Slowly emerging from his quarantine cocoon, ‘90s comedy icon Bob Saget realized something he may have known all along: he really, really enjoys stand-up comedy. And like a husband reconciling with spouse after a trial separation, he’s rediscovering her all over again.
After thanking me for laughing at the mere “sounding” of his well-known name, the 65-year-old funnyman goes into riffing about how he got back with his first love. “It was too long [away]...I only did one show [in mid- 2020], I was able to do Dave Chappelle’s shows in Yellow Springs. I was only able to do one night, but I believe I am going back. And I love Dave so much: the best living comedian, probably — although there’s a lot of great greats.”
Moving to 2021, Saget recalls getting his early stand-up legs back under him in April. “About three weeks ago, I did the opening of the Hard Rock in Atlantic City with my buddy Mike Young, we’ve toured together off-and-on for the last ten years. That was a place called the Etess Arena, that was a 7,000-person space and we had under 1,000 people during two shows. It was amazing! The audience was socially-distanced and so happy and so wonderful – it took me about five minutes to realize that this is one of the things I do that I love the most, among a number of the things that I do. I love this one. Stand-up is a gift to be able to do, and I’m just able to do it.”
Ahead of his two nights at Houston Improv, Saget waxes nostalgic about his perfected image of the comedian, the 1974 Best Picture nominee Lenny. “I just took the [microphone] out of the stand and it was like a scene out of Lenny, that great-probably-definitive stand-up movie starring Dustin Hoffman. I’ve loved films ever since I was 12. Bob Fosse directed it. There’s that scene... and it’s that simple. It is a sacred moment for a stand-up.”
Continuing on his winding path to returning to Houston, Saget elaborates on the comedy high he got in the Bay Area. “On 4/20,” he tees up with a laugh, ”I was on a rooftop in San Francisco with a bunch of comedians and a completely stoned audience, ‘cause pot’s legal. And it was hilarious! You see a mouth go up, in what seems like a problem, like they have some kind of tick. But, that’s what you call crushing with stoned people. They couldn’t even move, they were so high and I love that! A very wonderful club out here called the Irvine Improv — that’s another one of those Improvs — it’s a huge place, and instead of 500 people we had 230 people. We did four shows. Then, I went: 'OK. Holy shit, I think I’m back! I think this is it.'"
Seget recalls calling his agents and trying to find the perfect venue that could do a weekend “properly” and a veteran club came to mind. “I’ve played Houston my whole career, but I played the old Houston Improv. I believe this is a newer one, right? They’re really well run. And I actually have a few more dates after [Houston] and it really hasn’t been like this, creatively, in stand up since 1995. That’s when Full House went off the air, and I was trying to find my voice. Then I pushed the envelope – perhaps, in some people’s minds, a little bit too much. But I found the voice that was me anyway, because I started being irreverent when I was 17 – really, 12! But when I was 17, my stand up was weird and then finally, I ended up in two wonderful family shows [which] was a complex issue for some audiences."
Expanding on his reputation for being ‘filthy’ on stage, Saget clears the reality from the noise and makes the case that he’s not stuck in the Clinton era: he’s evolved with the times too. “I’m different, it’s so interesting. It’s all new [material]. I don’t touch politics, I touch things that are… I don’t touch anything! That’s going to read well. I don’t touch anything anymore. If I say some thing that some people may think is crossing a line, I am so responsible – I think it’s because of how the worlds change so much.
"Sarah Silverman said something very smart, and I’m the same way: I would never say stuff now that I would say ten years ago, even five years ago. The world is… everyone is so sensitive - everyone! It doesn’t matter what your belief system is, what your religion is. There are so many people who are unhappy, or feel left out or have been offended, and understandably. I just want to make them laugh, I just want to entertain people. I treasure it. I treasure that time with an audience, and people are so cynical now. Somebody on Twitter said, comedians are so... well, I had said how much I love and am excited to get back to stand up, and of course, you come back with nothing but cynicism and weirdness. You can’t say ‘all you need is love’ because then people will come back with: Oh yeah, right! It’s sad for them.
“Somebody said that comedians only do it for themselves and that’s such crap, you don’t. You just don’t. Some people, some, can’t relate to how good it feels to do something for someone else, to make them feel good. I was going to go to med school, because I wanted to be a doctor, but I couldn’t take science or math. I became a film student, and thousands of lives were saved by that.”
Saget makes a point to prepare those who expect to either see the squeaky clean father from Full House, or those who expect the lewdest dude from late night comedy roasts or The Aristocrats. It seems for Saget’s material in 2021, it falls somewhere in the middle of that binary.
“I love being able to tell stories. I’m more story-oriented, it’s so different, and some people I think are disappointed I’m not as blue as I was. But it was a different time, and that was the shock value of going on a morning radio show that had shock jocks on it. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize those tapes would be around 20 years later. It makes me uncomfortable, you know? You can’t turn back the clock, you can only correct things with your words and your actions.
