“I’ve Been Known to Cross a Line”: A Conversation with Bob Saget

Comedy Features Bob Saget
“I’ve Been Known to Cross a Line”: A Conversation with Bob Saget

Bob Saget’s new stand-up special, Zero to Sixty, is out today from Comedy Dynamics, available on Amazon, iTunes and other digital platforms. Though the Full House and Fuller House star has said it’s one of his cleanest specials yet, the hour is nonetheless full of his trademark line-crossing. In one joke, he calls bullshit on a certain tactic Bill Cosby deployed in his trial: His blindness, Cosby’s lawyers argued, impaired his ability to identify his accusers. Saget imagines that if he were as prolific a predator as Cosby, he would be able to identify his accusers by touch—and then acts this out, groping an imaginary accuser’s chest and penetrating her digitally. In another joke, he imagines drugging himself so he can bear sleeping with a particularly unattractive woman; many others playfully mention prison rape. There are also stories about his career and life, and a few humorous songs—Saget accompanies himself on guitar—to close out the hour.

I spoke to Saget in late October, after the Weinstein story broke but before the Louis C.K. story, and asked him about his writing process, how the national conversation about sexual misconduct has affected his attitude toward jokes on the subject, and what men in show business can do to make it safer.

Paste: It’s been a few years since your last hour. What was it like writing a new one?

Bob Saget: I wouldn’t ever call it writing. It’s more—I’ve always done free association when I do stand-up, but there’s jumps in it, and a lot of below-the-belt humor that’s silly for entertainment purposes, just to make me laugh. But this one has more stories in it. It’s just been three years of going through my notes on my iPhone, and walking around—constantly rolling, “Oh, that’s a funny premise,” “Oh, that’s an interesting premise,” “Oh, that’s too topical.” Because I want it to be evergreen, you know, I don’t want to talk about—what’s going on in the world right now is kind of the crux of what it’s about anyway. I put four more original songs in it. And I’m really happy in it, I hope people like it.

Paste: I’m always interested in how more established comics work out new material. Younger comics will go to a bar show or an open mic or do their friend’s show. What’s it like for you?

Saget: Well, it’s weird. I would do some drop-ins at the familiar clubs, in L.A,. but for the most part I’ll go and do hard-ticket theaters and give people your Liza Minnelli show. I don’t like walking around with notes onstage. I do riff a lot, because I do anyway. But I would end up booking clubs in between, so I would do like three or four theaters and then I would do three or four clubs and as it ascends upon getting close to doing this special, I’d go to the clubs that I love. There’s Comedy Works in Denver, there’s Helium in Portland, there’s West Palm Beach—there’s places where you can just get up there and do 90 minutes.

And a lot of places I would take my friend Mike Young with me. He’s a good friend, we wrote a show together recently, and it’s fun to ping-pong off of each other new stuff. I think I went to Zanies in Nashville right before, and that’s kind of like a hootenany in there. That’s when you pounce upon the material and you know that you’re confident, and there’s a place when you really can’t just walk around and say “What else is going on?” But there’s an element of that, of what else is going on.

But when you do a theater, which is commonly what I go out and do, or casinos when I’m in Vegas, that’s more—boy this is the most boring anecdote ever. I’m so bored by me. But I get out and work it out in a club and then I’m able to go, “Okay. You’re not using any of your old stuff. This is gonna be an hour of just the new stuff.” And that’s how you do it. You just cut the training wheels off the bike. And now I have a desire to go out and do it more, because I feel like I need to. I feel like people really need it right now. And I need it right now. It’s a real healthy exchange to have an audience that’s actually happy to see you. Which takes years to accomplish that.

Paste: Were there other cities in the running for the taping, or did you know it was gonna be Brooklyn?

Saget: This whole thing happened really serendipitously. It’s just like the movie I just made—we got the investors, then we went “Okay, let’s shoot in a month.” This special I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. One of the places that I love is Williamsburg Hall of Music. I’ve done it before and I just like—it sounds so old fogey to say—I don’t think old fogey’s even a term anymore—but it’s a hipster place, where everybody you look at looks like the old Verizon guy, it just looks like a Lenscrafters convention. It’s like a TED Talk except everyone’s high. But there’s something about an audience that reads and knows stuff that, for the kind of stuff I like talking about, I’m kind of a relief for them.

