Comedian, actor, filmmaker and America’s once-and-forever favourite dad Bob Saget was found dead in his hotel room in Orlando, Florida on Sunday. The 65-year-old was on tour and had performed a 2-hour standup set in Ponte Vedra, Florida on Saturday night. No official cause of death has been confirmed yet, although the medical examiner has reportedly ruled out drugs or foul play.
Best known for his role as neurotic, endearing single dad Danny Tanner on the wildly popular sitcom Full House (1987-1995), Saget also hosted America’s Funniest Home Videos from 1989 to 1997. Together, these two TV shows cemented his onscreen persona: a likeable Everyman comic with ‘clean humour’ and a clean-cut, earnest look (as if this general cleanliness wasn’t enough, Danny Tanner also happened to be borderline OCD, being obsessed with spring cleaning).
Having started off as a standup comic with decidedly adult themes, including a great deal of scatological material, Saget returned to these roots towards the end of his career, with standup specials like That Ain’t Right (2007), That’s What I Am Talking About (2013) and Zero to Sixty (2017). He also voiced the middle-aged Ted Mosby (played as a 30-something by Josh Radnor) in another super-popular sitcom, How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014) and resurrected his Danny Tanner character for Netflix’s sequel series Fuller House (2016-2020).
Speaking to fellow comedian Marc Maron on the latter’s podcast, Saget described his early days as a standup comedian in the 1980s in his typically entertaining manner: “I didn’t curse for the sake of cursing. That’s the actual truth. But I was the type of kid who, if you told him you couldn’t say ‘dick’ onstage, I’d, uh, I’d go up and just say ‘dick’ over and over again, say ‘dick’ 200 times. (…) My first jokes were perverted more than anything else.”
However, Saget wasn’t a one-trick pony. As Maron noted during their 2010 conversation, Saget was never into autobiographical jokes or even personal segues, as is almost de rigueur for contemporary comedians (including and especially Maron himself). He was always confident in his prepared material, in its balance between playful obscenity and wholesome earnestness.
After his death, the writer and journalist Miles Klee tweeted, “Saget as host of America’s Funniest Home Videos is one of the great postmodern performances of the 20th century. A raunchy comedian trapped in an endless “family-friendly” montage of nut shots, begging hack writers to save him.” This is a particularly sharp observation, for there was significant tension between Saget’s Danny Tanner image and his adult-themed standup material. This was apparent in everything Saget did post-Full House, and to an extent, he also addressed it in his material (his 2014 memoir, for instance, was called Dirty Daddy).
He was an unusually kind, sensitive and self-effacing person who loved his fans and cherished every minute of his second coming as a comedian.
The bit about his ‘perverted’ style was also, fittingly, a hat-tip to Saget’s own father Benjamin, a Jewish supermarket executive who was also, apparently, a very funny man. In Saget’s memoir Dirty Daddy, there’s a chapter called ‘Death and Comedy are Intimately Related’, where he talks about his father’s oddball sense of humour and the confidence with which he carried it.
“Like me, my dad dealt with death and all the hardships in life through humour. Sick and weird humour. We would be standing next to an ice machine and hear a cycle of ice drop with a loud thud, and he would say, ‘there’s your grandmother.’ As though her corpse wanted to say hello by dropping its two hundred pounds within earshot. Not always funny, but always some kind of metaphysical release from the pain.”
Throughout his career, Saget always had time for amusing sideshows, like his unforgettable cameo as a cocaine addict in the cult 1998 stoner comedy Half Baked (starring and co-written by Dave Chappelle). Similarly, in 2007 he directed Farce of the Penguins, a parody of the acclaimed documentary March of the Penguins. His appearance on the documentary The Aristocrats (2005), a comprehensive study of the famous taboo-defying dirty joke of the same name, was very well received, as was his rendition of one of the most obscene routines in all of comedy.
Nobody likes to speak ill of the dead, especially in the immediate aftermath of the passing. Even taking that into consideration, the amount of goodwill Saget generated is remarkable. Quite simply, nobody had a bad word to say about the man. By all accounts, he was an unusually kind, sensitive and self-effacing person who loved his fans and cherished every minute of his second coming as a comedian. These are rare qualities amidst the skyrocketing stress levels of show business, as Saget himself admitted in Dirty Daddy. He wrote:
“Wikipedia has this to say about Ivan the Terrible: “Intelligent and devout, yet given to rages and prone to episodic outbreaks of mental illness.” Sounds like pretty much everyone in show business, nixing the devout part.”
These lines are classic Saget: kind and empathetic, yes, but he lands a parting blow just in time, as he so often did. We’re unlikely to see another like him.