Bob Saget has a strongly split public persona. To much of the world, he will forever be known as the dad on the clean-cut, wholesome family sitcom Full House and the genially zany host of America’s Funniest Home Videos. To others, he’s infamous for his aggressively profane, scatological stand-up comedy and career-redefining appearance in The Aristocrats.
The stand-up comedian, actor, writer, and director began his show-business career early: He hung out at the famed Comedy Store as a teenager and won a Student Academy Award in 1978 for Through Adam’s Eyes, a short documentary he made about facial reconstruction surgery. He received his big break in 1987 when he was cast in Full House. Two years later, he became the host of America’s Funniest Home Videos, a much-maligned but hugely popular home-footage comedy show he hosted until 1997. That same year, Saget directed the cult comedy Dirty Work starring his friend Norm MacDonald. In 2006, Saget began providing the uncredited narration for How I Met Your Mother, a part he continues to play. The affable comedy veteran can currently be seen as himself on Strange Days With Bob Saget, an A&E documentary series in which he explores fascinating subcultures that run the gamut from fraternities to Bigfoot hunters to backyard wrestlers. The A.V. Club recently had a spirited conversation with Saget about his secret softcore past, being alternately filthy and family-friendly, and the penis-donut jokes that were tragically cut from Dirty Work.
The A.V. Club: How did Strange Days come about?
Bob Saget: I thought of an idea 10 years ago, but it was a different kind of a show, a ballsy show where I could just go somewhere and live with people and just do it before any of these other reality shows came about. It didn’t take fire and didn’t make sense because I really didn’t conceive it in a satisfying way. A year and a half ago, I sat down with the partners in Tijuana Entertainment and together we decided to make it a bucket list for me. It was an opportunity to do what I never experienced in my life that I was interested in and study subcultures in a way that I’ve always been interested in studying them. When I was in film school, I won the Student Oscar for a documentary I made about a kid who had his face reconstructed. I was raised in college on documentary filmmaking, then I had all these tangents of weird digression.
AVC: What did that do for your ego, winning the Student Academy Award?
BS: It made it too large. I had testosterone that has taken me up until about five years ago. It’s just faux-testosterone now. My confidence wavers between being genuine and being insecure. So at the time—I was 21—I would say I was a douchebag. I am. I went to L.A. I was flown out. I met Steven Spielberg at the presentation. I had on a white—It looked like I was in Saturday Night Fever. It was a beige suit with a brown plaid vest. I needed a matching lunch box. But then I couldn’t make this show now. And I made a selfless film, so it was just a 21-year-old kid, thinking about crap. “I made a really good thing. I must be good.” Then I went and worked at The Comedy Store for free for seven years. That kind of helped. That kind of humbled me.
AVC: You started at The Comedy Store when you were 17, right?
BS: Boy, if you really want to know, I’ll talk to you for days. I’m in editing, I’ve got nowhere to go, and the fact that you know that is frightening. I’m in editing ’til one in the morning, I’ll be working on Strange Days. Editing the Cornell episode, where they let us in a frat in Cornell. Everything I’m doing right now is going back through my own life. It’s been a year of shooting and editing these shows. It’s the craziest, weirdest journey that could have happened.
So, at 17, I was living in Philadelphia. I had moved there because my dad was in the food business. I would take a train from Philly to New York City. I’d wait in line for 12 hours at clubs, the Improv and Catch A Rising Star. I’d sign a clipboard. Richard Belzer was one of my first hosts, and Robert Wuhl, and Chris Albrecht was the manager of the Improv. He became the head of HBO years later. He was my agent at one time. So all these people, I would see when I was 17, and I’d bomb, play guitar, and sing songs about bondage and crossdressing. So, I have not grown in that way.
Then I would do stand-up in Philly. I would work for a guy named Steven Starr, who now is a restaurateur. Then I went to The Comedy Store, moved to L.A. in ’78 after I won the Student Oscar…. I met Brad Gray, who’s my best friend and was my manager, and Harvey Weinstein and Brad were my managers when I was 21. [Laughs.] So my balls were inflated, but I was penniless. So I was doing stand-up, and then I was going to go to grad school at USC. I always wanted to direct, and I would always do everything. My dad would say, “You and I do five things, none of them well.” He meant it in a good way, because he was a good man.