I’m not a complete fool—I don’t do dick jokes for the sake of shock value. Most of my stories are actually like a “just say no” campaign. It’s pretty much, don’t medicate people and knock them out and have sex with them. I was ahead of the curve this year when I shot the special. But the way the thing happened was, I was on a plane on a Thursday, going to New York to do a bunch of press, and to do a couple gigs, and then I heard from Brian Volk-Weiss, who runs Comedy Dynamics, who did my last special, and I really liked my experience with them. ‘Cause we went, we did it, and then they sold it. It allows the comedian to have more control and ownership, as well as—you just go through every step of everything. I was able to be in there for every process of pre- and post-.

But I read on the plane, “Do you want to shoot your special Tuesday?” And I had no prep and no—I mean, I had prep, I’d been rolling that hour for a while—and I was like, I want to do this. And my agent and my manager said, “you should do this, you’re ready.” I was ready to go, so I had to get there, buy clothes for it, and we shot it on a Tuesday. I’ve never done anything like that in my life. Normally, with my other specials, you go through lots of crappy planning. But they had already set it up to shoot a couple other things there and it was completely done up differently. I got to design it.

It was crazy, people were working 48 hours days in one day to get it done. And I’m really happy with it, because I was really happy to be doing it. And I’m happy there’s a song at the end, it’s kind of like “Give Peace a Chance,” except I do mention my penis.

Paste: You alluded to this a second ago, but obviously there’s been a lot of dialogue in the last couple of weeks about rape culture in Hollywood. I’m wondering if any of the dialogue has affected the way you think about assault and harassment as topics of humor—whether in your jokes or other people’s jokes.

Saget: It’s really upsetting. I always had jokes that had that Entourage character quality to them, which were kind of like, “this is a wink,” and it’s not just a wink anymore. So as I go out—I haven’t had time to do stand-up, because right now I’m finishing a movie—it’s interesting to me that there’s actually moments in this special that I think might make people go, “Wait a minute, where’s he coming from on this?” And then you realize, “Oh my god, he’s saying don’t do this.” I didn’t really want to do a Bill Cosby mention, but then I told a story that I really went through, where guys treated women pretty badly, and I wasn’t one of them. You know, there might be an occasional joke about dating someone too young, but I’ve always done those. Since I was 17, that’s just what I found funny, just ‘cause my dad thought it was funny and I thought it was funny. But it’s different. And I’m more sensitive to it now.

I have a feeling I’m more preachy in what’ll be coming out of me next year as I do more gigs. Not in a condescending way, but just in a—what the fuck are you millennials doing? It’s like everybody watches one of these movies where everybody has sex with each other at the beach. And that’s acceptable. And a girl wakes up, can’t believe she had sex with a guy last night. We’ve really got to change our culture. I’ve got kids. And I’ve always made jokes but not, my god—what’s happened in the past year is repugnant, across that board. Then you find out it hasn’t really changed. It’s kind of interesting that it’s all coming to a head right now.

But I am scared of where we’re headed and what people believe in. And how guys are still about as misogynistic and disgusting as they have always been. And I’m sure you feel the same way—most people I know, anybody with a creative mind, it’s not even liberal or conservative, it’s just being a human being. And I think people have lost sight of that we’re all human beings. I don’t even understand how you can go Democrat or Republican, it’s like choosing football teams. You have to stay one party the whole way? Can’t there be a good person—I just don’t understand any of it. I think we’d be better off with a llama running the country.

Paste: A llama?

Saget: A llama.

Paste: Okay. Huh.

Saget: Not like the Dalai Lama, I’m talking about the animal. Behind the desk and he puts his foot in ink and then hits it on paper. And then all the same stuff is getting signed… How old are you?

Paste: I’m 25.

Saget: So you must be going like, “Well shit, I don’t drug women to have sex with them, and I don’t do whatever I want to do with anybody.” I mean, if two consenting semi-adults decided to do something together, take a drug together, and they’re both cool with it, that’s not like walking into someone’s office and ruining their plan. We’re just—I’m at a place now where I can’t even talk about it and I really can’t watch the news and yet I do. But I do love making people feel good and I do love being in a room together. So when I do a show, for me it’s like a town meeting. I get to bring everybody together.

I was talking to Norman Lear… He’s 95, he’s producing One Day At A Time for Netflix as an all-Hispanic version of the old show. I said to him, “I feel so lucky that I can bring people together and take them out of their lives.” And he said, “You’re not taking them out of their lives, you’re putting them in their lives. You’re actually giving them an experience with other people, together. And they’re connected. Everyone’s connected because of what you did. You’re bringing them together.” And that’s what performers get to do. That’s what comedians get to do. Obviously music people—it’s quite beautiful. And if you’re saying something that’s relevant and means something, and not mean-spirited, you’re doing a wonderful thing.

