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The Duality of Bob Saget Is What Made Him Special

He could be America’s dad, like he was on ‘Full House.’ Or he could be the crassest comedian you’ve ever heard, spinning the Dirtiest Joke in the World. But these things weren’t contradictions—they were complementary.

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No gaudy feat of method acting, no gnarly Christian Bale–as–Dick-Cheney physical transformation, no brazen bit of stunt casting in any of our lifetimes can compare to the magic trick Bob Saget pulled in 2005, when the gentle doofus who’d spent eight years as America’s Sweetest and Corniest Dad—via his starring role as Danny Tanner in the benign blockbuster ABC sitcom Full House, which ran from 1987 to 1995 and made the Brady Bunch look like the Hells Angels—popped up in a modest little film called The Aristocrats and told what can credibly be described by somebody on YouTube as the “Dirtiest Joke in the World.” Bob Saget was found dead Sunday night, in an Orlando hotel room. He was 65. He would want you to watch all seven minutes and five seconds of this without blinking.

The Aristocrats is a documentary in which myriad stand-up comedians tell their versions of what is generally regarded, in their profession, as, yes, the Dirtiest Joke in the World. The punch line of the movie is that the Full House guy’s version is the filthiest. Seriously: Watch the whole thing. It is not enough to get the gist of this and then move on with your life. The whole point is that the unfathomably raunchy world-famous sitcom dad won’t let you move on with your life.

0:13: “The father’s like rippin’ off his kids’ clothes, and he takes his wife’s bra and throws it off of her, and he rips off her underwear, and he takes some of her pubes with it, it’s horrible, and a little bit of blood starts dripping down her leg.”

1:17: “You don’t know whether to shit or puke, in this room, that’s how—what the fuck am I doing?”

1:55: “You don’t want to mix incest with feces and racism. I think it’s wrong.”

3:36: “To me, if you’re gonna have sex, by the way, with a 14-year-old kid, you should be doing it in a prison, so you’re right there. It’s like one-stop shopping.”

4:38: “I didn’t fully tell you the whole story. Whole family has dicks.”

6:46: “And she’s just got no teeth, and she’s covered in diarrhea, and she mouths the words [toothless voice] The Aristocrats and then she dies. Dies. Flat-out dies.”

I saw this movie in 2005 in a theater filled with ultra-cool, jaded, unfazeable New Yorkers who just about lost their minds laughing and/or gaping in horrified awe and/or shitting themselves. I saw the very first episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos when it aired for the first time in 1989, hosted by, yes, ultra-benign Full House star Bob Saget, who held down the AFV gig for the next eight years, introducing zippy clips of real-life cute kids whacking their real-life dads in the nuts by telling the cheesiest G-rated jokes imaginable. (The one that still sticks in my head is, “I used to think that martial arts were paintings by the sheriff.”) I saw the episode of Full House when sweet young Michelle Tanner, played in that moment by either Mary-Kate or Ashley Olsen, distracts sweet ol’ dopey Danny while his other two teenage daughters finish patching up the hole they knocked in his closet wall. (All Danny’s shirts have little cards noting the exact date when he’ll next wear them: That detail stuck in my head.) I remember laughing/gaping in horrified awe/shitting myself too, watching The Aristocrats and realizing all these guys were the same guy.

But which one was the magic trick, though? Which one was the act? Was Saget—born in Philly, and a Temple University film school graduate—an inconceivably raunchy motherfucker who disguised himself as a warm-milk sitcom dad, or was he actually a warm-milk sitcom dad who realized, post–Full House, that he could leverage his public image into a whole second career playing against type as an inconceivably raunchy motherfucker? Was he really neither? Could he possibly have been both?

Saget’s heel turn (???) in The Aristocrats didn’t take everybody by surprise, of course. In 1998 alone, he both delivered the line “Marijuana is not a drug—I used to suck dick for coke!” in the Dave Chappelle–starring stoner classic Half Baked and directed the gleefully perverse Norm MacDonald–Artie Lange comedy Dirty Work, in which Norm japes, “Aha! You didn’t count on my loyal army of prostitutes, did you?” like he’s doing Shakespeare. (The Norm MacDonald–Bob Saget lovefest is its own heartrending and yet heartwarming rabbit hole; go ahead, start with Norm at Bob’s Comedy Central roast.)

Saget came by his titanic foulness honestly—let’s say that. But Full House’s warm and fuzzy and dorky and harmless and fundamentally decent Danny Tanner was not an act, either: In 2020, he started a podcast called Bob Saget’s Here for You that quickly established itself, as COVID-19 raged and the world otherwise burned, as an oasis of calm, compassion, unambiguous good vibes, and sincere mid-pandemic emotional purging that brought joy and catharsis to his fans even if each episode took a lot out of him.

“When I’m done, I just go into the kitchen and my wife, Kelly, is there. And I just start crying,” he told my former Ringer colleague John Gonzalez that August in a striking, deeply humane interview. “There’s no way not to feel it, to feel the pain people are going through. Everyone is hurting in some way. I’m a big believer in trying to be compassionate and have empathy, which is something that’s been lacking these last three years, almost four years. People have been hurting for years. But this is unprecedented.”

So he came by his profound compassion naturally, too. Full House and The Aristocrats don’t cancel each other out, but enhance each other, deepening and broadening his skill at both everyman sitcom joviality and unfathomable crudity. And those impulses collided, sometimes spectacularly, in Saget’s stand-up, which is the through line to his whole career. Here’s our man in 1984, introduced by Rodney Dangerfield and knocking ’em dead with, “I got married. Married my girlfriend of seven years. That’s her age. I’m going to jail.”

And now here he is in his 2017 stand-up special Bob Saget: Zero to Sixty, casually tossing off the line, “I apologize from the bottom of my scroat to the back of your throat.” As in The Aristocrats, his eyeglasses are absolutely key here, part of the priceless milquetoast facade he can smash at will with, y’know, his dick.

He was still doing the podcast—the B.J. Novak episode went up less than a week ago. He was back on the road doing stand-up, also, as we see in his last tweet, which again is a sublime combination of heartrending and heartwarming:

“I’m happily addicted again to this shit.” There’s a fascinating, disarming, enormously foul and extraordinarily kind human being distilled into those seven words, however you choose to interpret them. When you’re lost out there and you’re all alone, a light is waiting to carry you home.