What the #%*@ About Bob?
He is Saget, hear him roar
He's the illest motherf--ker in a cardigan sweater. That was Jamie Kennedy's assessment, anyway, and now the Blowin' Up star's "Rollin' with Saget" video has racked up a kachillion or so YouTube views. But Internet-savvy teens who were barely teething during Full House's heyday weren't always down with Bob Saget.
The current Bob Renaissance began in 2005, when he hijacked dirty-joke doc The Aristocrats from the likes of George Carlin, Drew Carey and Jon Stewart; made a self-parodying guest appearance on HBO comedy Entourage; and began narrating freshman CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Critics raved that he was showing a new (and bawdy) range, flying in the face of his family-friendly image. But what few realized was that Saget had always been, first and foremost, a stand-up comedian. A filth-wallowing, obscenity-spewing stand-up whose stream-of-consciousness conversations with his audiences primarily concerned sex acts and his own arrested development. Danny Tanner he wasn't. He was, however, an inspirational figure for starry-eyed open-micers: Just stick to your comedic guns long enough, take jobs that paid the bills in the meantime, and sooner or later you'd make a name for yourself. Yet his was a cautionary tale, as well: Mainstream success could leave original, offbeat stand-ups pigeonholed ... and there aren't many second chances to resharpen your cutting edge once it's received that elusive network-television sheen.
Saget doesn't look all that ill in real life. Backstage after a show at the University of Missouri's Jesse Auditorium, he looks very tall, and he carries himself well, ever-youthful and always in charge. But he is 50, and under harsh lighting a few flecks of gray appear in his close-cropped brown hair, which, in contrast to his self-described Full House "bouffant," seems to be getting a little thin on top. Somewhat disappointingly, and in contrast to "Rollin'"'s claims, he's not partial to wearing cardigan sweaters.
"I hated wearing them [on Full House]," he says. "I did like the one they gave me in that video 'cause it had a collar and it zipped up, so it was kind of cool, but I can't go around like that.
"I'm the one that started that whole thing on Full House. I started the hugging, and I'm the one who came up with making him like Felix Unger. I said, John [Stamos] is a rock star, and Dave [Coulier] is the comedian, and I'll be like Felix Unger, always cleaning, because I've got these two guys in the house.' I thought it made sense. And now, you know, it just means gay. I had a girlfriend on the show, and no one remembers her ..." What nostalgic twentysomethings and rabid college audiences do remember is his neat-freak host of Wake Up, San Francisco, whom Saget categorizes onstage as "like being Hannibal Lecter, but you're clean," then later jokes, "I was such a fruit bat!" Even at the end of his show, after pulling out an acoustic guitar and noodling around with some Clapton and a snippet of "Free Bird," he enthusiastically launches into a ditty entitled "Danny Tanner Was Not Gay," a number ultimately declaring anything but, set to the tune of The Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way."
But his most telling aside arrives early on. "You just came to see Danny Tanner curse; that's so f--ked up," he laughs before adding, mock-seriously, "That's not what I'm here to do ... I'm here to rape some of the girls."
Therein lies the unique beauty (or, conversely, the joyous hideousness) of his stand-up. He doesn't tell "jokes." He builds on one lewd comment after another, executes rapid-fire crowd work and digresses so far down filth-strewn pathways that he rarely finds his way back again. He's self-referential and self-deprecating, and he undoubtedly has a severe case of ADD. Or, at the very least, dick-joke Tourette's.
"I grew up watching you!" a shrill stoner chick shouts during the show. "You grew up watching me?" he repeats. "Well now you're going to go down watching me!"
"It is a character—a heightened character," he says of his onstage persona. "However, when I'm out having fun with friends, I get like that. I won't get like that for an hour straight. I mean, an hour of that adrenaline is not normal behavior. But I'll get like that for five-minute increments, and I'll write down on bar napkins everything I say. ...
It's just absolutely filthy stuff, and then I'll go, Oh, but the people will enjoy that.' That's like the joke to me, that I say that stuff. But I know how to construct dick jokes. I know how to construct jokes. I've just been around it for so long.
"It's a chance to go out on stage and act 9 years old. You've really got to be a comedy factory, which I'm not yet, and I'm 50. I just act like an idiot."
