Comedian Dave Coulier on the Best Advice Jay Leno Ever Gave Him
Dave Coulier will always be Uncle Joey, a lovable goofball with a knack for vocal impressions and a closet full of ugly sweaters. And from what we hear, he's okay with that. The Full House alum and stand-up comic brings his routine to the Valley with a three-day, five-show stint at the Tempe Improv.
After leaving years of weeknight television, courtesy of ABC in the early 1990s, Coulier continued to hang around on the small screen, hosting family-friendly shows World's Funniest Videos and America's Most Talented Kids. These days, Coulier is back doing stand-up, selling out clubs across the country with his mother-approved clean routine.
The comedian (and Alanis Morissette's infamous ex) caught up with Jackalope Ranch by phone to share the best advice he ever received -- care of The Tonight Show titan Jay Leno -- and to talk about why clean comedy shouldn't be considered shocking.
After Full House, you continued to do television for a few years and did some primetime shows. What prompted your decision to return to stand-up? I didn't know if I was going to go back to it or not. [Then] I foolishly went and saw some great stand-up comics at a comedy club here in Southern California. It was as simple as that. The comedians were so great that night that I thought, "I've got to get back up there. This is so much fun."
Do you remember who you saw that night? It was at The Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach and I had played there for many years, and some friends of mine just said, "Hey, do you want to go to a comedy club?" I said, "heck no!" but they dragged me over there. We got down there and the comedians were so great. It wasn't anybody famous or anything, it was just some great comedy, and I gained a new appreciation for it. And so I decided to get back up there to see if I could do it again. It became a whole new challenge, a whole different headspace.
So what do you get out of doing stand-up as opposed to something like television? Do you approach each differently? When you're doing TV it's always somebody else's words you're trying to make funny. In stand-up, they're my own. And it's live.
And it's all on you. It is. It's all on me. If the joke doesn't work, I'm the guy who wrote it. I can't really say, "Boy, these writers, huh?" It's just knowing that the stuff that I come up with during the day is mine and funny.
What's the best piece of advice you received when you were first starting out? It was from Jay Leno and I was only 19 years old. I did a set at The Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard and I got off stage and he said [does Leno impression], "Hey, Coulier, boy. Good stuff. Good clean stand-up." I said, "Oh, thanks." And he said, "You know, if you work clean, you'll work everywhere."
It was the smartest thing anyone ever said to me because I thought, "Wow, he's right." If I work clean, I'll never have to edit myself. I can just play anywhere I want and not have to worry or edit out quickly on my feet.
These days it seems like being a clean comic is more noteworthy than being dirty or shocking. What influenced you to stay clean? Is it difficult to do? People often say, "that must be really difficult," but because I've always worked that way it's not difficult.
Do you think clean comics are still edgy? Oh, of course. We've been watching clean comedy for decades -- from The Tonight Show and David Letterman and those guys can be very, very edgy. So can Jon Stewart. So can Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher.
I'm not reinventing the wheel here. I'm just telling people look, if you want to come to a clean show and not hear F-bombs, come see me. People often ask if that's tough to do or, "How do you get up there and not swear?" That just tells you how far the pendulum has swung. People expect it.
And I'm not a prude. I love Richard Pryor. I love George Carlin and Lenny Bruce; those are the comics I grew up on. But if you really look at the landscape of stand-up comedy today, the biggest comedians who are touring -- the ones who are selling the most tickets -- are squeaky clean. Jim Gaffigan, Brian Regan. . . and those guys are selling out arenas.
Your vocal impressions are still a big part of your act. How did that start? I used to mimic voices that I really truly loved. I would ride my bike down the street and do Kermit the Frog for my neighbors. I would say [does Kermit impression], "Hello there, Mrs. Costello, how are ya?" and they thought I was nuts. That was pretty much how I started.
My brother and I, we had bunk beds when we were kids, and we used to do those voices in our bunk beds when we were sleeping at night. It used to drive our family crazy because we would laugh so hard. But that was really how I started, listening to my brother and pretty much copycatting what he was doing.
What's your favorite voice to do now? I get asked that a lot. It's the one that's paying me a lot of money. [laughs] I just did 60 Geico commercials, so that's my favorite voice right now. It's called "American Legends" and it's going to be their national radio campaign.
I spoke with Bob Saget a couple months ago when he was coming into town and he mentioned that you do impressions of people's farts. Is that true? I do. I'm sure he told you how talented I am. [laughs] I do this silly thing where I make up fart sounds and say, "Oh, here we go! Here's Roseanne Barr or President Obama."
When you, Saget, and [John] Stamos reunited on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon the Internet buzzed about it for days. Why do you think the real life friendship you three have -- and the fact that you still hang out -- resonates with people? Because I think Full House for a lot of people represents a simpler time in their life -- whether it be childhood or watching the show in a different era. And I think that those relationships have been burned into people's minds for years after watching the show, so I think to actually watch us together again and clowning around is a throwback for a lot of people to that simpler time that they experienced.
What do you think of Fallon's version of The Tonight Show? I love it. I think it harks back more toward what Johnny Carson used to do which was more of a variety show. Johnny used to do sketches and characters and musical bits and it was so much fun to watch, and I think Jimmy brings a lot of that style of comedy back to The Tonight Show. I think he's the perfect host for that show.
So what can audiences expect at the Improv this weekend? The response for my shows has been phenomenal. I've been touring every weekend. A lot of the shows are sold out, so it's nice to have that kind of support. Even people who haven't seen me do stand-up come out.
Are there a lot of people that grew up with Full House in the audience? It's both. I hear this response from venues that I play: "a lot of these people have never been here before. You pull in so many new people." I pull in not just a stand-up, purist crowd. I pull in that huge, live, demographic Full House crowd -- and venues love that. It's great because they're there to see me and I love our fans, they're really supportive. For me it's a blast to get up on stage and clown around with Full House fans.
Coulier takes the stand for a series of shows starting at 7:30 and 10 p.m. Friday, May 9, 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday, May 10, and 7 p.m. Sunday, May 11, at the Tempe Improv, 930 East University Drive. Admission to the 21-and-over show is $20, and there's a two-drink minimum. Visit www.tempeimprov.com or call 480-921-9877 for tickets.
Get the Arts and Theater Newsletter
Weekly information keeping you in the know when it comes to the Phoenix art and theater scene. Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events.