Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Dave Coulier was a well-established stand-up comedian and had already begun a solid career as a voice actor when he found his way into Full House, the ABC sitcom that would serve as a linchpin of the network’s T.G.I.F. lineup and run for eight seasons. Since leaving the life of Joey behind him, Coulier has continued to act and do stand-up while also popping up in reality series like The Surreal Life and Skating With Celebrities. When the oft-discussed Full House revival finally became a reality, Coulier happily signed on to reprise his role for Fuller House, the first season of which arrives on Netflix on February 26.
The A.V. Club: Having watched the first few episodes of Fuller House, allow me to say that you showed remarkable restraint by waiting until a minute and 15 seconds into the first episode to do your Bullwinkle impression.
Dave Coulier: [Laughs.] That was more the writers’ restraint than mine, I can assure you.
AVC: What was it like to step back into this world—and onto a similar looking set—so many years later?
DC: Well, I can only describe it as surreal. It took me a good day and a half to two days to re-acclimate myself and realize, “This is really happening!”
AVC: The idea of bringing back the series in some capacity had been in talks for awhile. Was there a certain point when you realized that it really was happening this time?
DC: Yeah, over the years we’d heard the rumors, and we’d heard from fans saying, “Why don’t you guys put this together?” But I never really thought it was going to become a reality. And then John Stamos started telling me that he was in meetings with Warner Brothers and Netflix, and that there were talks going on. So I said, “Well, just let me know when something happens. I’m going to go fishing.” [Laughs.] So then he called me again and said, “Well, it’s looking pretty real.” I said, “Okay, I’m gonna go fishing again.” And then he called me and said, “Well, look, we’ve got to talk, because there’s an offer on the table, and we’ve got to start putting the deal together.” So that’s when I knew. But John was really my liaison through all of this.
Then Jeff Franklin called me and asked if I could get hold of my close friend Mark Cendrowski, who directs The Big Bang Theory. Mark and I have been friends since I was 8 years old, and Jeff said, “Hey, can you talk to Cinder?” That’s his nickname, but at one point Cinder was the stage manager for Full House, and now he’s gone on to become one of the most successful directors on TV! So I was doing stand-up somewhere, I called Cinder, and he said, “Sure, have [Jeff] call me.” It was pretty much that easy: I put them together, and Cinder ended up directing the first two episodes. [Laughs.] I should get 10 percent of that deal, actually!
AVC: Your official status on Fuller House is “recurring.” How recurring are you? Is it just a few episodes during the course of the season?
DC: Yeah, I pop in for three episodes. The first episode, we’re all in, except for Mary-Kate and Ashley [Olsen]. But, yeah, I pop in sporadically throughout the season, and it was a blast. I had such a good time.
AVC: At the risk of asking a ridiculous question, did you feel that Joey had grown at all during the course of his time away?
DC: My character is no more mature now than he was in the final episode of the original series.
AVC: Which is as it should be, probably.
DC: [Laughs.] Yeah, pretty much. I mean, it’s really Full House 2.0. It kind of just updates you on our lives at this point.
AVC: You mentioned Mary-Kate and Ashley’s absence. During the TCA tour last month, Jeff Franklin said, “We all tried to persuade them to come and play; they decided not to at this time.” Were you actually part of the “we all”?
DC: I wasn’t part of the “we all” that tried to persuade them. I had hoped that they were going to come back and do the show. Not even so much to do the show as, you know, it’s just like being able to see your family members who you haven’t seen in a number of years. I was just looking forward to seeing them and catching up. You know, we really are a dysfunctional family off-camera. We see each other all the time. John Stamos spent the day with me yesterday. I’m doing a musical storybook called The Adventures Of Jimmy Bugar. Spelled like “sugar” with a B, rhymes with “booger.” [Laughs.] John played some percussion on it yesterday, and Jodie Sweeten is playing another character, so she’s recorded that. We’re always jumping on each other’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and we really support each other. It’s really cool. So not being able to see Mary-Kate and Ashley was a bit of a disappointment, I think, for all of us. But they have an open invitation to be a part of the show whenever they want.
