For a long time, Bob Saget lived a double life.
In the '90s, he was famous for playing television's most anal-retentive father, Danny Tanner, on the eternally critic-grating sitcom Full House. At the same time, among comedy aficionados, he was known for possessing one of standup's deeply depraved minds, willfully pushing the edges of good taste to get the biggest laugh possible.
At the dawn of the millennium, with Full House off the air and the other cavalcade of cornball he was involved in, America's Funniest Home Videos, moving on without him, Saget took to muddying his prevailing squeaky-clean image. He appeared in the cult stoner comedy Half Baked long enough to immortalize the line, "I sucked dick for coke." He had by far the most disturbing segment in The Aristocrats. He made cameos in Entourage, playing a scummy, womanizing version of himself. It seemed like he was going out of his way to kick dirt on the casket of Danny Tanner.
But then, this year, something strange happened: He brought Danny back from the pop-culture graveyard, reprising the role in the Netflix reboot Fuller House.
So, who's the real Bob Saget? With his three-night stand at Helium Comedy Club beginning tonight, we decided to try and find out.
Willamette Week: So much has been made of the dissonance between your TV persona and your standup. I'm wondering how consciously those two things influenced each other. Like, did your comedy get dirtier the more famous you became as Danny Tanner?
Bob Saget: It seems like it, doesn't it? It's funny, Andrew Dice Clay called me and said, "You were always nuts, Saget, but you weren't as blue as me. I thought you stole that from me." When I would do standup on the road when I was 17, I was cursing. When I hosted at the Comedy Store for eight years trying to get a job, I would drop f-bombs whenever it seemed appropriate, because that's how I talk in front of people. I mean, I do corporate gigs where I don't say any swear words. I'm a professional. I'm able to do Fuller House without cursing. That's an acting gig, and I'm an actor. I've thought about because I've been asked for 25 years. "Are people going to be surprised?" What, do they expect me to DustBust?
As you became known as a wholesome TV dad, what was the reaction from the people who knew you as a standup?
It was people going, "He's such a sick bastard, it's so funny he's doing that part." But it's a part anyone would be lucky to have if they wanted it. There were comedians who were offered it. I was offered it but I wasn't available because I was doing the morning program on CBS, where I got fired because I was a little too "hot" for morning TV. The host, Mariette Hartley, said, "Are you a Type A personality?" And I said, "I'm working on my A-ness," which is a little too over- the-top for morning TV. But then they made it possible for me to be on it, and I was thrilled. All I wanted to do was be on a sitcom. That was a big thing, so I was thrilled to get it. And my peers were always like, "Man, that's so funny that's the role you're playing." But I'm an actor. And that was a part. But it was an eight-year part. If you're a movie actor and you're fortunate enough to play many different parts, and you play a murderer in one and the next one—I mean, Hugh Laurie was in Stuart Little. He was the earnest father, and then everything we've seen him in since, he's pretty glum. Anthony Hopkins always played distinguished, good people of the court, and then all of a sudden he was eating people. That's called acting. But with a sitcom, y'know, the people on Friends are always going to be remembered for that even though they've all moved on to do other things and had huge success. People just want to label you.
Did your sense of humor always lean scatological?
Always. It was always riffing; it was always free association. It would always be a sentence, then another sentence that dug in further and another one that made it even more ludicrous. One of [the early jokes] was, "I have the brain of a German shepherd and the body of a 16-year-old boy and they're both in my car and I want you to see them."
Do you remember the first time you ever told dirty joke in front of an audience, and what it felt like? Would you get a rush out of it?
Well, here's my roots. When I was 17, I entered a radio contest, and the reason I won is because I sang a song called "Bondage": "Masochists and sadists, unite one and all/Bondage is the rage/C'mon let's have a ball." It was all about tying me up and whipping me and how much I liked it. That's because my dad had a deviant sense of humor. It wasn't a violation of me, it was just a sicko sense of humor. Just really sick. Like Lenny Bruce-ish, odd and weird. That's where I was at. And that was age 17, 13 years before I was on Full House. My comedy has always had a weird bent to it, and jokes that were tasteless.
