As Danny Tanner on the family-friendly Full House and the host of YouTube predecessor America's Funniest Home Videos, Bob Saget spent much of the 1980s and '90s as America's dad -- a fun-loving 30-something with a knowing look and a smile. These days, the same 12-year-old girls who watched him weeknights on ABC have grown up, settling into seats at adult comedy clubs around the country, blushing while the quintessential single dad of their television youth turns blue in the face with line after line of naughty comedy.
Since his departure from the small screen, he's raised his own daughters, written a memoir -- the forthcoming Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian, due in April from HarperCollins -- and starred in two comedy specials, including the Grammy-nominated That's What I'm Talking About, featuring conversations about what's in his pants and, more often than not, what the audience is packing. He returns to the Valley to do much of the same this weekend, honing new material with four shows at Stand Up Live in downtown Phoenix.
The 57-year-old comedian called us from his home in Los Angeles to discuss at length his father, Dave Coulier's flatulence, and why Saget isn't as filthy as they want you to think he is.
Author's note: this interview took place prior to the 56th Annual Grammy Awards which aired Sunday, January 26. Bob Saget was nominated for his 2013 comedy album That's What I'm Talking About. Comedian Kathy Griffin won the award for her album, Calm Down Gurrl.
Congratulations on your Grammy nomination. [laughs] Thanks.
I want to ask you if you think you have a good chance of winning, but I don't want any of that, "it's just an honor to be nominated" bullshit. Well, unfortunately that's the truth. I don't think I have a chance of winning. It was funny because I went to lunch with Craig Ferguson -- we talked to each other right when we both got nominated and we said, "Let's go to lunch. This is our big nominating party: lunch." And it was just him and me in the restaurant. All the nominees that are excited about it were there. I'm of the mindset where I'm just delighted. I'm not competitive in any way. I don't have that gene. Maybe I used to, but on this . . . I'm just excited. Half my special's music, that's even more ludicrous because I play, like, four chords.
When did you start introducing music into your stand-up routine? My act used to be all music. When I was 17, I was a guitar act. I would write original songs and do parodies. And then, by the time I got to my mid-20s, I started to take the guitar off and do more stand-up. But even when I was starting out, like on Rodney Dangerfield's Young Comedians Special, I don't know what year it was, I guess '84 or something, I still was playing guitar at most of my shows, but on those things I did pure stand-up.
So the guitar was always present then, since the beginning? Yeah. I took it away for a long time because it was a crutch. I didn't want to hide behind it. I'd worked real hard for like seven years to not do it at all. You know it's like trying to make your bad eye good by putting a patch over it. [laughs] Or the other way. You put your patch over your good eye. But me not playing guitar wasn't anything that magnificent, it was just to let my stand-up grow.
I like that. That's a good metaphor. You won a Student Academy Award back when you were 21, which brought you out to Los Angeles and jumpstarted your presence on the comedy circuit that way. This nomination is kind of an interesting, uh, not bookend because you're not retiring or anything -- but it must be nice to have an institution recognize something audiences have known for a long time: that you're fucking funny when telling dick jokes. It's really cool. It's by people that, for the most part, I don't know them. All comedians truthfully want to be musicians and all musicians . . . well, 5 percent of them want to be comedians. But most people who do music, when you're a performer and a writer, it's just one of the greatest things you can do as far as arts go. It's a very inspiring thing. I'll be taking my daughter to it, which is really fun.
How do the other two feel about that? Well, she's thrilled, but I have three of them, so there was a little bit of discrepancy. But it's very nice. It's a fun thing to do. I'm doing a bunch more stand-up now, and I just finished, I was up all night putting the finishing touch on my book.
I was hoping it was a more scandalous story as to why you were up all night. You don't know how much more I would have enjoyed a scandalous story.
It's a memoir, right? Going over the chronology of your career? It is, but not really. It's a memoir that does the bullet points of what people want to hear about, whether it be Entourage or stand-up. There are chapters about that, but it's a comedy book, so like a very long monologue. [laughs] I'm proud of it. I say a lot of things that are pretty personal. It's really about death and comedy and how they intersect. We've had a lot of death in our family.
