To perform stand-up comedy takes skill, and it’s a developmental process specific to each comedian until they find their own individual presence. For some comics, however, the experimental process becomes their career – always finding ways to deliver jokes and stories while keeping listeners on their toes. Bob Saget certainly falls into this category. Being professionally experimental is what makes Saget’s comedy work.
In his early days of television, hosting America’s Funniest Home Videos and co-starring on Full House, the actor was establishing himself as a family friendly personality. It wasn’t until the early 2000s when Saget polarized mainstream audiences with vulgar comedy that swam upstream against his seemingly milquetoast image. Although, some comics would attest that he’s always been a blue comic who made a detour into clean-cut comedy. No matter how you look at Bob Saget, hes always offering an exciting shift in performance. His latest comedy special Zero to Sixty hits a middle ground that is certainly new for the comedian and his audience.
I recently talked to Bob Saget about his comedy and his new special. I was interested in how he writes his material, but I also wanted to know his process behind working a crowd and delivering funny stories through tangents. Curiously, I also asked him if there’s such a thing as being too offensive. In modern times, is it easier – or harder – to cross a line?
Addison Wylie: Your latest comedy special, Zero to Sixty, was taped at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. The space appears to be an intimate and unique venue. It seems like you were able to easily pluck someone out of the crowd to have a conversation with them, as the camera operators capture the banter without a hitch. What separates the Music Hall from other venues you’ve performed at?
Bob Saget: Interesting question because it was last minute that I even knew I was going to shoot my special on a Tuesday while flying to New York on a Thursday. I had played the Williamsburg Hall of Music before a couple years back and loved it so much, so when Brian Volk-Weiss of Comedy Dynamics asked me if I’d like to film the special there because it became available at the last minute, I jumped at the chance. My previous special, That’s What I’m Talkin’ About – also done with Brian and his team – had been such a great experience, it seemed natural to move forward with him again.
The last one had been shot at The Moore Theatre in Seattle, which was more of a proper old school theater. The Music Hall in Brooklyn was more intimate— not a comedy club size, and not a couple thousand people in your normal comedy special theater environment. It just felt perfect to do it there— I could see the audience up close and personal, and yet since it’s a venue often used for music, there’s also a distance if you needed it from anyone suspicious enough that you didn’t want them up close and personal, if it didn’t allow the show to be what I wanted it to be, and what I think it became— right in the middle as far as including the audience when it felt natural, and being able to riff and tell stories when that was where the performance was taking me.
AW: I’ve always admired the consistency of your pace and delivery when you’re telling jokes, departing on tangents, or working the crowd. I also think your comedy holds a nice balance between being filthy and being heartwarming. A good example is in this comedy special when you have a heart-to-heart (ala Danny Tanner) with a hapless heckler. How did you develop this technique?
BS: Thanks so much for the props. And I’m not a prop comic, but I do enjoy the newer millennial meaning of the word – as in “props” meaning “complements,” not someone who juggles rubber cats.
I’ve always worked at a brisk pace because I didn’t want to draw out a joke with a long story, unless the story was meaningful enough to warrant it. I’m just starting, now that I’ve gone from zero to sixty, to tell a story for the truthful length of “how” that event happened and then the jokes that come out of the circumstances. They’re not just what I always did which was to “cut to” the joke as fast as possible. It was almost like there was a fear in going at a storytelling pace and I just wanted to get the laugh as fast as possible, even if it meant using some blue language to embellish it to tee it up faster. It wasn’t intentional, it’s just how my style evolved.
Now that I’m older, I enjoy laying things out more as though it’s a true conversation with the audience. And that’s what it’s supposed to be, I think. It’s why I admire so many younger comedians who have already established that as the way they perform or do their stand-up. So, I’m kind of a combo platter of every style I’ve been influenced by.
I appreciate the heartwarming reference to my style. It ain’t an act. I genuinely appreciate and connect with my audience in a special way. It’s a combination of them now understanding what I do up there. Self-awareness in that I’m proud I was Danny Tanner on Full House and equally, they have come to see my stand-up and they tell me and show me from their response how much they enjoy how I lay out my stuff, do riffing, music, ad-libbing and – in general – have fun with the audience and not at their expense. Don Rickles I attribute a lot of that style of being able to have such a gift for bringing people out of the audience, whether just verbally or literally onstage as I did with a good guy in this new special and have fun with them, not in a hurtful way. I miss Don very much. He taught me how to be able to give people a hard time and be quick on your feet and yet, the people onstage with him were laughing the entire time. I rarely bring up more than one person a show. You never know who’s a carrier.
