There are few people who don't know who Bob Saget is. But what they know him for is where it gets interesting. There are still devout Full House fans and America's Funniest Home Videos viewers who remember him from those family shows; others think first of his memorably filthy turn in The Aristocrats and his notoriously raunchy standup. His latest special, That's What I'm Talking About, premiered on Showtime in May and is now available as a CD/DVD/download.
In it, he addresses both public personas while incorporating several audience members into the show and finishing off with a few comedy songs. I got the chance to chat with him over the phone recently about audience interaction, early shows, and apologizing for apologizing.
Do you always have that much audience interaction at your shows?
It changes a lot. Sometimes I go onto a place where I just want to work on material – and as crazy as it sounds, that's all material. It's a couple years of growing jokes. But when the audience gets excited, it is like a town meeting, even though it's a television special. You don't want it to be a town meeting, you want it to be for everybody to be able to see, but there I was in Seattle and this guy was so effusive and so excited to see me. And then his brother kept going to the bathroom every couple minutes, and people don't usually do that when you're recording a television special, so I kind of owned it rather than not being able to use any footage of the audience because people were moving around like strange little creatures. [Laughs.] They were very, very nice people, so I do like audience play. That's probably just idolizing Don Rickles my whole career. And I always was an audience comedian, even at 17.
And how do you get a chance to work stuff out? Do you do sets in LA, or do you mostly work on stuff on the road?
Once and awhile, I do the spots in LA. I'll just go in unannounced and try 10 minutes, or I'll be out with friends and I'll go, "I've got this five minute thing. I've got to process it." So I'll go up and do something completely new. And I really do love that, because the first time that you say something that you think is funny, it's a real special thing. And somebody'll say, "Wow, that's a bit you've got there." And I can't be drinking or anything before I perform, so it's not like I can go out to dinner and then go, "Hey, let's go…" [The phone goes silent for a second.] Just as I said that, Jeff Ross texted me. It's just at the moment that I say I can't go out and drink and then go on stage. Jeff Ross is one of the few people that, I'll say, "You know, I can't go up. I just had some wine." And he goes, "Oh come on buddy. What's the big deal? You're all loosened up." [Laughs.]
I was thinking that it must be more difficult for someone with so much name recognition to work stuff out. In New York, people like Louis C.K. and Chris Rock still drop in and do sets around town, but it must be such a different experience from a young comic who can work something out in front of strangers over and over again.
Well, it's a blessing and a curse, because 30 years ago I'd get on stage, and – God, I can't even believe I'm saying that. That's a statement of mine, right? 30 years ago… [Laughs.] I remember when doors didn't have hinges. But I got on stage and they wouldn't know. I guess 1987 is when Full House began, so they kind of barely knew me as that, but I'd been a standup for 13 years already. And you already know what you are as a comic, and you just keep finding your voice the more you do it, and the more your style is whatever it is. But one of the things I love is that they accept me already. They feel they know me. People had sex and went to the bathroom – hopefully not at the same time – while those shows that I did were on. Those are family shows, so it was 20 years of, "Oh, this isn't that guy." My career's a weird one, because when Chris Rock or Louis C.K. – who are about the best that exist on the Earth at the moment, Kevin Hart's pretty up there – but when you go and watch them, the bar is set so high. You're expecting, "Wow, this guy's gonna be the most amazing thing I've ever seen." And you know, they live up to that.
But it depends on the audience. I actually went up at the Comedy Cellar not long ago, which is where everybody seems to frequent. Jeff Ross and John Stamos and I were out to dinner, and we all went to the Comedy Cellar and Jeff got on stage, and they gave him a guitar and he played a little song, and Stamos played the piano for him and I came up. I brought John up and John heckled me. And it's a fun thing to be slightly indulgent and also be polite of the other comedians' times. Because if you're gonna bombard the stage as a well-known person and mess up the lineup, it's unfair to other comedians that waited all week for that spot. So, I don't like to do that either.
But in LA, I'll go up and do a set at the Comedy Store or I'll do Laugh Factory. I'll just drop by, because most of the time, there's something I'd like to try to say. And then I'm pacing back and forth going, "What am I going to say? I can't remember this. What do I want to say?" And sometimes it just comes to you, and then you go, "Oh my God, I can't believe I just was able to do that. What was that? How did that happen? How can I replicate that? That was so good. What zone was I in just now?"
A lot of your material seems so suited to a late night set. I imagine it would feel weird at an early show, when it's still light outside.