Right. So that's kind of what it is. Survival. How you get through death and how comedy was something that helped me get through it.
But all my time [is] concentrated [on stand-up] now -- like coming to Stand Up Live is an oasis that's the way I'm looking at it. It's almost like a trip to Hawaii for me.
Oh, wow, Phoenix is flattered. I've been working so hard and writing and a bunch of other stuff has come up -- you know, life's pitfalls of your parents and their health and all that normal stuff.
Is your mom doing all right, though? She's okay. She's been better. My goal is to keep her alive until she's 250 years old.
That's a really good idea. Yeah, I think it's gonna . . . we'll just get some Febreze and prop her up properly and she'll be fine.
She's good to go. Yeah. And we'll have her in the foyer to greet people. And maybe pre-record her in case she's off that day.
You've got it all planned out. [laughs] But anyway, I love playing that club. I've only played it once before, [but] I just love that room and I love Phoenix a lot. I've done a lot there at Celebrity Theatre. [But] how many times can you play in the round? It makes you very paranoid.
This time, I'm bringing my buddy Mike Young. And Mike has really blown up. He directed this movie called My Man Is a Loser, and he sold a pilot to HBO. We've gone out on the road for years and we just love each other, so it'll be a strong show.
I'm looking forward to it. It's a very heightened-energy club. I'm trying to come up with a lot of new stuff to talk about -- which is difficult because of my last special. People want to see some of that stuff, and they also want a couple songs from That Ain't Right. I do a best-of when I can, but I also need to hone some new stuff. It's a process, and that's why I go to the clubs that I like where I can get four shows out in a weekend. Be a little indulgent and work on some new things.
On That's What I'm Talking About there's a moment where you mention that you're almost obsessed with doing jokes that are focused on below-the-belt -- literally -- because you say it's easier than religion or politics. Which leads into a great joke about ballsacks. Does that really strike true for you? Is that how you feel about your own material? You tend to do a lot of jokes. And you're fairly fast with them. Not a lot of monologues or stories. Is it easier? I do some stories but not a lot, you're right. I was raised by Rodney Dangerfield, you know: Ten jokes quick and get the hell out. And do the steps in the jokes fast, too, don't even make them long steps. I think I tell more stories that I'm weaving now. I do believe that when you sit with an audience and you tell them, "This is how I feel about the world and look at how screwed up this is" -- and I worship people that do that for us. I watch Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. I'd love to be as intelligent and put those pieces together, like they do, but I also have this thing where I want people to be entertained -- which is this crazy old showbiz ethic. Everyone is having such a crappy time in life -- not everybody, but more people than not -- and I want them to leave feeling like they just came from some silly town meeting or something.
Your dad's presence and influence was also pretty apparent on the special. You tell a couple of jokes that he told you when you were a kid. What was the best joke he ever told you growing up and what was the best advice he ever gave you? The best advice he gave me was never comedic. It was to be kind. He's a guy whose humor came from being bored or being sad. The best joke, I mean, I can't even think of the best joke because they were so strange. We'd be at a restaurant and he'd just take a little piece of food and he'd put it on your hand. He'd rub some, like, creamed spinach on your hand and go, "Here, Bob. This is for you. This is all you get." And those are the things that I found even funnier because they were basically like a character in a movie. He wasn't a joke guy. He was just a guy who was funny and had a delightful sense of humor. It was all through managing all the death [in his family].
With you, though, you're known for being very filthy and very blue. But I'm not very filthy!
Well, that's how they market you. "He's not the guy you saw on Full House. He's going to say 'dick.'" And they should do that. You can't bring a 9-year-old to my show. I've had people come up to me and go, "Tell the Aristocrats!" and I don't even talk like that. I've done it twice with audiences, I've told that joke. The movie had just come out and people were rowdy and weird. I don't know. I like inappropriate jokes. I'm always drawn by somebody telling me, "Don't say that!" But if someone says, "Say that," then I don't want to. I don't think it's because I'm getting older, I think it's because I'm learning a little more about comedy.