And then I just kind of went through these things. You know, “I’ll do the digression really quick.” I got a gig on CBS, on Morning Show, that I got fired from after five months, because I was too hot for morning TV. Then I got this show, Full House. My friend Dave [Coulier] was on it, and I wanted a sitcom. I just had a kid. “Oh, sitcom! It’s like Three Men And A Baby. That’s cool. And it’s done by Miller-Boyett, who did Mork & Mindy and Happy Days. I’ll do that. That’s cool!” [Laughs.] And then I took another job, because they said, “Do you want to host a clip show?” I said, “Yeah, I’ll narrate funny videos. I’ve always done that, since I was 9.” That was eight years. Yeah, I stepped in shit, and then I kind of was blessed and am blessed. But it’s also become this thing where people stereotype you as that.
And now I’m only doing what I want to do. Whatever door opens within favor of that, I’m happy with, because I’m really happy. I was doing another sitcom last year that didn’t last that I really liked. It was called Surviving Suburbia. But I also was doing this show. I went and did a pilot for this show. It was shot in Ukraine. We helped guys get mail-order brides. It’s not going to air right now, because it hadn’t found itself. It was this hour show.
I probably should have answered your question 12 minutes ago. We were on the phone with the guys from Tijuana Entertainment, it’s these wonderful guys, they do really interesting shows and documentaries there. They’re Google-able. We all partnered up, and we sold it to Scott Lonker on the phone, who’s at A&E. On the phone, he said, “Yeah, I want to do this.” So the idea of the show was me studying subcultures. That was kind of what would be on the wish list of stuff I never did that I wanted to explore the world of, but make it a comedy show. I’ve said this to a couple other people, so I don’t want to make it sound like it’s my rote, pat, Bob’s silly joke, but it’s comedy-documentary, so I’ve been trying to coin “cockumentary,” just because I want to see it in print. With a “k” after the “c”. It’s possible that would add me to the equation. [Laughs.]
AVC: I think you’re en route to joining Noam Chomsky as our most distinguished linguist.
BS: [Laughs.] Noam Chomsky taught a class once to my girlfriend years ago at Cornell, and that’s where I was to shoot the show I’m about to edit. I don’t know very many things; thank God you said something I know. What influenced me a lot on this show; a lot of people might not know, George Plimpton, who—
AVC: I was just about to ask you if you were channeling your inner George Plimpton.
BS: I am. And more recently, Louis Theroux is really smart; I’m a big fan of documentary. Documentaries are one of the most beautiful things people make. In this show I don’t talk to the camera. I’m not a host. I’m there. I’m like The Brother From Another Planet. I drop into the… Well, a lot of my references are worthless, but it was how I was trying to go, “What is this?” And there are several of them. I never went to camp as a kid. I couldn’t get into an Ivy League school. I wouldn’t join a biker club. I would be scared to death of people like that. Wrestling I would just watch on television. Vegas I’ve been a pro in stand-up for whatever—I guess when you get paid, I would say 25 years, but its been 35 years.
But we did the Hunter Thompson thing. He’s kind of a thing that always hits us, because we did the Mint 400, which is where he wrote Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas ’cause he went and dropped acid or peyote—I don’t know what the hell it was because I haven’t done any for weeks. But he was writing an article for Sports Illustrated and it ended up in Rolling Stone, because it was downgradeable, according to his substance abuse. And Jeff Ross, my comedian friend, was my Lazlo, and we drove around. For a kick we got the car, just for a signature couple minutes of screen time, but the rest of it is just off-road Vegas stuff, late night and weird, Jeff Ross and I just walking through streets. And then today I’m editing all night, because we got to get these on the air, because we go on November 30th, and we’re almost finished with the biker episode, which is me joining a motorcycle club, where I got in a sidecar, because I can’t do anything….
But the Hunter Thompson beat of this is what centers us when we get off. Because we shoot 60 hours, so there’s going to be stuff that’s sweatier, and not centered, and I don’t want to do that show ever again in my life. Because I’ve done a lot of television, and I don’t want to do anything disingenuous, not that I have, because I put my heart and soul into everything, even the most commercial stuff I’ve done. If it’s a show meant for 14-year-old girls, that’s cool, that’s who it’s meant for. And then I look at bad reviews of Full House by 50-year-old men, and I’m like, “Dude, it’s for 14-year-old girls. Can we please get a 14-year-old girl to review Full House?” Because that’s the audience.
