Bob Saget was at a Santa Monica cafe recently pondering his status as comedy’s reigning filth monger.
“You play a guy who’s clean-cut and never curses for eight years, like I did on ‘Full House,’ and people think that’s who you are,” said Saget, who will be roasted Sunday, Aug. 17, on Comedy Central. “And then you talk really dirty in your act, and people think that’s who you are.”
The 52-year-old pauses, and a sheepish look crosses his still-boyish face. “Ah, I’m still doing it,” he admits. “I talked to Don Rickles last week, and he said, ‘So I watched your HBO special. I really liked it, but you left out two f—s.’ My response was, ‘I know. If I had only put in 200 less.'”
It’s a surprisingly repentant statement from a comic whose standup has quashed his wholesome TV image as “Full House” dad Danny Tanner and as the grinning host of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” in the ’80s and ’90s.
During the 13 years since “Full House” wrapped its last episode (only to continue in endless syndication), neither Saget nor the Olsen twins, who shared the role of his youngest TV daughter, have lived up to the expectations of some.
While Mary-Kate and Ashley have become billionaire moguls and the targets of vociferous tabloid reportage, Saget has mocked his own sugary image with joke songs such as “Danny Tanner Is Not Gay.”
Saget’s standup, in his words, has always been “perverted,” but that did not become widely known until he was asked to appear in the 2005 documentary “The Aristocrats,” in which he out-raunched 100 other comedians. Since then, Saget has sold out stadiums and college theaters with an act so over-the-top nasty that it is outrageous even in a comedy zeitgeist already pushed to extremes by Sarah Silverman.
His stream-of-consciousness riffs about incest, date rape, snuff films, bestiality and every possible bodily fluid are “a word salad of language so blisteringly blue that a potential diagnosis, as Saget freely admits on HBO, of Tourette’s syndrome cannot be ruled out,” the Washington Post said.
Saget has the reputation, among those who know him, to be as kind as he can be crude. A few days after the taping of his Comedy Central roast, he publicly protested the vulgar Olsen jokes proffered by roast master John Stamos (another “Full House” co-star) and dais participants, such as Gilbert Gottfried.
“Anybody who talks about my TV kids — that upsets me,” Saget said in a statement. “I am very protective. I love them very, very much.”
Saget was more measured about the roast several days later: “Some of the comedy for sure crossed the line,” he said in an e-mail. “It’s a roast, and they went for it. I also believe in freedom of speech, and the comedians meant no harm.”
Saget’s Kehillat Israel shows are far cleaner. He joined the Pacific Palisades congregation with his now-ex-wife, Sherri, in 1990, and their three daughters (now ages 15 to 21) had their bat mitzvahs there.
The synagogue’s rabbi, Steven Carr Reuben, is a fan.
“Bob has appeared at almost every major event we’ve hosted in the last 15 years,” he said. “He once admitted to me that temple shows are the hardest to do, because he has to censor himself.”
Over the course of a two-hour interview, Saget veers from a critical dissection of his neuroses (“I’m ADD for sure,” he said); to his 2007 HBO special, “Bob Saget: That Ain’t Right”; to his recent shift to “actor mode,” with a Broadway turn in “The Drowsy Chaperone” and a new CW sitcom, “Surviving Suburbia,” in which he plays a disgruntled family man.
Then there are off-color jokes about his Tourism Ministry trip to Israel years ago. He apparently got in trouble with his mother after showing a picture of her on a camel to Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” and remarking that she’d never had anything that sizable between her legs.
Saget is alternately rueful about his profane standup (he tries to use the words “pooh” and “pee” instead of their expletive counterparts, which in itself is hilarious) and describes himself as “self-loathing,” despite his onstage confidence.
“I don’t have many things in my act you can look at and go, ‘Oh, someone else is doing that,'” he said. “How many people are claiming that they do my stuff?” he laughed. “It’s a style no one wants.”
Saget traces his resilience and his particular brand of comedy to his late father, Ben, who had a “gallows sense of humor” shaped by painful events. The elder Saget had to go to work as a youth to support five younger siblings after their father died of cancer. Ben Saget survived all four of his brothers, some of whom died young.
By the time Bob Saget was in his 30s, both of his own siblings — his sisters — had died, one of a brain aneurism after a fall, the other after a three-year struggle with scleroderma, an autoimmune disease. Ben Saget’s humor helped keep the family sane through those deaths.
“If we were at a shiva and dad heard a loud sound, he would mention the departed’s name, like, ‘Here she comes.'” the comic recalled.
Bob Saget was born in Philadelphia but also lived in Virgina and in Encino, where he attended Birmingham High for two years. He said he was “the least funny person in the world” from the time of his bar mitzvah until he was in his late teens.
“I was miserable because we moved a lot, and I just was nerdy and overweight and didn’t have any friends,” he said.
In high school, he made friends by casting classmates in his own Super-8 films, with titles such as “Hitler on the Roof” and “Beach Blanket Blintzes,” which starred “a big blintz who turned people into sour cream. It wasn’t a film, it was garbage,” he said.
“But the first time I ever did standup was when I introduced that movie to an audience in the neighborhood. Then when I was 17, I started going to comedy clubs in New York, to Catch a Rising Star and the Improv, where I’d stand in line for 10 hours to sign the open-mic sheet.”
He attended Temple University and then moved to Los Angeles to attend USC but gave that up after Mitzi Shore offered him a gig at the Comedy Store, where he eventually served as emcee.
Saget hung out with Sam Kinnison and partied.
“It was like ‘Boogie Nights,’ except we didn’t go into the Valley,” he said.
A number of comedians recognized Saget’s talent. Rodney Dangerfield told him, “I like your head, you got a Jew head, you can’t stop thinking.” And Garry Shandling got him on “The Tonight Show,” where he returned numerous times, always on the couch, not for standup.
It was Saget’s role in the Richard Pryor film “Critical Condition” that drew the attention of television producers. As a result, in 1987, he was cast as Danny Tanner in “Full House” — “the most non-Jewish character in the world,” he said.
A number of people have told Saget that they hated him until they saw his dirtier side in “The Aristocrats.” In the film, 100 comics were asked to perform their own version of an old vaudeville joke about a family with an incestuous act auditioning for an agent.
But the humor is not really about the grotesquerie. “To me, the joke is about the sweaty desperation of show business,” Saget said. “What’s funny is that a family, a family — I can’t say that word enough — would do that, not to get a job but to get an agent to represent them. You can’t lower the bar on humanity much further. That’s a turd on a turd on a turd.”
Saget said he can talk about unspeakable acts, but the idea of real abuse revolts him.
“I don’t like to see violence. It’s like a form of pornography,” he said. “I take things so heavy, like politics and where the world is at, and where we are with kids. I mean, it’s just absurd. Ninety-nine percent of what we’re doing — it’s all a sin.
“I just find it so upsetting that I go to another place; I become a 12-year-old,” he continued. “I talk about pooh and pee because it makes me laugh — and because anything we can’t control can be amusing. So when things come out of our bodies [that] are air driven or liquid or solid — it’s funny. I was going to say that I’m holding a mirror up to people, but you don’t really want to look at yourself while you’re doing it.”
The Bob Saget roast will air 10 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 17 on Comedy Central. For more information, visit www.comedycentral.com.