I think that in reaction to The Aristocrats film in 2005, that was probably one of the first times a wide range of people got to see you in that way. Obviously you'd been a comedian and doing those type of routines for years, but people were comfortable and used to the Full House and America's Funniest Home Videos versions of you. Do you think your presence in the film helped your stand-up? Actually, right after I finished the video show and Full House, I ended up directing a lot. For five years, all I did was direct. [But] I missed stand-up, and I said I'd come back, and I think I came back even harder. It was a badge of honor. "Oh, I can be dirtier than anybody else!" It wasn't even shock value. It was just where I was at in my life. The gladiator that goes out and instead of slaying a lion, yells, "Fuck!" An absolute meaningless talent.
Was it hard for you to reconcile those two images of your public life? You have this squeaky-clean, "America's dad" and this vulgar, ballsack-obsessed comedian. Did it take a lot of effort to reassure viewers that this was the same person? While I was doing the squeaky-clean comedy, that's just an actor playing a part. If you do it for eight years that's more than an actor playing a part -- they think that's who you are. If an actor like Robin Williams stars in Mrs. Doubtfire and the does One Hour Photo, people aren't going to think he's one or the other of those guys. With a sitcom actor, I guess [the audience] didn't think I had any range.
It's a weird thing that happened. I ended up on a show that the world will probably never see a family like that again. The love that that show gets and the popularity of it is exponential. My stand-up was an answer to it at the time, but people didn't really go, "I want to go see Bob. He's the dad on this show."
When I did the show, all the kids knew that's what I was like off-stage. I didn't go around cursing, but I definitely wasn't a normal human being. I was hyper and always looking for a joke and trying to escape. If you put a person that's a funny person or neurotic and put them in a format that's a strong format you'll watch them morphing out of their minds. In the end, I'm so proud of the show.
Do you guys still keep in touch? More than people should, more than people should. Because I had a long day yesterday, I couldn't go over to John's [Stamos], but we were gonna cook dinner at his house.
And cuddle, I'm sure. Yeah. And Dave [Coulier], well, he couldn't make it, but we love spending time together. I'm friends with every person on the show. I'm very, very fortunate.
As a viewer, you always wonder if that is a setup. Pictures of you and John Stamos on each other's Instagram feeds -- you never know if that's staged or not. It's really quite great. Dave's been doing stand-up, too, in a more consequential way. He's playing the same kind of rooms I'm playing. As clean-cut a version as he puts on-stage, off-stage he's the silliest, funniest, and sometimes most disgusting person you could ever see in a room -- but he doesn't want to share that with the world. He does it for us.
He has a gas problem. Dave can do impressions of any person's flatulence. These are not the people from the sitcom that was meant for 12-year-old girls. We're all down a different creative path, too. We love each other. Everybody's survived pretty well and is moving forward in their lives, if you will. I met Dave when I was 22 and he was 17 . . . all through doing stand-up.
So stand-up has always been in the background, but now you feel like you can go at it full-force? Yeah. I mean, there are other things I'm connected to doing now. The book was a year and a half I had to take off. It took a total of five months just to get the book written. You have to write four or five hours a day and you can't really go do stand-up at night.
Did you really write for four or five hours every day? Were you religious about it in that way? I was not. Sometimes I was and other times I got into 12 hours in four days. I literally just delivered it this morning at 5 a.m. I sound like a doctor. It answered a lot of questions, but maybe it'll give people less interview material.
Was it cathartic for you? Very much so. I did it hand-in-hand with therapy. You don't want to try this at home alone. It's been a beautiful experience. Going back and doing stand-up now, and Phoenix is the first gig I'll be going back to, I feel like I'm going back into the ring. I've been off for a while. I went up and did stand-up a couple weeks ago in L.A. with my friends. I'd just show up unannounced and try to work some stuff out.