AVC: In regards to seeing each other all the time, you and Bob Saget have both managed to pop up on John’s new series, Grandfathered.
DC: Yeah, John asked me to do that. He said, “Look, Don Rickles did one, Bob’s doing one… Would you come on and do a cameo?” I said,” Sure!” So they sent me the script, and the name of my character was “Mental Patient.” And I said, “Well, thanks a pants-load, John!” [Laughs.]
AVC: How did you find your way into show business in the first place? Did you always have an eye on doing stand-up, or had acting been your original interest?
DC: Well, Mark Cendrowski and I, we’ve known each other since third grade, and when we were kids, we would write song parodies and draw little cartoons. And then his father gave us an 8mm camera, and we started making movies, and we were always doing something. We were always putting on little skits and shows, and then we put on a big show in high school that was kind of like a Second City sketch show. So I had a partner in crime for all those years, and we ended up being roommates for five years out here in Los Angeles when we were both struggling. So I had a best friend who loved comedy. We were even a comedy duo at one point, which is where I stole “cut it out!” from. That’s where that catchphrase came from.
So I really got interested when I was very young. When I was 9 or 10 years old, I saw this kid drawing funny cartoons, so I went over and said, “What are you drawing?” And he told me, and I said, “Oh, cool! Why don’t we draw one together?” That was Mark… and that was it! So we’d draw, we’d record stuff, we’d listen to George Carlin albums together. It was great, because I found somebody who was really smart and who shared the same sense of humor. I also had a funny family: I had nine uncles growing up, and I tell everybody I pulled more fingers than an orthopedic surgeon. [Laughs.]
AVC: You mentioned moving out to Los Angeles with Mark. IMDB has a credit for you as a voice actor on Scooby-Doo And Scrappy-Doo starting in 1979, but it doesn’t specify much of anything else. Is that accurate?
DC: Yeah, that’s actually true. My first job in real show business in Los Angeles came when I got a call from Hanna-Barbera. I’d sent them a voiceover tape that was about four minutes long. I dropped it off there. That was on a Friday, and on Monday they called me and said, “Hey, can you work on Scooby-Doo tomorrow?” I said, “Absolutely!” [Laughs.] And that was kind of it. That was my first job. I remember telling the other comedians at the Comedy Store. It was just in passing conversation. I said, “Yeah, I worked on Scooby-Doo this week.” They’re, like, “What? Scooby-Doo? You’re working on Scooby-Doo?” I’m, like, “Well, yeah! Doesn’t everybody work on Scooby-Doo?” I was 19 years old, and I still remember the name of the episode: It was called “Muscle Trouble,” and I played this big monster who chases Scooby and Shaggy around on a beach.
AVC: You mentioned the Comedy Store. How long did it take you to find your footing on the comedy scene when you first arrived in Los Angeles?
DC: Well, I had come out here in August of ’79, and I auditioned at the Comedy Store, and I became an instant regular, which I was told at the time never happened, that you always had to audition a few times, and then Mitzi Shore would see you. But I went up the first night, and Mike Binder was there, who’s a really close friend of mine. I stood up at his wedding, and he and I were also roommates for I think three or four years. Mike was the first person I knew in Los Angeles, and he was there the night I auditioned for Mitzi Shore. He sat in Mitzi’s booth and said, “You’ve got to see this kid from Detroit.” So she watched, and afterwards Mike ran over and said, “Hey, Mitzi wants to talk to you!” And I went over to her booth, and she said [In a nasal voice.] “I loved your set! I want you to be a regular and work here every night. And I’m going to make you a doorman!”
So she made me a doorman at the Westwood Comedy Store, and that was kind of my hangout. Everybody was there. Everybody came through there. In one night you’d see Howie Mandel, Jim Carrey, Sam Kinison… Man, you name it. And if somebody canceled their set or didn’t show up on time, me being the doorman, I would go and grab the slot onstage. So it was great: I got paid five bucks an hour for being a doorman, and I got tons of free comedy slots!
AVC: In addition to the voicework, you were also doing a little bit of on-camera acting as well. For instance, you turned up briefly in Cheech and Chong’s Things Are Tough All Over.