AVC: With the creation of the Internet, there are now 14-year-old girls who can make their voices heard to the entire world.
BS: And there are. And there’s candy in their web banner, and it’s all fine, and they’re still fans of mine, which is just wrong. [Laughs.] But the crazy thing about this show that I’m really thrilled about is that no two episodes are alike. There are certain themes that are alike; it’s me saying, “How did I get here? How did this start? How did I end up in Vegas? How did I go to the world of wrestling?” We had three different wrestling worlds that we did in the 22 minutes. We did backyard wrestling, which was a little Jackass-y, but that’s what the world was. I then went to “lucha libre,” “nacho libre,” I don’t know how to say it. And then we went to the Dragon Gate, which is not WWE-level, but it’s professional wrestling. And it’s not a cheerleader festival for any of these things we’re attending, but it’s not a hazing.
I revere Sacha Baron Cohen, but we’re not doing that, because I’m not going to go naked and into red lighting and ask a guy to have sex with me in a tent. Although I’d like to. But not for TV. But for the Bigfoot episode, we peed in infrared, that’s as far as I’ll go, right? And it was like a bar mitzvah; we were trying to give salmon and apples and Danish to Bigfoot, because that’s what the dudes who put the food out like.
AVC: Did you find Bigfoot?
BS: That is a question. I’m on Conan Wednesday, and that is one of the subjects I will bring up, because I think if we had found him, it would have been in the paper. [Laughs.] And my name would have been in the headline.
AVC: You could bring out Bigfoot as your special guest while you’re on Conan.
BS: The first episode is where I do it, I apologize for doing it, but it’s how I am—the episode has a funeral of bikers, and a wedding of bikers. I got to know these people on the 60 hours of this journey from Nashville to Daytona in a sidecar off and on, when I wasn’t being five-star hotel-ed wherever I could. But that episode then leads into the Bigfoot episode right away, and that one is…I…What was your question?
AVC: Did you find Bigfoot?
BS: [Laughs.] Oh yeah. My belief is that—and I said this on the show—if he is this 10-foot-tall, 1,600-pound creature, and he is naked, and we have imprints of his feet and his hands, then he doesn’t want to be seen because his teacup doesn’t match his saucers. He is hiding because he has a small unit. That is truly what my belief is; that Bigfoot is small-penised. He is not endowed. So. I didn’t answer your question. [Laughs.] I can’t give it away. I can’t just come out and say it. But I think we would have heard, right?
AVC: But if I were Bigfoot I would—
BS: —want to be on a show with me, right?
AVC: —give people my business card.
AVC: I would blow people’s minds by showing up at random events and handing people my business card.
BS: Hey, yeti’s supposed to be the Abominable Snowman. So it’s Sasquatch, it’s bipedicus giganticus. If I give Bigfoot my business card, my guess—and I have a friend who does this—is that he would pick his teeth with it. He would just use it as floss. And his teeth are fucking rotted, I mean he’s like—the Bigfoot searchers hate if you reference Harry And The Hendersons; to them, that’s just bullshit, because he exists.
I approached this thing incredibly wrong. I was looking for Harry And The Hendersons. I’m looking for the Smurfs next week. Also, the most moving episode that I did was the camp episode. I went to Coppercreek Camp, okay? You’re familiar somewhat with my work, I assume—the 14-year-olds’ parents let me have access to their camp. Full access. Which meant they knew enough about me from the cross-sections of me, that they could trust me, because they were assured by my producers, who were really talented, that I wouldn’t haze them and hurt these kids. And it’s the most moving episode. Because I never went to camp. These kids are amazing kids. I had a bunk with four guys, and that’s sad. I mean, it’s not sad, I became friends with a lot of people—I mean, they’re 14 years old and I went to camp with them for a week. That just sounds really wrong, doesn’t it?
AVC: How did you find the culture in the stand-up comedy clubs to be different in New York and Los Angeles when you first started out?