Are there clubs you tend to go to in L.A. just to watch comedy? I never watch comedy in a club. I don't want to come up with a reference or an arch that someone else has. It can't be helped. In my last special I had a long Titanic bit. Every comedian alive has a long Titanic bit. I find it fascinating as a part of our culture. Everybody has great material. There are so many good bits on texting, cell phones, and relationships -- you name it, that's the litany of what comics do. After writing this book down, the jokes or the situations or observations that come out of me are not geared to have to go into a document that's coming out from a publisher. They're able to come out of my mouth in front of people, so it's really a special time to get my stand-up going again.
Are there any comedians today that make you laugh or any comedians from back in the day that you reference in terms of style or people you look up to? For new material I never look at comedians for anything. I'd never study anybody's style. Today there's a bunch of people I find hilarious, but a lot of people don't do stand-up, a lot are comedic actors.
I was out a few weeks ago, I was out with a friend of mine -- I was out with John Mayer -- and we went to the Laugh Factory. Whitney Cummings had just gone on and she'd just left, so we'd missed her, and Dane Cook held up going on so John Mayer could go up because he does stand-up sometimes. And then I went on and did 10 minutes. And that was the extent of me seeing the comedy club scene in L.A.
I really, I don't want to do an hour on-stage at comedy clubs. I need an hour really to talk to people. I can't do it in 10-minute sets. The advantage of the 10-minute thing, the five-minute thing is you go up and work on something [you've been working on] at home or if something just happened in the news, that's a really great time to utilize the craft.
For you, it's just you trying to figure out what your best jokes are -- Not even jokes. Well, you're right, you're right. They're the best jokes that I have . . . Sorry, I had to run water just now. I'm so domestic.
As long as you're not taking a bath... No, no. I'm in the kitchen, where a man should be. I think more in riffs, the long riff. It's funny to have people start with a subject and then you just go off on it. It starts as improv and then it ends up being a seven-minute bit. A lot of what I do now is almost a public service announcement of asking [the audience] not to do wrong things. Asking young college kids to not hurt nature.
We're in such a terrible time. So many bad things have happened just in the area of where I live, and to get on stage and talk about those things is just so painful for me. I don't want to get on stage and hurt people. People I worship like George Carlin or Bill Maher will do stand-up in a venue and he'll tell you how many people we've lost. That upsets me so much; I don't want to do that to people. I like people that do it and I admire them, but I guess the way I work, because I'm a personality comedian, is where I'm at in my life and what are the funny things about that. What do we see as we do anything during the day? Everybody has the same stuff: we're all playing with an iPhone, we're all trying to date, we're all acting like jerks, so it's not hard to come up with the steps for that. The question is, how do you uniquely do it differently?
In the special you call out a couple of people in the audience. Do you tend to use this sort of audience participation? I do, yeah. I've always done that. I try not to, but they're there. They showed up. It's funny, I mean, people are out for an evening and you go, "My god, they really did that? They came here with that girl and they're looking at that other girl? What's wrong with them?" That to me is quite fun to play with.
We'll remind everyone to sit in the very back, then. I literally cannot wait to go there. Maybe we'll get everybody to go to Colorado where it's legal to smoke. You can get the audience mobile if you promise them something like that.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Can you tell me some of the material you're working on now? The few things that I have been working on are so foul that I'm having serious psychological difficulty right now. I can't even say what they are. I can't read them in print. It'll take out the whole neighborhood. Someone will call 911. It makes me laugh, but it will not translate over the phone. It's like sarcasm doesn't translate well in writing, my comedy doesn't translate very well if it's spoken.
Well that's a bad idea -- you're a stand-up comedian! Shouldn't your comedy translate well if it's spoken? I know! It's funny, I worship Don Rickles. He never had any quoteable material because he's never had material. So when people would talk to him on the phone and say, "What's your show gonna be like?" he goes, "I don't know, why don't you show up and find out?"
Catch the comic at 7:30 and 10 p.m. Friday, January 31, and at 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday, February 1, at Stand Up Live. Tickets for the 21-and-over show are $32. A two-drink minimum is required (and encouraged). Visit www.standuplive.com.