putting pieces together saying, oh, wait a minute, they dated. Who could it be? I always thought, well, it's become one of these urban legends and I'm just gonna kind of let it have its own life on its own. I don't try to extend the legend or anything. It is what it is, and people can believe whatever they'd like.
Do you ever draw from your personal relationships in your work?
Not so much about relationships with women. I talk about my relationship with my son and my parents. I really don't talk about too much personal relationship stuff.
Where does your material come from?
I get inspired by the simplest things. I get inspired by just walking around and looking at people and some kind of weird light bulb goes off and that becomes a whole bit in the show. I never know where the inspiration is going to come from so I just try and keep my eyes and ears open and try to just be open to the fact that you don't know where it's coming from. It's kind of like going fishing -- you won't know if you're actually going to catch fish, but it's good to be out there on the lake with your pole in the water.
Tickets to the live Clean Guys of Comedy at the Buell, at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, September 19, are $27 to $39.75, and available online through Ticketmaster. For a full listing of theaters showing the special, visit the Fathom events website.
Get the Arts and Theater Newsletter
Weekly information keeping you in the know when it comes to the art and theater scene. Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events.