BS: There are certain places in Los Angeles now that feel more like New York because there’s so many New York people that live in Los Angeles. There’s always been an edgier place to go, and a more commercial place to go, but… New York City to me, when I go to Comedy Cellar in New York, that’s kind of a uterus for me. [Laughs.] And I am the placenta, so they throw me out as soon as the show is over. Or you can cook it.
AVC: And you leave a bloody mess wherever you go.
BS: You know what, that’s my mark. At least you always know where I’ve been. And if I ever got kidnapped, you could follow the trail of blood and find me. But there’s something about—everything cool that’s happened to me, stand-up wise, was in New York. I played Carnegie Hall when I was 23, opening for Gino Vannelli. I did a lot of big shows there; I hosted SNL, I did a morning program on CBS, a lot of stuff. I did Broadway, I did the Drowsy Chaperone a couple of years ago. A lot of things that meant a lot to me have happened there. There’s something about an audience being—and I’m not putting down audiences anywhere else, because there are a lot of places I love. I was just in Denver, Minneapolis, and Chicago, and I had a love affair emotionally with the audiences in every city this last week.
But there’s something about New York City, and I just did a benefit Monday night there for scleroderma, and I raised $700,000—and your question of L.A./New York, the performers for me were Brian Regan, Seth Meyers, and Jeff Ross, and Brian Williams did stand-up, and Jerry Seinfeld. And so, the universal bit is the difference between L.A. and New York. L.A. for me became the home base; I showed up in ’78, worked the Comedy Store, worked The Improv, and then would go to San Francisco for 25 years, working the clubs out there. New York City to me is the Mecca of it, because I’d watch Andy Kaufman, and I’d watch all the old shows, and I knew where everybody came from, I knew where Rodney Dangerfield came from, and Richard Pryor, and I became friends with them. And Richard had M.S. and I would go sit with him, near the end…
But L.A., there’s something about it, a comedian is a comedian. Unless I knew Esperanto, there’s no difference anymore, their love can be found anywhere, then love of the craft can be found anywhere. But gutting yourself as a comedian is to be in front of a 115 people at the Comedy Cellar. Carolines is fantastic. I was there. And then, a theater venue in New York, there’s just something about it. You can’t fuck with them.
It’s just a gut-level honesty, which is what I strive to do now more than ever. I feel like I’m just starting, because therapy’s very expensive, and it’s really something I don’t want to waste any of my time or the gifts I’ve been given. I’m allowed to get in front of people who know me, and now it’s like, “Oh, he’s really changed his image.” [Laughs.] It’s like, “What? What are you talking about?” I’m 17 talking about smegma for no reason that nobody liked, but I just had gigs. So people go, like, “You play Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins must eat people.” So I was Danny Tanner, I dust-busted and wore cardigan sweaters. So…whatever.
AVC: Although at this point, it seems like you’re probably as known for being a famously profane stand-up comedian as you are for being a wholesome sitcom dad.
BS: You seriously just fluffed me. That’s almost the nicest thing you could have said to me. I’m not even whining anymore, although I’ll get to that place; I’m working so hard on this show and on some other projects that are upcoming for me, that I’ve never really been this happy, because artistically, all of my plants are getting watered. All the watering is paying off, I’m growing out of my—I’m a little time-lapse photography of a Venus Flytrap coming out, and you know what they get to do. I don’t know what they get to do. [Laughs].
AVC: You mentioned that Harvey Weinstein was your manager.
BS: He was my “manager” manager. And Brad Grey.
AVC: I would imagine that also explains how you were involved in the 1979 film Spaced Out.
BS: Hell yeah. Harvey Weinstein and Bobby Weinstein, his brother, acquired this movie, Spaced Out. It was called something else. It was a soft-rated R movie from England, and they bought it and said, “We’ll take this and make stars out of Bob Saget and John De Hart, who are comedy people that we wanted to sign who were on this tour in Buffalo, and Bob, write the voiceovers.” Which I did, and we did two voices, like a Clint Eastwood jukebox, and I was some weird thing I can’t remember.
AVC: Did you go back and rewrite, line by line, this British thing? Or did you just add things?
BS: I added things. Oh, no, no it was just narration, voiceover. It was like America’s Funniest Home Videos, but it was softcore science-fiction porn.
AVC: A film that you directed, that I’m a big fan of, and I know other people are as well, is Dirty Work.