Paste: If I can press on this for a bit: Part of the whole conversation that’s happening right now, as I see it, isn’t just that abuse is bad, and predators are bad, obviously, but that there’s a cultural effect to so much art and so many stories that only represent women as objects of male desire. There’s a cumulative effect to comedians everywhere tossing off prison rape jokes as if it’s just a normal funny thing to do. Do you worry about being a part of that?

Saget: That’s a good point, because there’s actually a joke in my special that’s saying I enjoyed prison because the sex was off the hook and you never know what’s gonna hit you, or something like that. And obviously you could say it’s taken out of context, but it’s not out of context, I’m saying it as a joke. My intentions are making fun of it. And facetiousness and sarcasm don’t travel in print, at all, and they barely travel verbally, but to make light of—it’s one thing to do a prison joke, and it’s another thing to make light of it when it comes to women, or men, or anyone. It’s deplorable… I am at a point where I’m really just fed up with—and I’m looking at comedy, someone that reflects the political climate that struts around the stage and makes, you know, chauvinistic-type comments whereas, obviously, I’m a 61-year-old guy with three kids and a girlfriend [editor’s note: now fiancée]. And I make that very clear. And any kind of reference I make to anything that might have been—if I look at my special That Ain’t Right from 10 years ago, I’m like, “oh my god, that ain’t right.” I would never be able to do that material. But that was then. And people laughed and liked it and I enjoyed doing that material. But it’s not who I am or where I am now. Some of it’s fine. It could cross over, it doesn’t even have any bad language in it, or have any nasty overtones.

But I think there’s a real responsibility in where we’re at right now, which is really unfortunate for the arts. Because it’s like, you have to be so politically careful. Even if you mean no harm. And even an occasionally thing as innocuous as a tweet, you’re going, “Oh god, I can’t say this, this offends me and it’s going to be taken wrong.” But we really need to change—the whole world needs to treat each other differently, the whole world needs to treat women differently. You read about all the old studio execs who had the casting couch for years and nobody gave a shit, you know? And then you’re finding out now—it’s like so many people. And you can figure out who they are, it’s not that difficult when you just—when they show a picture of the newest guy, “Here’s the newest producer that’s been accused,” or the newest writer, and you look at them and it’s like, he looks like a wolf. You know, he’s got black hair dye, he’s like—who’s the guy in Harry Potter, he’s a good actor.

Paste: Alan Rickman?

Saget: Yeah. It’s like they all look like Alan Rickman, but heavier. As the Harry Potter character. What was that character?

Paste: Snape.

Saget: Right, Snape. Yeah. They’re all like that, except they’re not—he seems like he has good culture and understands the arts… What’s amazing about a lot of what’s happening around the world—we’re talking about world leaders, dictators, producers, anyone in power that goes and thinks they can have anything they want and do anything to anybody and they’re going to remain untouched, and all they need is their money, and they can call it sex addiction, and meanwhile they should be—I don’t know what you do. You call it sex addiction and you sign something and you’re free? Should they be behind bars? It’s repulsive. So I have a feeling my next special, in the years to come, will end up being some really annoying morality thing where I’m almost reading Good Night Moon. I haven’t exactly gone all P.G., but I certainly am against everything that’s—it’s incredibly upsetting, what we’re going through. The world needs to have a giant switch of positions, a round robin of job-changing.

Paste: So what do you think you, and people like you, who have relative status and comfort in show business, can do to change that? Or to help take down the people you might know aren’t good people but haven’t yet been outed? And just to add to that—I feel like part of the point of the last few weeks has been that it’s not just gross guys like Harvey Weinstein, it’s people who are attractive and friendly and no one believes they could possibly be, say, groping anyone at afterparties.

Saget: I used to know more people like that, but as I got older, I got tired of it—and that’s why I’m in a healthy relationship, so I’m not at a place where I see those guys—I would see stuff like that, but I didn’t know the guys, I never became friends with people that you’re sitting next to in a restaurant, and he says, “Look where I’ve got my hand, look what I’m doing to her right now,” and she’s sitting on his hand and he’s basically, I don’t know, playing hoop toss with her, and it’s so disgusting. I remember leaving a bar when I saw a table of guys acting like they were hot shit. I just don’t have any room for the barbarians.

Paste: So I guess more generically, what is the responsibility of successful men in Hollywood to change it?

Saget: The responsibility is to be pure of heart and to be clear in what your message is. And to be clear—I mean, I ended my frigging new special with “We’ve got to be kind to each other.” And that was literally me going, “Okay what’s going to be funny that will draw people’s attention in the back? That we have to be kind to each other.” Because people are assholes. and they’re driven by money and they’re driven by where they’re going and they’re not changing. And then they see it’s not fashionable, then they get scared, and then they realize that people that they know, that they were friends with, are people that are bad people doing bad things. We just have a long way to go as a civilization, and my job is to entertain. But I have more responsibility also in the output.