DC: I did! My character was Man With Tongue! [Laughs.] I remember going in for that audition, and it was just a camera in a room and a casting director who was, like, “State your name and do something funny.” And that was it! That was my audition! So I blew some hand farts, I did some impressions, and then I stuck my tongue out. And I have a long tongue, so I do this funny thing where I act like I’m calling a woman over with my tongue. And that was what got me hired!
And then I showed up there, and… I didn’t realize that the character was gay. And this is, what, 1981 when I filmed it? And I’m sitting there, and they’re putting really heavy mascara on me and makeup, and I’m, like, “Wow, I guess this is how it’s done in the movies!” So I go and I take my place with the other actors, and I realize that these guys are gay. And I’m, like, “Oh, okay!” I realize, “Oh, I’m supposed to be gay at this table, and I’m calling Cheech and Chong over with my tongue. Okay, I get it now!” [Laughs.] But that was my first role. That was what got me into the Screen Actors Guild.
AVC: At the time, did you have a master plan to transition from stand-up into on-camera acting, or were you just kind of taking the roles as they came up?
DC: Well, I knew that stand-up was only going to afford me so many opportunities, and it was a great showcase then at the Comedy Store, because it was a really exciting time. My fellow comedians onstage one night—I still have a poster—were Jimmy Brogan, me, Jeff Altman, Bob Saget, Arsenio Hall, Robin Williams, and Richard Pryor. That was the lineup.
So it was a hot time at the Comedy Store, where people were coming in to see comedians, and you could just get offered something when you walked offstage. I was offered the role of one of the Bosom Buddies characters that Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari played. I was offered a pilot test option one night. [Laughs.] It was basically, “Hey, we want you to do this pilot called Bosom Buddies!” But I was like, “Well, I don’t have an agent.” And then an agent happened to see me the next night, and she said, “Hey, I really think you’re funny!” “Great! Because I got offered this Bosom Buddies thing…” She’s like, “You’re kidding!” “No!” And she goes, “Here, look at this contract!” But that’s how things happened back then. It was an exciting time.
Being a stand-up, though, I knew, “Okay, I’ve got to learn how to be an actor.” Because I was never in school plays or anything like that growing up. So I went to Gordon Hunt’s acting school—that’s Helen Hunt’s father—and he was remarkable. He was a remarkably good teacher, taking a raw comedian like myself and turning that into being an actor. He said something very smart to me: “You know, you’re a comedian, and you’re making your own words funny, but what I need you to do is try to make someone else’s words funny.” And then it clicked. As soon as he said that to me, everything made sense.
AVC: What happened with the Bosom Buddies? Since we know you didn’t actually end up on that show…
DC: You know what? It was cast almost immediately when I got the offer. They found Peter Scolari and Tom Hanks, and it was over. It was over just that fast.
AVC: So close.
DC: So close! Playing a gay Cheech and Chong character and dressing as a woman? It would’ve made my parents so proud.
AVC: At least you got to play a frat dude on Newhart. As a stand-up, that must’ve been a thrill, just to be in the presence of Bob Newhart.
DC: Oh, it was amazing. It was one of those moments where you just have to pinch yourself and say, “Wow, this is a comedic icon on one of the biggest sitcoms on the planet, and, wow, I’m here in a scene with him!”
And then years later I did a series with him called George & Leo, and all of my scenes were me and Bob, where I got to counsel him. I played a young priest named Father Rick, and Bob would come to me for counseling, and I just thought, “Wow, what a gift: I get to counsel Bob Newhart!” And I reminded him, “You know, on the old Newhart, I met you way back then.” We were at lunch—we used to eat lunch on the stage—and I remember he was reading the paper. He put the paper down, pulled his glasses out, and he just looked at me. And he goes, “I don’t remember that, Dave.” [Laughs.] Thanks, Bob!
AVC: You also did a couple of episodes of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. Was Garry also at the Comedy Store during your tenure there?
DC: Yeah, I was very close with Garry. In fact, he would run his Tonight Show sets by me. We’d go up to a cabin at Big Bear—Big Bear Lake, California—and we would write. I remember we would go fishing on Big Bear Lake in a little aluminum boat and write material, and Garry would run his sets by me. That seems like a whole lifetime ago.