At 17, Saget made a movie called Beach Blanket Blintzes ("It was about a blintz that turned people into sour cream. It was Super-8, and it was horrible") that he screened for 300 people. The laughs he got during his intro led him to catch trains from his home in Philadelphia to New York City, where he would wait in line up to 10 hours to perform such original guitar songs as "Bondage" and "She's a Man" at the Improv and Catch a Rising Star.
While attending film school at Temple University, he won a 1977 Student Academy Award for Through Adam's Eyes, a serious-yet-humorous story of a boy with a reconstructed face. Saget then headed to LA, specifically USC, where he dropped out of grad school after three days.
"I worked for nothing at the Comedy Store," he recalls. "I was one of the house MCs. At that time it was [David] Letterman and Robin Williams and all these people. It was really cool, so I decided to do it and make no money. And then Mitzi [Shore, Comedy Store owner and Pauly's mother] put me on a college tour. I toured all around the country, playing cafeterias in mostly lower-end college venues."
It was in Buffalo that Saget met future power manager Brad Grey, who was working at the time for a rock promoter named Harvey Weinstein. With Grey in his corner, Saget opened for Kenny Loggins in Tahoe, toured with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and appeared on The Merv Griffin Show 13 times. He then scored a part in the 1987 Richard Pryor film Critical Condition.
"That was the big break," he says. "I had a small part that got a little bigger as we kept shooting. I mean, a high like that: I'm an actor, I can do this.' I got to work with Richard Pryor, a fantasy! And then about three or four months went by, and I never thought I'd work again."
Though Saget eventually became "the third sidekick" on CBS's The Morning Program, five months in, he came to work to find his chair missing. Unceremoniously fired. Grey got him a test screening for a sitcom about an extended family living in San Francisco. Original Danny, John Posey, was let go, Saget came on board, and the show became an immediate Friday-night hit for ABC.
"I did Full House for a year, and then they gave me a tape of people getting hit in the nuts, and they said, Would you like to do this?' And I said, That would be a funny special.' I was a young, earnest comedian, and I didn't know. So I played the game, and I did it. It beat a rerun of 60 Minutes, then they picked it up. Bam! It went on the air. Forever. Like Candid Camera. Forever."
Full House ran from 1987-95; Saget hosted America's Funniest Home Videos from 1989-97. On top of his 80-hour work weeks, he continued to raise awareness and funds for the Scleroderma Research Foundation.
Once his Full House/Funniest Vids stint ended, however, his thoughts again turned to directing. Saget's 1996 Lifetime movie, For Hope, was dedicated to his sister Gay, who had succumbed to scleroderma. The film's response redoubled his commitment, and among other endeavors, he now organizes comedy benefits for the cause.
"There's 300,000 people with scleroderma, probably more," he says. "As many people have scleroderma, they say, as MS, MD and cystic fibrosis. But it's an underfunded disease. I made this TV movie and a lot of people came out of the woodwork. So many people were calling and writing the foundation about the film. I'm probably more proud of that than just about anything else I've ever done."
The late stand-up comedian Mitch Hedberg put it best: "I got into comedy to do comedy, which is weird, I know. But when you're in Hollywood and you're a comedian, everybody wants you to do other things besides comedy. They say, All right, you're a stand-up comedian. Can you act? Can you write? Write us a script.' They want me to do things that's related to comedy, but not comedy. That's not fair. It's as though I was a cook, and I worked my ass off to become a really good cook, and they said, All right, you're a cook ... can you farm?'"
In sowing his Hollywood seeds, Saget joined countless other comedians who learned that in order to make a living as a stand-up, one is going to have to do a lot of things that don't necessarily involve stand-up comedy (i.e., Joe Rogan on Fear Factor and The Man Show, Bill Dwyer on the new I've Got a Secret, Saget's buddy Howie Mandel on Deal or No Deal; heck, even the militantly individualistic Margaret Cho shticked it up on ABC's American Girl).
And audiences eat it up. They forgot, or more accurately, never fully comprehended, that Saget was acting. And that misconception is used to his advantage. In much the same way that Joe Rogan immediately breaks into "Fear Factor sucked," rants at the onset of his performances, Saget similarly turns the tables, attacking that which, however inadvertently, became his bread and butter.
