Actor and comedian Bob Saget, 65, died this past Sunday, in a Florida Ritz-Carlton hotel room, of causes yet to be determined, just a few hours after performing a gig in Jacksonville as part of his 2022 comedy tour and at 12:42 a.m. tweeting his last public words: “I’m happily again addicted to this shit.” His death followed nearly four months to the day the death of his lifelong friend and brother-in-arms, comedian Norm MacDonald, which had left Saget shattered and inconsolable and, as he said at the time, unable to “accept that [Norm’s] gone.”
Now Saget’s gone, too, with nothing but kind words coming from everyone who knew him. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson, who acted opposite him on Full House between 1987 and 1995, in which he played his most well-known role, as ever-wise, ultra-wholesome father Danny Tanner: “Bob was the most loving, compassionate and generous man. We are deeply saddened.” Jon Stewart: “Just the funniest and nicest.” Jason Alexander: “The loss of Bob Saget hits deep. If you didn’t know him, he was kind and dear and cared about people deeply. He was the definition of ‘a good egg.’ Too soon he leaves.” Kat Dennings: “Oh god. Bob Saget!!! The loveliest man. I was his TV daughter for one season and he was always so kind and protective.”
The common theme in all the encomiums is what a decent human being the guy was. I never met Saget in person. But in 2005, I did spend an hour with him on the phone while he sunned himself on a beach, once again in Florida, and I hung up feeling like I’d spent a day or two in his presence, having one of the best, most riotous times ever. He was as open and profane and funny and nice as I could have hoped for, while recalling the trajectory of his career, from unknown Canadian comic to “America’s favorite dad” on Full House, down into obscurity, to his rise again following an appearance on the TV show Entourage and the telling of the most legendarily god-awful dirty filthy joke in the 2005 documentary The Aristocrats. One of the things he said that afternoon has reverberated with me ever since: “All I want to do is be who I am, because I spent a lot of years not knowing who I was and not being who I was.” And then he knew. And then he said, “I’m in one mode right now: Entertain the shit out of people. And if people don’t like it, I just don’t give a fuck anymore. I just want to cut to the chase.” Goddamn good for him.
For whatever reason, the story I wrote about Saget never found its way onto the Rolling Stone website, until now.
Bob Saget is relaxing on the beach in Miami, shaded from the sun and heat by a cabana and letting his head spin. Once, everybody thought he was Mr. Wholesome, a reputation based on his role as the goody-two-shoes dad on TV’s Full House (also starring those Olsen twins) and the grinning, cheeseball host of America’s Funniest Home Videos. In recent days, though, he’s revealed himself to be filthy almost beyond words, so filthy that almost he can’t believe it — maybe the filthiest comic out there, with amazing effects on his stand-up career. “Everywhere I go, I’m selling out,” he says, dazed. “Kids are yelling my last name now, which I used to be made fun of my whole childhood, because it rhymes with so much shit, like ‘f—-t’ and ‘maggot.’”
How this turnaround happened is he took part in the movie The Aristocrats, the dirty-joke documentary, and out-dirtied everyone. “[The father] takes out his penis . . . then just starts smacking his kids with it, flicks ’em like a wet towel at the gym, and he knocks one of his kids in the eye, and the kid’s eye pops out,” he said during his performance. “Well, he looks at that as an opportunity, mind you . . .” After which, he’d get that goofy-looking Bob Saget grin on his face and say, “I can’t believe I’m saying this. This is going to kill my career!”
Far from it, of course, things being what they are. In fact, it’s led to a standout, much-discussed TV-show appearance, on Entourage, playing a perverted, bong-loving version of himself. Next, he landed his own HBO show, now in development (“I’m a gynecologist!”), and then a deal to write, direct, produce and narrate a March of the Penguins mockumentary called Farce of the Penguins. (“It’s going to be R-rated! I’ve got penguins fucking! Seriously!”)
But right now he’s on the beach, trying to make sense of all the great stuff that’s happened, in the way that he usually does: by long-winded free association. A couple of cute girls glide past, wearing tank tops and little board shorts. Eyeballing them, he says, “A joke from my stand-up is, ‘Girls go, “Oh, my God, I grew up watching you.” And I go, “Good. Now you’re got to go down watching me.”’ That’s kind of what could happen if I wanted. But I’m not Mick Jagger. I know that I’m killing the really good years that my cock has left. But I’m feeling OK about it because of the good shit going on.” Nonetheless, Saget is puzzled. “I did two shows, eight years apiece, right?” he continues. “And then I do a day and a half on Entourage, and then the Aristocrats took forty minutes of my life. A day and a half and forty minutes, and people go, ‘This guy’s blowing up!’ I’m going, ‘What the fuck? I didn’t do anything. I just took a shit and got up, you know?’ Anyway, all I want to do is be who I am, because I spent a lot of years not knowing who I was and not being who I was.”
When Saget first started performing in L.A.’s comedy clubs — he grew up in Philadelphia, moved to California to attend USC, cut his comedic chops on the Comedy Store’s college tour — he was a guitar act; he’d hit the stage with his guitar and close the show playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” with water pouring out of a valve in the guitar. He was pretty blue even then. Even so, at the Improv one night, Larry David came off the stage after bombing and said to him, “These people don’t understand anything. They just want stupid fucking guitar acts.” In 1987 came the Full House job and then “that video show” (as he likes to call it) and then a lot of psychic disturbance.
“At one point I was out of my mind,” he says, like maybe he’s not out of his mind now. “I was doing both shows at the same time. On Full House, I’d say to Michelle, ‘Honey, you can’t have a horse in the living room,’ then go watch monkeys fall out of trees from sniffing their asses. I didn’t feel like I was funny anymore. I was embedded in those shows, like, eighty or ninety hours a week, and I just felt like I’d totally lost my funny gene.”
The way Saget is, however, he survived and now views everything as an opportunity for a joke or a quip. He named his production company Two Angels, to honor his two sisters who died young, one of a brain aneurysm, the other of an autoimmune disease, and for one other reason, ha-ha: “So if anybody hates my work and says, ‘Oh, your work sucks. Two Angels — what the fuck is that?’ I can go, ‘Those are my two dead sisters, dude. Have a nice lunch.’”
And to think that lots of people once considered Saget to be the worst kind of pablum personified, the blandest of the bland. Actually those people come up to him quite often these days — sometimes after a show during which he has killed — and tell him how much they used to hate him and his acting and his G-rated jokes but that now they think he’s awesome. Doesn’t that kind of talk ruin Saget’s day? Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.
“I get trashed for those shows so much that I’m always on the defensive,” he says. “I mean, I wrote the jokes, man. I know I shouldn’t feel ashamed of what I did — I made the world laugh — but I took it all too seriously. I still do. I’m a bit of a drama queen. But I’m in one mode right now: Entertain the shit out of people. And if people don’t like it, I just don’t give a fuck anymore. I just want to cut to the chase.”
Out in the sun, a kid starts squealing and Saget looks over at him. “I’m going to fucking hit that kid,” he says. “Ha-ha. That’s a joke. I wouldn’t hit a kid I don’t know. Ha-ha,” he says. “Ha-ha.”