AW: With Zero to Sixty, you were really impressing me with how you were able to trace back to the original root of a joke or story, yet still reference people in the audience as well as past quips. Do you find those references easy to catalogue on the spot? How important are they as comedic storytelling devices?
BS: It’s essential to be present every moment on stage, and in life frankly. I love letting a show – an evening with an audience – unveil itself and go from topic-to-topic, and then slowly bring the audience back in together – almost like playing a video game and going back to things you’ve visited but learned from and then at the end, all the pieces unite and actually come full circle. I’m not a linear thinker, or talker, which is hard for friends and people who used to be friends ‘cause they couldn’t take it anymore, to follow.
I love it when performing, because both the audience and I think I’m off track and not coming back, but then some pixie dust hits me and I come around and bring back something I’ve said earlier; whether it’d be a PSA for a young guy in the audience, perhaps recommending he should stop dry humping trees, or simply bringing back someone I haven’t spoken to in that current show for forty-five minutes. It’s as though the show creates itself, and you can’t fake that. Even if it is “material,” it always unfolds differently with every show and with every audience. I love that about my stand-up and the style that’s taken control of me over the years.
AW: It’s generally known, by now, that you enjoy blue comedy. But now that more people know (especially after your scene in The Aristocrats), are there higher expectations to meet when writing adult material?
BS: I never intentionally write any kind of comedy. I never decide to write anything “blue.” I just do what I find funny. Things that happened to me that were passed down by my dad or simply happened as real experiences in my life aren’t “written”. They’re conveyed, and if they happen to be R-rated, that’s what they are. So many well-known comedians are much bluer than me, but I’m certain – due to my family TV history – it’s a profiling that’s happened. I’m fine with it ‘cause otherwise, what am I gonna do? Get angry and curse for no reason? Oh, wait, I already did that for ten years.
As for The Aristocrats, that film had nothing to do with my stand-up or my comedy. I was given an assignment to tell the joke by Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza – the directors. I had heard the joke once before and told it twice, not well, by the way. So telling it in the film was about the only time I’ve told it. I tried it with some friends once as a wedding gift for the bride, not kidding about that, and it was late in Greece, so no one cared. The other time I attempted it at a college show, but once you try to tell it, the audience realizes what George Carlin said in the film: “This isn’t to be told in public. This is for behind the back one-on-one in the alley.” And we are now culturally past the point of “locker room talk,” so if anyone has a need to hear that joke, (which isn’t really a joke, it’s a non-joke, doing jazz with the most heinous of premises), they should rent the film and watch it in it’s entirety to understand what the meaning of it was in the first place.
AW: I won’t bother asking you about the importance of comedy in today’s society since your opinion is quite obvious (and optimistic) in Zero to Sixty, but how do you feel about current boundaries between a comic and their audience? For instance, are there jokes in That Ain’t Right that you wouldn’t tell in Zero to Sixty because they might be too offensive? Is there such a thing as being too offensive?
BS: There are definitely new rules now. And yes, I wouldn’t do half of That Ain’t Right, my 2007 HBO special, today. I was using F-bombs as rim shots and I think that’s a pure result of saying at the time, “I AM that guy from TV you grew up to, but I’m also NOT that guy from TV you grew up to.” It’s so nice to be past that. But I wouldn’t take back any of what I went through in the making of any of my specials, which came from years of rolling an hour plus of material: part silly, part blue, part heartfelt and part musical.
There are definitely things that I even say now that aren’t meant to be hurtful, but people are very hurt now and sensitive, and understandably so. That’s why every show and every new thing I write and work on is a learning curve. Our world needs less cruelty and less profiling and flat-out angry comedy. Comedy is meant to shine a light up to what the truth is for a comedian and usually for their audience. It’s meant to enlighten and entertain or simply take people out of what’s causing them so much pain, especially now in what our world has become and seems to be becoming more and more of. We need to laugh. I love when I’m able to be the cause of that experience for people.
As I grow, I think I’ll be adjusting constantly and as Kevin Costner heard in the movie Field of Dreams, as a mantra, “Ease his pain.” We need to ease each other’s pain, not create more. I hope I’ve done that a bit with Zero to Sixty, and if I haven’t for some, I have something to work toward as I continue developing new comedy. Whether it be in stand-up form, in television, or film; like I’ve tried to do in the dark comedy movie I’ve been working on that I directed and acted in entitled Benjamin, which comes out in 2018.
How’s that for a last minute blatant plug?
Zero to Sixty hits VOD, Digital HD, and On Demand on Tuesday, November 14.
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