The result is as shocking as it was to first watch his shaking, unshaven cameo opposite Dave Chappelle in 1998's Half Baked. It was the closest Saget had come to adapting his stand-up persona to the big screen, and he still relishes the attention those few seconds continue to bestow. "I'll be walking down the street with my daughters [he's got three with his ex-wife, Sherri, all of whom pop up in his material], and some guy will shout, Yo, Saget dude! You rock! You suck dick for coke!'" he laughs.
1998 also saw the release of Dirty Work, a then-underappreciated lowbrow comedy directed by Saget, co-written by Norm MacDonald, and starring MacDonald, Chevy Chase, Chris Farley, Artie Lange and Don Rickles. At his college shows, a mention of the title alone often evokes a standing ovation.
"Man, they love the Dirty Work," he says. "It really didn't get its day when it came out, and it's always bummed me out. I made an R-rated cut, and it was really, really funny. Killer funny. But I'm going to try to get the R-rated cut out someday."
That disappointment was the first in a series. On the surface, not much happened on the Saget front between 1998's one-two punch and his perceived comeback: there was the WB's short-lived Raising Dad, where he again portrayed a G-rated single parent. And he played "Jessica's Dad" in Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd. Other than that ... "Every year I have some big press release that says, Bob Saget's doing this!'" he marvels. "I had a show with Damon Wayans. We were locked and loaded. We wrote it in Hawaii together, we came back, and ABC turned it down. I had a show on Comedy Central that I did, Sleepover with Bob. I slept at a girl's house in Paris, Texas, while she was at soccer camp and just hung out in a parking lot at Target. It was really funny. But it didn't sell. So you never know. And then when the timing's right, then all of the sudden it just seems like other things open up."
"I always have many plates I'm always twirling," Saget says. "I don't think I could be any other way."
January 30 sees the DVD release of Farce of the Penguins, a March of the Penguins spoof he wrote, directed, produced and voiced alongside Gilbert Gottfried, Lewis Black, Christina Applegate, Tracy Morgan and Mo'Nique. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the film's stock imagery is, Saget says, "like a porn movie, where you see the same footage over and over again.
"[The penguins] actually have arguments with the narrator," he continues. "Gilbert yells out, Morgan Freeman has more talent than you in just a freckle on his ass.' And he's screaming that he froze his nuts off, and Samuel Jackson goes, F--k you, you nutless motherf--ker.' There's going to be behind-the-scenes features on it, and they put me in front of a green screen in a parka, putting cigarettes out on them. I stuck a nail on my shoe and stabbed them, but, you know, No penguins were harmed.' We drugged them; we couldn't get them to walk any faster so we injected them with adrenaline in their backs.' Then we talk about PETA and how we care about animals."
There's also the new Friday-night game show he hosts, 1 vs. 100, which Saget describes as "Millionaire meets Parcheesi. Millionaire meets Yahtzee. It's like Hollywood Squares threw up!" From the folks behind Deal Or No Deal, 100 frees Saget from the constraints of scripted TV. "At one point I say, Look at the money!' And they cut to the money. And I go, That's what they call a money shot.' And they leave it all in," he laughs. "They seem to want to keep comedy in the show, so I'm very happy."
Also on one of his many twirling plates is a second helping of sitcommery. He wrote a script for HBO with Arrested Development scribe Chuck Tathum about a divorced gynecologist raising a teenage son. The network passed, but Saget says another company has shown interest. And over at NBC he's got a deal to develop an as-yet-undetermined series. His MySpace page—yup, even he's finally succumbed—claims he's got a stand-up album on the way as well. "I'm trying to figure out who to sell it to," is how he characterizes the project. "I'm trying to decide whether to do it myself, or do it with HBO or Comedy Central. I'm going to know that in the next month or so. I've got so many things going on! It's nice. I haven't been this busy since I was busy that last time."
What that means is that Bob Saget is getting his due. Not Danny Tanner, not the irreverent host, but Saget the stand-up.
"Show business is not a cakewalk for anybody, you know," he muses. "No matter how big you get. Until a certain level, and then still it's not perfect. People think it's effortless, but so many things backfire. You can get f--ked.
"Although, let's face it, that's not necessarily always a bad thing."