AVC: Circa the mid-’80s, you were doing a ton of voicework, but Muppet Babies was probably your first really high-profile gig. Then not long after that started, you took over the voice of Peter Venkman on The Real Ghostbusters.
DC: Yeah, I kind of became a professional copycat there for awhile. You know, when I got that job on Muppet Babies, I actually replaced Howie Mandel. Howie had gotten very busy and decided that he couldn’t give enough time to Muppet Babies, because, man, we were blasting out episodes. We did so many episodes. So I pretty much copycatted what Howie had done and then added my own little flair to it, and it was an incredible show to be a part of, driven by Jim Henson.
And I got to work with some of the most amazing voiceover people, Frank Welker being one of them. I remember Frank and I, they had to split us up. We couldn’t stand next to each other in the recording studio, because we made each other laugh too much. [Laughs.] So they put me as far as away from Frank as possible. But then all I’d have to do was just look over at Frank, and we were off again. So it didn’t work. We still made each other laugh. One time we laughed so hard that I had to crawl out of the studio on my hands and knees, still laughing.
AVC: You worked with Frank on The Real Ghostbusters, too.
DC: Yep. And they had to split Frank and I and Maurice LaMarche up. [Laughs.] We couldn’t sit next to each other on that show, either!
DC: I loved that show. That was like comedy college for me. We never had a script. Bob Hughes was this wonderfully crazy producer who wrote everything, and I would just show up to work and get into wardrobe, and I’d be, like, “What are we doing today?” And it’d be, like, “Okay, you’re going to go here, you’re going to do this. We’re going to a hot dog place, and you’re just going to improv.” “Okay, sounds great!” So that’s kind of how the show was. It was so loosely structured, but for me it was an incredible experience to host a show, to interact with other actors. I mean, back then on Nickelodeon, the network was never around, so we just got to kind of hide out in Van Nuys, California, at this tiny little studio and produce this wonderfully crazy show. It was incredible. And I learned so much about acting for the camera and being funny on camera. It was a wonderful experience. And I still talk to Marty Schiff, who played Hern Burferd. I talk to Marty once in awhile.
AVC: I hadn’t watched the show in years, probably not since it was originally on the air, but when I pulled up a clip on YouTube and saw Diz McNally, the memories just came flooding back.
DC: I saw Diz a few years ago. She still works at the newsstand on Cahuenga Boulevard.
DC: Yeah! It’s crazy! I was doing a show on Fox called Skating With Celebrities and I was driving home, traffic stops, and I look over, and Diz is sitting on a barstool. And I rolled down my window, and I said, “Hey, Diz, can I get a Hurry-Up?” And she just made her signature sound. [Laughs.] I went, “It’s Dave!” And she goes, “Oh, my gosh! Not Dave!” And she screams, she runs over, and I got out of my car in traffic. She was still dressing the same way that she did on the show. That’s her! It was just crazy.
AVC: It’s kind of awesome, though.
DC: I know! [Laughs.] I gave her a big hug, and I said, “It is so great to see you! I haven’t see you since the show!” So we talked for a little bit as cars were going around me and honking, and then we said our goodbyes, and that was it! But that was a wonderfully crazy show to be a part of. I loved that show.
AVC: It’s funny you should bring up Skating With Celebrities. There’s a review from 2006 that suggests that you might have been phoning it in. Is there any truth to this accusation?
DC: I was totally phoning it in! [Laughs.] Look, I’m a hockey player, not a figure skater. Figure skating is a whole different animal, and by doing that show, I gained a new respect for it. It’s hard. It’s really hard. And when your dance steps have to be synchronized with another skater, and you have to pick them up and throw them and catch them… I mean, there’s no way! And I skated with Nancy Kerrigan. She’s a freaking Olympian! I’m a hockey player!
