Everybody has to start somewhere. In Firsties, we talk to some of our favorite pop-culture figures about the many first steps along the way to their current careers.
Let’s get this out of the way right up top: The vast majority of people know Bob Saget from his role as Danny Tanner on long-running sitcom Full House. But as anyone who’s seen Saget on Entourage or sat through his racy screed in The Aristocrats knows, he’s absolutely not Danny Tanner.
Saget’s new autobiography, Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles Of A Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian, should do even more to dispel that horrific myth. Out April 8, the book finds Saget reminiscing about friends like Rodney Dangerfield, remembering his late father and sister, and randomly running down off-color asides. Since so much of Dirty Daddy is about Saget’s life experiences, The A.V. Club talked to him about a number of his big firsts, from his first dirty joke to his first full-length feature-directing job on Dirty Work.
First joke he ever wrote
Bob Saget: The joke was, “I have the brain of a German shepherd and the body of a 16-year-old boy and they’re both in my car and I want you to see them,” which didn’t make any sense. It was stream of consciousness, but I realized in retrospect that it was kind of a Groucho Marx-based joke, because he said something like, “I have the brain of a 9-year-old and he wants it back.” I don’t remember what his punchline was, but it was simpler and cleverer.
First time he knew something was funny
BS: I think I was 4 or 5. I was on this little yellow bus in Norfolk, Virginia, and I remember doing anything I could—which is what a lot of comedians do in the misogynistic vein of a boy—trying to make the girls laugh. I was funny in that really annoying ADD show-off way of a 5-year-old wiry kid. I was just standing there like a little stringy Tasmanian devil boy. I was just flailing my arms in what had to look like a really bad aerobic exercise mixed with a condition requiring seizure medicine. It was pretty disturbing what I was doing. I know it was physical. It was like a 5-year-old Jim Carrey kind of thing. It had no monologue involved to it at all. Jim Carrey moves his body and it’s a work of art. Mine was just a work of someone who should have been held back.
The girls liked it, I remember. Denise and Jody and Beth Cohen. They were on the bus. I remember one of them kissed me on the cheek after I did some jokes, which I guess is what I was trying to do. I remember sticking my butt out and thinking that was a funny joke. I just have moments of memories of it, but I thought I was funny. It seemed to make them laugh.
First dirty joke he ever told
BS: My twin cousins Eddie and Howard told me this. I was either 8 or 9. And it wasn’t the old “horse fell into the mud” dirty joke. The one that I got in trouble for was, “There’s a kid sitting on a bench eating these little pills out of a container. An older kid says, ‘Hey what are you eating?’ And he goes, ‘I’m eating smart pills.’ And he goes, ‘Smart pills? Let me try one of those.’ Then he eats one and he says, ‘This tastes like rabbit shit.’ And the other kid says, ‘See? You’re getting smarter already.’”
It just doesn’t even make sense because it means the younger kid was eating rabbit shit. It doesn’t seem like you’re really pulling a prank over on someone if you’re doing it. It’s just a very confusing, terrible, horrible nothing of a joke. But it was the first one I got in trouble for, because I said the word “shit.” My mother got upset.
First time on TV
BS: The first time I was on TV, I was on The Dating Game. I was on The Dating Game twice. I won one time and I lost one time.
The A.V. Club: What was the date like?
BS: I didn’t go. The first one, we won a trip to Guatemala and they had a civil war break out a month later. So we couldn’t go on the trip, and I got Turtle Wax for my car.
I saw the girl that I won the date with 20 years later.
BS: Yeah. I had a girlfriend who I ended up marrying—and then we got divorced 15 years ago—but we actually went to a party across the street, and the girl that I won with on The Dating Game was a bartender at the party.
First Tonight Show appearance
BS: That was unbelievable. The first time I was on, Garry Shandling was the guest host and so it was an unusual, amazing experience. Then I went on the next time with Johnny [Carson], which was the first time that I’ve been on with Johnny, and it was a dream. That’s in the book also, obviously. It was a really cool thing because I had had a dream about being on the show years before, and I shared it with Johnny and that was the premise of my panel. It was not stand-up.
I only did panel on The Tonight Show. I did it 13 times with Johnny. Comedians memorize how many spots they did on a show like Rainman counts lines on the sidewalk.
Anyway, my first appearance with Johnny, I talked about the dream that I had about three established guys in show business. Buddy Hackett, Buddy Richman, Buddy Ebsen, and I were in the backseat of a limo, and Johnny was driving. Then we went into a ditch and the limo began to get covered with water. I rescued Johnny first. And then he said, “Thank you very much.” You know, he’s just very dry. And then I went back and got Buddy Hackett next, then Buddy Richman, and then I went back like an hour later for Buddy Ebsen. I remember looking at the camera and going, “Sorry, Mr. Ebsen.” And Buddy Ebsen was Barnaby Jones, Jed Clampett, so I felt really bad that I didn’t save him. But the whole thing was show-biz hierarchy.
I just remember Johnny sitting there at the desk, and I didn’t stop talking. Kind of like now, but I was much younger and more disturbing. He had his hand on his chin, just like, “When’s this kid going to be done?” But I found out he liked me because I kept going back on with him.
