Bob Saget is best known for playing family man Danny Tanner on the sitcoms Full House and its recent reboot, Fuller House. But his first love is stand-up comedy, which he’s been doing since he was 17. His sense of humor has always veered dark and scatological, and he’s aware that some people who know him as a goofy TV dad are shocked when they stumble upon his act.
Onstage, Saget, 63, has a rat-a-tat, riffy style. He talks fast and digresses often. He sometimes grabs a guitar and launches into song. And, as they say in the biz, he works blue — very, very blue. But watching his act and talking to him on the phone are vastly different experiences. On the phone, he’s thoughtful about the art of comedy and what motivates his jokes. His voice is gravelly and familiar, although he only sounds like Danny Tanner when he refers to the character by name. Despite the fact that he frequently discusses sex acts and bodily functions onstage, he takes exception to being called a raunch comic.
“I’m not. I did a couple specials,” he says, referring to That Ain’t Right (2007) and That’s What I’m Talking About (2013), both of which came out after he was featured in The Aristocrats, a 2005 documentary about a legendary dirty joke. Plenty of critics found 2017’s Zero to Sixty just as mercilessly crude as his previous specials, although Saget says it isn’t. He was just telling true stories, he says, which can have inadvertent shock value.
Saget performs a new hour of comedy in four 21-and-over shows at the Santa Ana Star Casino on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 24 and 25.
In the post-#MeToo era of stand-up comedy, 2017 might as well be a lifetime ago, Saget says. Entire careers have ended over bad behavior and bad jokes. He’s not trying to be politically correct when he says that he “can’t help but be as affected as everybody else by the terrible things that have happened over the past few years” and that “a lot of times, stand-ups will bring up the worst subject matter to prove a point, and it’s not meant maliciously. It’s just that people aren’t getting the levels on which it’s being said.” Nevertheless, he’s reflected on some of his old material and now considers a lot of it unnecessarily mean. These days, he makes sure that he’s not making jokes that “hurt someone for something that’s happened to them.”
And yet, he muses, “Everyone is dirtier than me now — except for the obvious ones who aren’t, like Jim Gaffigan.”
Just tune into any Netflix stand-up special and you’ll see that (save for Gaffigan’s endlessly relatable food jokes) Saget has a point. Nikki Glaser does an extended bit on oral sex. Tiffany Haddish is similarly brash, if less graphic. Sarah Silverman’s appearance in The Aristocrats certainly rivals Saget’s for its ribaldry. And those are the women. Saget happily, if somewhat guiltily, admits that stand-up comedy has always been a bastion for what the male ego thinks is funny — from fart jokes to rape jokes. But he wants you to know that, as an art, comedy evolves, and so does he.
“There are times people paint nudes, and times people paint scenery, and times they just paint a bunch of dots,” he says. “I don’t know what phase I’m in, but I’m not painting nudes right now. I’m dealing more with people and how they treat each other, and the persecution I went through as a kid. And family stuff, and humor about my kids, and being remarried. I’m not dealing with politics or too much with the nether regions, except when you gotta go to the doctor to get yourself checked.”
Though Saget often makes homoerotic jokes about his relationships with the other male actors on Full House, contrary to what many people assume, this sort of material is not a reaction to playing a clean-cut conservative dad for so many years. (Full House ran on ABC from 1987 until 1995. The fifth and final season of Fuller House is now streaming on Netflix.) Saget learned how to channel sadness and fear into comedy from his father, who would pull him aside to tell him dirty jokes in the midst of family tragedy.
“I won a radio contest when I was 17 for singing a song about bondage,” he says, chuckling. “Nothing about that is right!” But he says it’s important to understand that comics aren’t the same people in real life as they are onstage. Bill Cosby, who was known for his clean material, once took Saget aside and encouraged him to work less blue.
“I looked up to him. He was an icon. I told him it was just the way I am, that I can’t help it, but I’m trying to tone it down.” And the joke here, he says, is the duality of this anecdote about the now-convicted serial rapist. “Forget that I did sitcoms and stuff. Forget that I was family-friendly. Look at the kind of things Cosby did, compared to the kind of person that I am. I’m not saying I’m holier than thou — because you can dig far enough on anybody — but I didn’t do that crap.”
Saget’s mentors and influences include Rodney Dangerfield, Don Rickles, and Richard Pryor, all of whom could get pretty wicked in their comedy. He also loves the droll delivery of Martin Mull, about whom he is currently making a documentary. Contemporary favorites are Bill Burr, Joe Rogan, Sarah Silverman, and Dave Chappelle, comics known — and sometimes reviled — for the rawness of their acts.
“Sarah Silverman delivers some of the most heinous things that
have happened in history,” he says, referring to her jokes about World War II. “Some people say you can’t laugh at these things, and I just don’t believe that.”
One of the most important things to know about stand-up comics is that telling them not to say something will make them want to say it even more. Every year, Saget hosts Cool Comedy Hot Cuisine, a fundraiser for the Scleroderma Research Foundation. (Saget’s sister, Gay, died from the chronic connective-tissue disorder when she was in her 40s.) Robin Williams performed at the benefit several times. Saget recalls that one year the organization’s founder asked Williams to cut a bit in which, as Saget describes, “he uses his elbow as if it’s a woman.” Williams agreed to the request and then did the bit anyway. For seven minutes.
“The founder was crying and laughing, head in her hands. She said, ‘What did I do?’ I said, ‘You mentioned it.’ ” ◀