You mentioned how you've curtailed jokes involving pedophilia. How else has your comedy changed? Is there other stuff you no longer feel comfortable making jokes about that you did at one time?
Well, there's a misogynist thing I've pulled back on, which was very popular during the times I was on Entourage. People wanted to hear me act like I'm some badass, when I'm just some skinny guy that looks like your dentist onstage. I really don't want to offend anybody. I like saying things and people go, "What?" and they laugh at the awkwardness of it or the truth of it.
Do you have any fondness for the Danny Tanner character, or is it just an acting role for you?
I love the guy. For a while I was like Leonard Nimoy. He was like, "I'm not Spock," and I was "I'm not Tanner." I still talk about the damn thing onstage, and I have no choice, because it won't go away. It's not just a show I was on. It's a cultural phenomenon. This year it became a thing. It became a trend of our culture. But I love playing the part. All I did was employ the love I have for my kids. So yes, Danny Tanner is part of me. The guy on Entourage is not part of me.
So that's far more of an exaggeration for you than Danny?
I think so. I had guests over last night, and I am washing the linens. Is that Danny or is that called just being a human being? But I wanted to make Danny a hugger and wanted him to be like Felix Unger from The Odd Couple, so I said, "Let's make him a clean-freak." And they jumped on that. But you make someone a hugger and a clean-freak and put him in a cardigan sweater, and he's about as fruity-pebbles as you can get. There's no sexuality in a guy who all he wants to do is Windex.
Was that squeaky clean image ever a burden?
After those shows stopped, I didn't want to be on camera anymore. I felt like I'd had such success—with two shows, not just one. Comics would come up to me and go, "Give me one your shows, Saget." At the same time it ended, my marriage ended, so I was personally unhappy and didn't want to perform much. So I directed. I directed a TV movie about my sister dying of scleroderma for ABC. I directed three TV movies, two for Lifetime, another for the E! channel, and Dirty Work, the Norm Macdonald-Artie Lang movie. I really didn't want to be in front of the camera. I had really had it with myself. I felt the pain of the people. I did some standup, but really it was four years of directing, one thing after another.
But I'm very self-aware of different things, of what fame brought and what it is, and standup is a thing where you just get back to yourself. I've had a few series between then and now, where it was, "Let's meld Bob with his TV image from Full House and Entourage and mix those two characters and make him harder edged." But if you're on network TV, that's not happening. The new world that's out there is exciting for me, to be able to mature in front of people's eyes into something that has more than two dimensions.
Did it take a lot of prodding, then, to get you to do Fuller House and bring that character back?
No, the prodding was, I don't want to ruin it. I don't want this to be something I'm ashamed of. [John] Stamos was on the same page. He's obviously my brother, and so is Dave [Coulier], and Jeff Franklin who produced it, and Bob Boyett, who produced it and hired me in the first place, 140 years ago during the Gold Rush. The idea was to keep the integrity of the legacy of it, and not crap on it. Critics never liked it. The public loved it. It was not a hit until it got to Fridays. It was on Tuesday for five years. We even changed studios. And Warner Brothers and Netflix are the reasons this thing exists. Peter Roth runs television for Warner Brothers, he came to the set and he was shaking and hugging and said, "Can you believe this?" I said, "Honestly, I cannot." The first episode, i honestly did not know where I was. I'd be sitting, looking at the other cast members and crying, because I'm the oldest, I'm the patriarch of the deal, and I just loved everybody so much for so long, and here we are doing this. It couldn't be more rewarding.
What do critics misunderstand about the show?
That it's made for 14-year-olds! It should be reviewed by 14-year-olds.
I have two questions of pure curiosity, and they're both related to your voice. In Fuller House, your voice is noticeably more nasally than I ever recall it being. Is there a reason for that?
The week we shot that, I was sick. I was jacked up on decongestants. I had Claritin, Excedrin and an Imodium in me. That's the secret of show business, my friend. It pitched my voice higher, and people were saying, "What's wrong with you voice?" I don't know, do you ever go to work sick? It's really hard when it's your first show, and I didn't take something like a Prednisone that would've opened up my throat and made my voice deeper. But yes, it's a higher register. If you watch the eighth episode, where I try to get my grandson a ride in a fire truck in the station where his father died, my voice is more like the one you'll be hearing at Helium. But it was a dilemma, and it kind of stressed me out a little. Don't take decongestants on show day. Get a doctor to stick a needle of adrenaline in your neck. Do what you would do to Elvis: "You get out there and perform! You're my prize horse!"