BS: Thank you, thank you, thank you. That was a year of my life with some of the funniest people ever born.
AVC: It’s got two of my favorite scenes of any comedy of the last 20 years.
BS: The car salesman and the hookers in the trunk?
BS: That was one of my favorites.
AVC: Those were some beautifully executed scenes.
BS: That’s Norm MacDonald, Fred Wolf, Frank Sebastiano, who wrote that movie. And Artie Lange and Chris Farley, who I loved immensely. One of my favorite things I’ve ever seen in my life, just with my own eyes, was “There’s the Saigon whore that bit my nose off.” And my note to Chris Farley was “Go Sam Shepard on this.” And he went, “Okay!” And his loss is gargantuan, he was such a beautiful child. Smart, smart, funny person. Jack Warden was a brilliant actor; I got to direct him, and my friend Chris McDonald, and Norm and I will be friends forever. A lot of people in that movie.
AVC: Chevy Chase was too.
BS: Well, we’re friends of Chevy’s. We would watch Saturday Night Live, and Norm was the news guy, and Adam Sandler did a cameo in it, and Gary Coleman… [Laughs.] Gary Coleman, the late Gary Coleman, he was so funny in it. He was fighting Ken Norton for a fantasy scene for a second, and Ken knocked Gary down, and Gary kept falling on his arm, and he had a hurt arm, and I was like, “Please stop it.” But for some reason, there was this weird guerilla comedy zone that everybody got in. But it was the guys that wrote it, and I got to direct it, and it was a really great experience, and I’m really proud of it. It’s a fun movie. It didn’t do very well business-wise. The joke that nobody seems to get is that MGM actually sent me a bill and told me that I owe them $30 million personally. Because when it opened, Michael Jordan played his last two games with the Bulls, and we found out that that’s not good for our opening, because we’re a 15-year-old boy’s movie.
AVC: I read somewhere that the original screenplay for Dirty Work was more R-rated.
BS: Yeah, there were six minutes that were taken out of it, and I was going to go back into the editing room and put them back in, but I don’t think anyone can find them; I think they’re on microfiche. But you know, when Norm was anally raped in it, we got to say, “and anal rape!” And in the movie, we had to say, “and the other thing!” So we had to loop lines, and we had to cut some stuff out. There was a prank by the frat boys in it that I loved so damn much, and then we got to shoot it. The idea was that Norm and Artie were hazing this fraternity, and to get back at these frat guys who were such assholes, they give them a box of doughnuts, and then underneath the donuts is this old joke—which has been in other movies, but it was in Dirty Work and got cut out—they put a Polaroid at the bottom of the doughnuts. What happened on the Polaroid is that Norm and Artie are naked with erections, and Artie has six doughnuts and Norm has nine doughnuts, on dowels, on pieces of wood that I cut out and strapped to their underwear and then we airbrushed it out, and so they basically have hard-ons with doughnuts on them, so that the doughnuts were on their dicks, and the frat boys are eating them, and then they pull the picture out at the back of it—and it’s just an old joke—and they spit it out, because they were eating Norm MacDonald and Artie Lang’s penis doughnuts. And then they are going to kick the crap out of them. It was one of my favorite things, and that says quite a bit. You would have really enjoyed it.
AVC: I wrote about Dirty Work and it got a really good response. It’s definitely a cult movie at this point.
BS: I know. You know, I go onstage, and I got a couple thousand people, and I’ll mention Half Baked, the 30 seconds I was in it. I was in Half Baked because we had the same producer [for Dirty Work], Bob Simonds, and asked me if I would do a cameo in Half Baked. And I read the script, and I was like, “Sure, I’ll do that, who cares.” And I said I sucked dick for coke, and talked about it ad nauseum. But I was directing Dirty Work, which was a really amazing experience. And making a comedy isn’t easy. They always say that comedy is hard. I don’t know what’s easy.
AVC: Dying is easy.
BS: Well, yeah, dying is easy. Whew. Dying’s not easy, I’ve been around it. It’s not easy. A fast death is easy; something just falls on you and flattens you, like in The Other Guys. That’s funny. A fast death is funny. Roadrunner deaths are good. Roadrunner-Coyote. It’s like an anvil drops on you, something from ACME, that’s fast, you know? But death’s not funny, is it?