"That’s how I approach stand up too. It doesn’t even go through my head, I’m not auditing myself, I’m not censoring myself – I’m saying something sometimes, it’s two minutes to set it up and three minutes to apologize after you say it! It’s like I am my own defense and prosecutor while I’m doing it. It’s literally ‘I’m going to say something upsetting, and I hope it doesn’t offend anybody but...’ and then half the room laughs. Then, in my apology, the other half laughs.”
Saget reveals he’s in the preparation process to record his first stand-up special since his 2013 Grammy-nominated album That’s What I’m Talking About. And like so many others, those initial plans were dashed by the locked down procedures of the previous year – but it almost kept Saget on the wrong side of the border.
“I was going to do [my next special] before the pandemic,” he says. “In March 2020, I was supposed to go to Canada and do my Canadian tour. I was going to go to Vancouver, But then I canceled the casino I love because it looked like this was happening. I was told this is happening, and the casino was upset – we are really angry about this. Then, the next day, they shut Canada down. So I could’ve done the Vancouver gig, but then I would have been stuck in Calgary in quarantine and never gone to Regina, which I wanted to go to because of the name. But I’ve been there before and they are a great audience, because of the name of their town. My last name, I’ve had a rough time with it my whole life – elementary school with the last name Saget. You don’t pick that name!”
Beyond stand-up, Saget says he’s been keeping busy with other creative pursuits, including starring in a comedy film shot in the Cayman island alongside Daily Show star Jason Jones, 24’s Mary Lynn Rajskub and ‘Godfather of Funk’, Iggy Pop.
“In the Cayman Islands, they put you in quarantine for 16 days, then you’re allowed to come out. There’s a guard outside your hotel room. There is one young lady, not part of our company, broke quarantine and they put her in jail for a few months! That’s why nobody breaks quarantine. You try that in the U.S., that ain’t going to fly. [Iggy Pop] lives there, he’s been living there. He passes away early in the film, that’s not a spoiler alert - it’s the premise. He has spoiled kids, he dies but leaves in his will they will get the inheritance if they can spend one weekend together in the Cayman Islands. So it’s sort of Succession meets Knives Out. They want to kill the one brother, played by Joel David Moore, the nicest one that the father liked best. I think it’s going to be called Killing Daniel, I’m not sure; right now it’s called Blue Iguana, cause there’s one in it.”
And yes, youngest fans of Saget may know him better from his not-so-short run on Fox’s mega-hit The Masked Singer. On his involvement, Saget is self-deprecating from the start. “To be able to work during this time? They even got me... However long that shows been on, I would say: ‘No, thanks.’ But Ken Jeong is a friend, and Robin Thicke I’ve known since he was a kid, because [his father] Alan was my buddy. Then one day after three years (and after April-May-June-whatever-quarantine), I got a call and I said: Put me up, whatever it is. Put me in a mascot outfit, hit me with a bat, I don’t care what you do to me. Put a 70-pound metal frame on my head that no one should wear in life. I want to be a character in every theme park, and I’ll sing my ass off.”
“I didn’t realize a 70-pound head, probably 30 in reality, of the Squiggly Monster actually pushes down on your vocal cords, so you get an extra handicap. I found out that Paul Anka as Broccoli beat me out – and I was like: That’s bullshit! I feel robbed. Actually, it was so funny, the restrictions for that are so secretive that Ken Jeong was texting me, calling me asking if I could come on the show or if I could do this… And I would say sorry can I’m really busy… Meanwhile, I’m there that day wearing a hoodie with a sweatshirt that says ‘Don’t talk to me’ on it, and wearing a visor that covers my face. It’s literally like the CIA taping that show."
However it happened, the result is clear: Bob Saget has put his heart back onto the stage – when he’s not weighed down by a 70-pound head. And the Houston Improv, who has been booking big acts all year, is lucky to snag him. “I am very, very excited to come to Houston, extremely. What’s that line? ‘The most important thing is sincerity, and if you can fake that…’
“With stand up, I’m just booking it up right now – and even with places that I wouldn’t usually do. The Houston Improv is very high on my list, and I know friends like Bill Bellamy, lots of people are going to the Houston Improv, people you would usually see in a theater are doing it, because it’s what we got to do: the clubs! And I got to work out, I don’t just want to go on stage at the local clubs in LA even my home clubs of the Comedy Store or the Improv on Melrose or the Laugh Factory and do 15 minutes, 20 minutes. When I do those clubs I decide at the last minute. To have a gig and be able to do your full show, to do an hour, I live for it. You know?
"There’s no art form like stand up, it’s as simple and pure as it gets. I’ve been doing it for over 40 years, sometimes people say, even now: ‘Hey are you going to be funny tonight?’ That’s like asking your pilot if he’ll get you to Cleveland. I’ve been doing this 40 years, I’ve got the flight miles, don’t worry about it. Are you going to be in a good mood tonight? That’s my goal tonight, to make you happy. You get to do what you love, and it’s a craft. You get to tell stories, and work on stuff, and meet people, and laugh, and there’s drinking, and eating, and the food at the Improv is actually pretty good.” Saget laughs, highlighting the bright side: “By shutting the club down for so long, they actually had to throw away all the old chicken wing oil in the deep fryer!”
Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. on Friday, June 4, and 7 and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 5. For information, call 713-333-8800 or visit improvhouston.com. $60-240
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