Second, you were the voice of older Ted Mosby on How I Met Your Mother. I've never understood why a 50-something Ted Mosby would have your voice and not Josh Radnor's.
I didn't understand it either. But as you get older, and you possibly drink or maybe smoke cigars or whatever you do in your life, your voice changes. If you listen to Howard Stern from 20 years ago, it's a different person than the Howard you hear now. With that in mind, I was doing a play in New York, and I got a call from Pam Fryman who with Craig Thomas, were the executive producers of How I Met Your Mother, and she said, "We've got this guy, Josh Radnor. He's a young guy, and we want you to be his voice when he's 25 years older." And I said, "Why can't he do it?" She said, "When I look at him, I see you. We feel, in 20 years, he's not going to sound like he does now." I went, "Well, we'll see how it looks. I went into the recording studio, recorded the pilot, and they just said, "Something about this works." I've become friends with Josh, and neither of us ever understood it. He's a great friend. We're both single, and I joke that we'll go out and meet a girl and say, "Which age of Ted Mosby do you prefer?"
Jerry Seinfeld had a flap last year where he said he wouldn't play colleges anymore because the audiences are too "politically correct." As a willfully offensive comic, I wonder what your opinion is on that. Are younger audiences too easily offended these days?
Not with what I do. My audience is my audience, and it happens to be a young audience. I'm a different kind of performer than Jerry. He's a consummate standup, and they might not have the tolerance for his observations, which I can't get enough of. But I do think everyone is more politically correct now. They're a little frightened of language. There is a thing that's always existed where a college age person thinks they know everything, because they are actually learning. They are spending their four years learning, and that is their time to do that. Most people don't do that, they don't spend their day learning. But I don't play a ton of [colleges]. I don't really do anything I don't want to do. It's like, what school is that? How's that going to go? I'll be playing in a church, what? Then next thing you know I'm on stage with a pipe organ behind me and I'll be like, "I shouldn't do my stuff, I'm in a church." And someone shouts, "Just fucking do it!" I don't know, I don't really live for people being abrasive. Maybe I'm the one being politically incorrect.
Well, it sounds like you've actually adjusted your style to changing social mores and taken certain things out, while a lot of older guard comics refuse to do that.
I'll change with an audience. I will change the tone of what I do completely if the crowd is there or not there. You have to feel the temperature of the room. I'll go as low as I need to go and then bring them out of it by giving them some kind of public service announcement.
Lastly, what's the most fucked-up video you ever saw while hosting America's Funniest Home Videos?
I talked about it once on my special That Ain't Right. There's a couple—and they were an oversized couple, they were supersized—and they were having sex in the shower, pushing their parts against the shower door. The shower door broke, and they fell on the ground. The camera was locked off, no one was in there with them. And they couldn't stop laughing. And I know they were rolling around in glass, because they shattered the door. I made them show that to me a million times.
I've talked about this one, too. It was sent to me by a screener, he says, "You're going to love this." It's a VHS, I pop it into my TV at home. There's a guy in a scuba outfit, and a pool with a cover on it. He climbs up the ladder, and the ladder is hooked to a tree. He says, "Watch this, Bob Saget." He looks like the Tasmanian Devil. His leg gets caught, he screams, and he falls onto the cement, not onto the pool cover. And he doesn't move. The camera is locked off, no one's there. And the camera keeps rolling for like 40 seconds. I called the screener and go, "What the fuck did you send me? I don't want this stuff. What's wrong with you?" He says, "Oh, don't worry. He's OK, he just broke a few ribs." I'm like, "Well, next time put that on the Post-It: 'The guy didn't die.'" So yeah, I've seen stuff that's damaged me.
SEE IT: Bob Saget is at Helium Comedy Club, 1510 SE 9th Ave., on Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 28-30. Two shows nightly. $35. 21+. For more information or to buy tickets here.