First big break
AVC: Was The Tonight Show your first big break?
BS: I’ve had so many of them, and they don’t always pan out. I kept having these little speed bumps and dry heaves. That’s such a nice way to look at your career. “My career is a series of dry heaves.”
I guess the Young Comedians Special with Rodney Dangerfield was the first big break I got. The Merv Griffin shows, I did a lot of those, too.
Even getting discovered at the Comedy Store when I was 21, that was what some people would say was my first break, to be able to work for nothing for seven years. Then they ended up paying people. It was a whole crazy time.
But I would say the Rodney thing. Sam Kinison was on that. Bob Nelson. Louie Anderson, Rita Rudner. It was a really interesting, poignant thing that happened. And then I became friendly with Rodney.
I would say the Richard Pryor movie Critical Condition was my big break, or that’s what I thought would be my big break, but that didn’t pan out either. Then I got this morning program on CBS. That was probably my biggest break, but then I got fired. So then I guess Full House would be my biggest break.
AVC: Do you consider that a break? It definitely took you in a different direction.
BS: It really did. It’s interesting, because I’d been studying acting. I took guest-starring roles on hour episodics and half-hour shows and had been doing what you do when you’re trying to get somewhere. Then I got the job and I was excited to do it and I appreciated it.
It was literally the Richie Cunningham part on the show, which means you’re innocent and more the everyman or straight man. But then I added all these neurotic quirks—they were part written in and part developed. So he became this dust-busting guy in a cardigan sweater who needed help to raise his kids, so he had his brother-in-law and his best friend help. I mean, it’s Three Men And A Baby. There’s definitely a manly fruitiness to the character.
The dirtiest words you can say to me are “Danny Tanner.” There are a couple words that I find more offensive, but it’s a life changer for sure.
You know, careers are different things. I was actually thinking about this. You look at how brilliant Melissa McCarthy is, and she spun off into this amazing film career where she got her other side out immediately in Bridesmaids. And then you watch Mike And Molly, and she’s hilarious on it, but it’s more of a conventional sitcom, even though it’s edgy and smart. How do you balance both those things?
My thing is weird, because now it seems to me that Full House has become this strange thing that will run forever. When I was a kid, it was The Brady Bunch and Happy Days. You just think, “Oh my God, these shows will run ’til the end of time.” There are kids now that think Full House has just started. The nicest compliment is when, like, a 5-year-old says, “You look the same.”
There are people that say, “Oh, you’re a dad, but you’re dirty now.” And I’m like, “What?” I was kind of morphing in and out of it throughout. I went crazier while the commercial shows were on. Now I think I’m more sedate.
AVC: That’s also their perception of you. How would anyone besides you or your family know what you were like 10 or 20 years ago?
BS: Everybody has dimensions—even people who don’t seem like they do or who might be living a role, sort of. When they’re home alone, they aren’t that exact same person. Otherwise, you don’t have a life.
So it’s interesting for me that people are like, “I don’t know what Saget’s going to do.” I’m like, “What?” I’ll go on some show and they’re like, “Don’t curse.” I’m like, “Of course not.” I’m not going to curse. But I was on Jim Jefferies’ show Legit recently—it hasn’t been on yet—and he’s like, “Say whatever you want.” He just tells me all the words that are clearable by FX, and I don’t need to say but two of them. He’s exceeded George Carlin’s seven words. There are a couple of new ones.
It’s very interesting to me that wherever I show up, people require something different from me. That’s fun for the stuff I’m investigating doing as my new chapters are unfolding. The people I’m talking with creatively like the duality, and that’s something that I find appealing. I couldn’t go back and play Danny Tanner unless, you know, he was just on pills all night long.
AVC: Would Danny Tanner even work as a character now? He’s almost too earnest.
BS: I don’t think so. I don’t even think he could work on a Boy Meets World kind of show. You can’t act like that anymore. It was made for kids. It’s afternoon theater for kids. It was meant for teenage girls, and it was a fantasy of what would happen.
First time meeting George Carlin
BS: It’s funny because I just came from a meeting and I’m actually parked in front of the Comedy Store. That’s where I met him. His wife, Brenda, who passed away, who was just lovely and who tried to help comedians all the time. She booked shows and she helped me.
My friend Bruce “Babyman” Baum would wear a diaper and come out as Babyman. He would pour milk all over himself and pull a cookie out of his pocket and dip it in the milk. He’s a comedian, very funny guy, very cheerful guy. And he helped me, and got me on Make Me Laugh years later. But he did a shoot at his house and he put George Carlin in it as George Carlin. George liked to support young comedians, so he came and played a clown in it. It was a sketch called “Clown Away” where you would spray a spray on clowns and they would pass out in the bushes. And he put Garry Shandling in it, Bill Kirchenbauer, and a lot of comedians at the time. I’m pretty sure that was the first time I met George.
To me, he was always just so kind. And I had that innocent face of some young kid with a dream coming out to L.A., so I guess I was very readable.