One of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen was—I’ve never even talked about this—these guys took America’s Funniest Home Videos with me on it, and took Faces Of Death, and they intercut the two. They took a 20-minute reel with clips of me narrating, “Here’s something funny!” And then they would just show the worst things. The senator, the congressman, the bullfighter getting gored, you know, terrible things, things I couldn’t even look at. But for a couple of seconds, it’s just funny, because they show people in the audience throwing their heads back with the fake laughs. I mean, I parodied it on Saturday Night Live, taken from that tape basically. But some editors in town made it, it was 20 minutes long, just vile snuff footage, with me hosting it. [Laughs.]
AVC: Were you able to watch it to the end or was it too disturbing?
BS: No, I watched it for about a minute. I can’t. I’ll say blue stuff in my show, and I’ll tell college kids to stop, don’t have sex with animals, because it’s just wrong, and then I’ll go 10 minutes of describing it. I can’t stop it because my dad though it was funny. I don’t care, I find it funny. And a lot of people find it funny. You know, Nick Swardson had a really funny show on the other night. Did you see it? Have you watched his thing [Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time]? He’s really funny; he’s a bright comedian, and he got a show where they’re out there, critter hunters. And they’re getting raped by animals and stuff. And you know, South Park’s humor, the Matt and Trey humor, I laugh at that. I’m cut from that cloth: “How crazy and perverted is our world?” That’s what you laugh at. So, you know, I’m not actually into looking at animal porn. I won’t film it anymore. [Laughs.]
AVC: Could you talk a little bit about The Aristocrats, and what it did for your career, and the way that people see you?
BS: The Aristocrats, it’s so fascinating. I auditioned for Paul Provenza, who directed it with Penn Jillette, when I was 18 or 19 years old. I was at Temple University, and I auditioned to be in a University Of Pennsylvania show. An all-star revue with my friend Sam Domsky, who is now a dentist, who was my comedy partner. I stood there with a guitar and played a song for Paul Provenza, and he let me be in the sketch. And we started to get to know each other. And he was already the established comedian who worked in New York at all the clubs. And then I knew Penn Jillette from Comic Reliefs, and just different comedy things, and just really dug his crazy smart sickness. And they just knew that I had a reputation, and that there was nothing too sick to me. Why is anything too sick? What’s the problem if you’re not hurting anybody? Cruelty is bad. Racism is bad. Really disgusting stuff… You know, I don’t talk about gynecological junk. But then they go and they say do this joke, tell this joke. And I’ve known Paul at a couple of sensitive times in my life, and he’s known that I’ve had some hard things happen, and then they egged me on.
What you don’t hear, during the half hour that they cut down—I don’t know how many minutes I’m in the actual film—but there’s an uncut thing of me out there, that’s what no one hears, is Penn and Paul going, “Come on Bob, just fucking do it. Do it.” And they’re waving at me, “Come on, come on. Keep going.” And they’re literally prodding me with a little electric prod, “Just get dirty man, just fucking do it.” And so I went, “Okay, you really want to hear this?” And so their stuff’s cut out, and it’s a riff that would have not happened had it not been for those two guys thinking I’m the sickest fuck in the room. It’s not something I’m proud of; it’s just the joke Dom Irrera told me, and it made me laugh, because the joke—and I say this in my stand-up—is that the joke is the joke because of how desperate people are to make it in show business. That’s why the joke is a joke. The joke is a showbiz joke, because people look at American Idol—that would be the best thing for The Aristocrats to be on, is American Idol. You know, you’re watching American Idol, and then live, they just come out, and they do that.
I would do anything. You know, it’s a South Park episode. It’s just like, you put on national live television and a family has sex with each other and you can’t believe it happened because the world just ended. [Laughs.] You know? So it’s the most unspeakable, the most—I almost want to say heinous, but it always rhymes with anus—but there’s nothing worse than that, and that’s the joke. The joke is—you know, it’s Gilbert [Gottfried]. Gilbert’s the movie. It happened because of what he did, because of the horror of 9/11, that’s how painful it is, and it’s hard to explain to people, because it’s a terrible thing to even tell the joke. It’s a terrible to even explain. But why is Sarah Silverman so brilliant with 25 minutes of amazing material about World War II? It’s because there’s so much pain involved, that those are the tools.