The first day, I had my hockey skates on, and I’ve got my stick and everything, and I’m out on the ice. No one’s out there, just me. And here comes Nancy. “Oh, hi, Nancy! How are you?” She says, “Oh, it’s nice to meet you! Let me watch you skate!” So I skated around, I shot some pucks, made a couple of jokes, and this and that. And she goes, “Okay, well, you’re funny and you’re fast, so let’s go with that.” [Laughs.] And I said, “Great! Do you mind if we’re the funny couple, if we do some funny numbers?” She said, “That is totally cool.” I mean, I can’t dance to save my life, so to have to do it on figure skates was a really huge challenge for me.
But, yeah, I phoned it in. [Laughs.] I’d be out on the ice, and our coach would go, “Oh, we’ve got to do it again.” And I’d say, “You know what? That’s as good as I’m going to get. I’ve got to be honest with you. We could do this a hundred more times, but I think we’ve pretty much seen what my skill level is.” We didn’t expect to win it. There were too many other great skaters.
AVC: A few years earlier, you did another relatively high-profile reality show: The Surreal Life.
DC: Boy, well, it says it right there in the title: it was surreal. [Laughs.] You know, I looked around at all of these people. I didn’t know who I was going to be in the house with, and I didn’t want to do it at first because I just thought, “Oh, man, a reality show? Are you kidding me?” And then my manager said, “We’ll get them to send you some DVDs of the first season.” For some reason I had it in my head that it was a mean-spirited show, but then I watched it, and I realized, “Oh, this isn’t mean-spirited at all! I could do this!” And then it became kind of a personal challenge: “Can I go and spend two weeks in this house on camera?” And for some reason I just took it on as a personal challenge, but when I got there, I looked around, and I thought, “The lunatics are taking over the asylum. This is absolute craziness.” I mean, you had Flavor Flav, Brigitte Nielsen; Charo, who’s like the Energizer chihuahua; Jordan Knight… It was insane! It was just insane. I looked around at all these people, and I was, like, “Well, I’m going to look really boring compared to these people.” And I found out that that was actually refreshing for people. I got to be kind of like Bob Newhart, with all of these crazy people around.
AVC: To bring this all full circle, how did you get Full House in the first place? You mentioned that you’d done shows with Bob Saget back at the Comedy Store. Did that have anything to do with it?
DC: Well, no, because Bob wasn’t even on the original pilot for Full House. We shot the pilot with an actor by the name of John Posey. Bob was in New York. Then he got fired from the CBS morning program, and we’d already shot the pilot. Jeff Franklin said to me and John Stamos, “We want you to do a screen test with another actor.” I’m, like, “Why?” “Well, because, um, we just want to take a look.” “Well, we already shot the pilot.” “Yeah, but we just want to see you guys with Bob Saget.” I said, “You’re kidding me!” I mean, I slept on Bob’s couch back in the day! [Laughs.] We were close friends for many years before Full House. So Bob came in, and I said, “How weird would this be if you end up on this show?” “Yeah, it’d be strange!” So we screen-tested with Bob, ABC loved it, and they fired John Posey, so we had to go back in and re-shoot all the scenes where he’d been. Talk about a weird experience. I mean, it’s just one of those weird things that’s now part of television history.
AVC: At any point did the show feel like an albatross? An albatross that kept on giving, certainly, but did it ever bother you that people started to just see you as “Joey from Full House”?
DC: You know what? When you’re a comedian just starting out in show business, you dream of having a Full House every single day of your life. It’s one of those successes that you can only dream of happening in your career, and it happened for me. So I look at it as a tremendous gift. I always hear actors say, “Oh, I don’t want to talk about that, don’t bring that up.” Well, why? It’s a big part of your history! It’s like not talking about a family member. [Laughs.] “Don’t talk about Uncle Dave!” “Well, wait a minute! Didn’t Uncle Dave give you a car when you were 16?” “Yeah, but I don’t wanna talk about that. It was free. I didn’t earn it.” So I look at Full House as a tremendous gift. I don’t look at it with any ill feelings. I look at it with nothing but positives. It’s given me a great life, it gave me some of my closest friends that I’ll ever have, and I’d never turn around and bash it… [But] there are times when I’m having dinner with my wife and someone will come up and go, “Hey! Hey! ‘Cut it out!’ Can I get an autograph on this napkin?” Those definitely aren’t the highlights. [Laughs.]