If I had a staff, and if I had—years ago I was in consideration to host The Daily Show, before Jon Stewart, after Kilborn. and I didn’t want to move from L.A. I had two kids, and I also had the video show and Full House, so I would have done something for less money that was much more, you know, literate. And I would’ve had to read the news all the time and know what was going on. And my friends that are newscasters and my friends that host these shows, Bill Maher and John Oliver, that are so eloquent, that are so good and so needed—that is, I guess, a second life as a comedian that I would enjoy having, which is you get to put out your human responsibility right out there in a broadcast way. I mean, when I watch John Oliver, who’s doing my benefit on December 5th in New York—I mean, that’s how kind a guy he is—I do a benefit for scleroderma because I lost a sister to it—so he’s doing it, and George Lopez and Jeff Ross—so I don’t think it’s going to be good. Anybody that doesn’t enjoy Trump bashing probably won’t want to do it. But we’re gonna cure disease with the bashing. And these are nice people, you know, these are good men, and I surround myself with only good people. So I guess the message is, that I have to have more responsibility in what I do in the future. And to not be cavalier about jokes.

I mean, you just look at what our government is doing right now, you can’t believe that we’re taking the clock and setting it back 150 years. So I choose to do the kind of comedy that entertains.

Paste: I’m curious about the Bill Cosby joke—I’m wondering what that calculus in your head is when you’re writing the act-out of feeling up these women accusing you, and probably there’s going to be people in the audience who this has happened to, and they’re about to watch that happen again onstage while people around them laugh. I’m wondering you how you figure out the balance, at what point the funny and the message outweigh making people watch a traumatic thing that’s happened to them.

Saget: That’s interesting. I did not think about that when I did it. The intention was to say how horrific it was what he did. And the intention was to say that he was trying to use this as an excuse. And I do go and mime, in an immature way, like it’s a thermometer, which does have shades of misogyny to it. But it’s completely not intended that way. It’s saying, “you’re completely full of crap, sir, your excuse is ridiculous and you’re guilty.” So that’s the intention.

It is being seen on so many platforms, this special. If that upsets anybody, that upsets me tremendously. Because it was not my intention to do that. But if it had been a man—if a woman had attacked me, knowing my sense of humor, and I had been a victim of some kind of molestation, where a young girl, like, i don’t know, it’s not even realistic, threw a roofie and a viagra in my Diet Coke, and next thing I know she’s yanking at me and violating me, and I had been raped—if it had happened to me, I probably would be shocked that it happened, and I would also probably make some kind of odd humor about it, about myself.

Because thats how I approach heinous things. When things are really incredibly painful and disturbing, I make an uncomfortable joke about it because it’s so upsetting to me, that’s my reaction. And it’s not done out of carelessness or uncaring.

But you bring up a point that does make me think there’s a responsibility. I don’t know. People have been laughing at it and are upset about it. They’re not upset that I’m doing it. They’re not upset that I’m miming it. But I’m not talking to anyone in the audience specifically that’s had it happen to them. I do know people that have been molested and raped, that have seen that bit, and they’re friends of mine, a couple of ladies, and didn’t say anything. And I didn’t ask them, did that bother you. But I might. I might ask that of somebody, I mean, I’d be interested.

Paste: I’d be interested too.

Saget: I don’t wanna hurt—I never wanna hurt anybody.

Paste: Absolutely.

Saget: I mean, I’m honest about everything. I just do what I find funny and then sometimes I go, “Wow, you’re crossing a line.” But I’ve also been known to cross a line. My comedy always was a bit of a line-crosser. Not in a way to from one end and a way to be shitting on anybody, but it was a way of going—I remember one of my first jokes—this was one of my first jokes, it’s like nothing has changed. I was 17 and there some senator that had had sex with little kids. And the joke was: “My mother wouldn’t let me go to camp when I was young, because she thought I’d get embarrassed undressing in front of little boys. But I’ve changed a lot, because I kind of like it now.” And then I said, “That’s not true, I like it a lot.” And then I said, “That’s not true, I’m not a senator.” And it was just at the time where a senator was accused of sleeping with a little boy. And that was my joke at 17, which I did for like five years after that, because your first five minutes you don’t usually get rid of. And I realized that the things that upset me the most, the things that I find the most perverted, are sometimes the things that I bring up.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

Bob Saget: Zero to Sixty is available on iTunes and other digital platforms.

Seth Simons is Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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