It's so funny. There's something I love about early shows too. I really want people to be entertained. I want them to feel, when they leave, "Dammit, that was good. Boy, is he funny." And that's what I always want to do. I'm the guy that doesn't talk about topical stuff because I'm real sensitive. When I turn on the news, I'm like, "How could they put this on the news for more than 12 seconds?" It's just, like, babies murdered. The world is so askew, that I would just rather talk about things that are, you know, in my pants. [Laughs.] I'm basically a ten-year-old, so it's not a disservice to me to go on at 7 o'clock. I love that it's still light out, because when the show's over, it's dark out. So the people just set their clocks forward the moment they walked in the door.
And there's another thing to be said for sober people. And you can only get so stoned early. My audiences tend to make it kind of a little bit of an event because they grew up watching Full House and they have an obsession with it. And then I'll spend a show going, "I'm not even mentioning it tonight." Because there's that crazy flip side of, you know, "He talks about that." But comedians have to own who they are, anyway. I used to do all material about my kids. I used to talk about my wife and I would talk about girlfriends. Rodney Dangerfield was a big influence of mine. He didn't exactly go into politics. He was all about how people perceived him and how insecure he was and how women would talk down to him. And my stuff is just silly.
And you spend so much time on stage apologizing. Do you do that on purpose, or do you just find yourself saying it as the set goes on?
I'm trying to do it less. My entire act was based on that, and that really came from a self-loathing cultural problem. And most people would tell you, no matter what you're doing, if it's any kind of art, don't apologize for it. Don't apologize for your writing or painting or your acting – well some people should apologize for their acting. And I used to go, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I must have said I'm sorry 100 times. 101. I'm sorry." It was that much of a self-aware run. It's kind of a neurotic rant, but for me now, it's because I do feel the audience, and sometimes I have nice people there that I don't want to offend. I don't even find my stuff dirty. It's so weird. I know it is, but a lot of times I don't find it blue at all.
But yeah, I feel – I was gonna say, I feel bad about apologizing. [Laughs.] I guess that's just who I am, so I can't keep apologizing for apologizing. One of the reasons I do it is people go, "Oh he's so dirty. So dirty." And then they come to see it, and they go, "Well, you weren't that dirty." I mean, there's comedians I really like, like Jim Jefferies, and he uses words that people go, "Wow. That's just too much. He's pushing it too much." But I don't even hear them. I listen to what he's saying and where he's coming from.
He's such an interesting person to mention because he seems like someone who never apologizes, who would even go out of his way to not apologize for anything he said. And I like Jim Jefferies.
No, he wouldn't. I like Jim Jefferies too, and you're right. He doesn't apologize for it, but he thinks about it. He's got his Catholic guilt about it. But I do it in a way of, I don't want people to have a bad feeling about something. And I want to be a good person, so I don't want to do something that upsets people or makes them feel like, "Oh God, what did I just subject myself to?" People leave my shows going, "Damn, that was so much fun."
When did you start doing music in your act? Was that always part of your standup?
It used to be all music. When I was 11, I started taking really bad guitar lessons, and I continued to really excel, never getting good at it. I mean, I'm okay at it, I guess. There's five songs in the new special, so I look at that and I laugh out loud. But I like writing music and I love singing. I did The Drowsy Chaperone on Broadway, and even though I didn't sing that much, I'm still a music guy. I just love it. But my act used to be, when I started at 17 years old until I was about 25, I was a guitar act. I did comedy songs and music parodies and I used to sing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and water poured out of my guitar. I had a valve and turned it and water soaked my pants. It was a good close-up bit.
And I know you're writing a book. What will it be like?
It's a book on comedy and death and how they're related. It's because I lost a couple sisters and all of my comedy comes from some gallows humor. It was so painful that that's how we dealt with our families. So my dad was very, very funny and a lot of it was meant for relief. Someone would pass away and we just crack up, just in horrible, horrible taste, not good for mixed company, but a very worthwhile way to get through things. To look at things kind of from the outside, rather than just dwell on,"My God, my life is over."
That sounds really interesting. I can't wait to read it.
Oh thank you. I can't wait to finish it. [Laughs.] I'm enjoying writing it. It's funny, I was writing last night, and I don't think there was anything humorous in anything I wrote. It was really strange. I know what my editor's gonna tell me. I just have a feeling that they're gonna say, for it to be a comedy book, it should have comedy. But there's moments that are so serious in my life that I make it pretty serious.
That's What I'm Talking About is available now. Bob Saget is on Twitter at @bobsaget.
Elise Czajkowski is a Contributing Editor at Splitsider. She can be found tweeting occasionally at @elisecz.