First time meeting Rodney Dangerfield
BS: I was in La Jolla at The Comedy Store working for the weekend. There were a lot of people that were there. Robin Williams came down and did sets both nights, and Rodney came and did sets.
Rodney walked in, and I had never met him before, but he had seen me on The Merv Griffin Show and he said, “I’ve seen you on Merv’s show. You’re funny.” And then he would say, “You’re fucked. You have a Jew head that never stops. You’re thinking all night long.”
He had gone to LaCosta to clean out and be health conscious and he said to me, “Man, it’s tough. No booze, no coke, no pot, no pills.” He didn’t do anything. He just smoked a little grass because he liked it. He actually did clean out.
Anyway, there was a comic’s condo that still exists in La Jolla for The Comedy Store, and it’s right on the beach. My girlfriend at the time and I were staying at the condo and Rodney just started showing up. He was there for two days that weekend.
There was one time that Bruce Baum was there. He was there and Robin was there and we’re walking on the beach, Bruce Baum, myself, Rodney, and Robin Williams. We’re walking the beach and a couple of young girls stopped us and said, “Oh, can we get a picture of you, Robin?” And they took a picture of Robin and as Rodney was walking up the steps, they yelled to Rodney, “Oh, with you in the background!” And Rodney was like, “In the background? Me?” And he gave this like giant, over the top wave, because he was overly conscious that they threw him in as an extra at the last minute. I was just off to the side watching all this.
It was a really interesting time, because, not unlike now, I had no idea where I was heading. I just knew I was driven by what I was doing. He befriended me quite a bit. And I stayed friends with him until he passed away.
First time meeting Don Rickles
BS: I talked to him the other day. I love him. He’s such a good guy. And you talk to him and it’s really interesting, because he has such a young voice. You just feel like there’s an ageless person on the other end of the phone. He just talks about stuff. He just talks about comedians he likes, talks about what he finds funny, talks about the news. It’s kind of like my dad was. He talks about what’s terrible about what’s going on in the world. And he’s got a really interesting global way of looking at things. And then he’s Don Rickles.
I’ll call him and he’ll go, “What? What do you want?” immediately, because he knows people expect it. When he loves you, he really attacks you. I’m sure he attacks people he doesn’t love as well, but he’s like, “Jesus Christ, will you leave me alone? What do you want already?” He just yells for five minutes. He doesn’t stop. Then he gets real serious and talks.
We’re going to plan a dinner. The last couple times we hung out, [John] Stamos and myself and Don and Barbara, his wife, went to dinner. So I guess Stamos is my wife at this point.
First feature-length directorial project
BS: I’d done a couple of TV movies before Dirty Work. The first thing I did full-length was a ABC TV movie called For Hope, which was about my sister. Dana Delany starred in it. It was based on my sister who passed away from scleroderma so I made it as eloquent as I could for a disease-movie-of-the-week. It had comedy. It was written by Susan Rice, and I directed it and produced it with my friend Brad Grey. I was very fortunate that ABC promoted it, and it did really well.
I did one TV movie right after that called Jitters, and then I did Dirty Work and then I did another TV movie after that. But Dirty Work was the first feature.
AVC: Is there a difference between directing a TV movie and directing a feature film?
BS: Just by nature of the television movie schedule, there’s just not a lot of time for people to give you tons of notes. They give them to you before you get started. With Dirty Work, there were three writers. It was Norm MacDonald, Frank Sebastiano, and Fred Wolf. It was originally Frank’s script, and then Fred came in and did his work on it. And Norm had his voice in it very heavily. And there were producer notes from Bob Simonds and a lot of people involved. There was an SNL mentality behind the whole thing, about how this has to be funny at all costs.
It’s a complicated, fun, and hard thing to do. I love doing it. It was as fun and heightened as it was at times difficult because that’s just the nature of it.
Last day on How I Met Your Mother
AVC: [Recorded before the finale.] Have you taped your parts? Have you read the last script?
BS: I cannot tell you the answer to that. I don’t know if I’m completely done because there’s post work on the show.
I love the show a lot. I respect what Carter [Bays] and Craig [Thomas] have done, and I love Pam Fryman. It was a lark that I even did the show. I was just doing a play in New York called Privileged by Paul Weitz, and Pam called and said “I’ve got this script and we’re doing a pilot. There’s this young guy, Josh Radnor, and we want you narrate him as an older person.” I’m like, “Really? Why can’t he do it?” “Because we want an outsider’s perspective years later as he’s talking to his kids.” And that just sounded romantic to me. It’s like Wonder Years, but it had a different element to it, because Wonder Years is about growing up in that specific time period.
It’s a really special show. I’m friends with all the people from it.
AVC: There are all sorts of crazy theories out there, but no one would expect you to spoil it for everyone.
BS: That would be the worst thing ever. I always thought from the very beginning that Barney was going to wind up being the mother. Somehow they were going to do some crazy thing where he did some stem cell transplant or something.
They’ve done crazy things like that. They’ve done weird, interesting, skewed things that I love. That’s what I love about the show: They take a lot of chances.