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Interview: Bob Saget Talks About His Philly Roots

Did you know the comedian and star of ‘90s hit “Full House” was born-and-bred in Philadelphia? Bob Saget talks about his rise from these streets to what’s on tap next.

In his 30-plus-year career as a comedian, Bob Saget has taken on many creative roles. Some know him as Danny Tanner, the lovable, cleanliness-obsessed father figure on the hit ABC show “Full House,” others, for his less-than family friendly standup. What may surprise some people to find out is that this Grammy-nominated comedian, actor, director, producer, writer and television host was born right here in Philadelphia, and launched his career in this city.

What affect did Philadelphia have on your career?

The first place I preformed standup at was a club called Grand Mom Minnie’s, which I got to do [at age 17] from winning a contest for the radio station WMMR with a song about bondage. The real consequential thing that happened to me was in college, when I started performing standup at my friend Stephen Starr’s club, called Stars. I did impressions of Bob Dylan—the usual stuff that everyone does when they have a guitar—and I opened for Frank Stallone and Valentine, and Richard Belzer and Rich Hall. It was quite the break and a very cushy learning place. Now [Starr] owns Buddakan and Morimoto and all these wonderful restaurants. Every time I see him I tell him that he started me.

Was there anything about the city that inspired your comedy early on?

You know that “Rocky” thing isn’t really a joke? Some people go, ‘Why is the Stallone statue at the art museum steps? Well, it is a symbol for how a lot of Philadelphia people look at the city, which is you come out of nothing and beat your way to the top. It’s a good town because if you make it big in Philly, they’re very loyal to you. It was kind of a sheltered way to do standup comedy. You’re not trying to get on TV; you’re just trying to make people laugh as much as you can. I really built myself in Philly. It feels like home because I was like an embryo growing there.

Philadelphia Rocky Steps
Find these bronze footprint marks where Rocky Balboa leaped for joy in the classic film "Rocky" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (©M. Fischetti/Visit Philadelphia)
 

What is your fondest Philadelphia memory?

I won the Student Academy Award when I was 21 in 1987. I made a movie called “Through Adam’s Eyes.” My mother was head executive at Children’s Hospital and my nephew had gone through some surgeries. I got to make a documentary about that, and it got a lot of attention. It brought me back out to LA where I had been years before.

“Full House” first aired 28 years ago. The show was your big break, along with your gig hosting “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” At what point did you know that it would run for the rest of time?

I didn’t know it at the time at all and really didn’t think it was going to stay on the air. In the beginning, it was [fighting] to stay alive when we were on Tuesday nights. We were running against “Seinfeld,” arguably the best show on TV. It was when the network moved us to Friday nights that we started to do well. Even after the show ended, it was only a year or two until they started its syndication. I never expected any of that. It’s still on television and young kids are rediscovering and falling in love with it right now. For that, all I have is appreciation.

Your book “Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian” is a New York Times Best Seller. What do you think people are most surprised to learn about you?

My book “Dirty Daddy” took a year and a half to write. I wrote a mixture of comedy with stories of hardships, life experience and death. It became a mission statement of how I look at things. It could not have been a more fulfilling experience. It helped me look at and frame what I’d like to do as I continue on my artistic path. I think one of the biggest talking points is that there was so much loss in my life, and my family’s life. My life was never an easy one. When it became a New York Times Best Seller, I said, okay, who got paid off?

What can your fans expect from you next?

The thing that I know is constant and [that I am] excited about is the growth of my standup. My standup just kind of lives and breathes as this thing, as this friend of mine who I go and spend time with. It’s the other me. I’m writing new music and conversational comedy. The next couple years for me will be an artistic genesis of material I’ve never really approached before. I’m working on an independent film, and I’m developing a TV show. In 2016, I’d like to put out a new special. I love acting a lot. I’m working on a movie now called, “Killer Set.” It’s about a mobster that goes into the Witness Protection Program in a small town and becomes a comedian. He just does that to lay low but he gets popular, so that screws up the Protection Program. I play a guy who is a singer, but all he sings about is stalking women.

How long do you think you’ll be doing standup?

I can’t imagine doing it for another 10 years, but my friend Don Rickles is 88, and I just saw him on stage the other night. I am a comedian, and I always will be, no matter what form. Right now, I see another 10 to 15 years of not even thinking about it because I just want to get really good at this..

You’ve performed all over the country. Do people respond to your comedy differently in different cities?

I talk to the audience like it’s a friend, which is why I wanted to play a room the size of the TLA [in Philly] and not a gigantic place where people can get lost. I’m going to talk about things I couldn’t talk about anywhere else because nobody [other than Philadelphians] has Geno’s or Pat’s rivalry conversations. You get people to cheer certain things, or boo ,because that’s Philly.

Who do you consider to be your biggest comedic influences?

Charlie Chaplin from the very start. I owned all the silent films when I was a kid. I loved Groucho a whole lot. I loved the film comedians. As I got older, I was more into standup, so I got to know several like Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Pryor and Don Rickles. Then there’s the young talent I can’t help but like, like Woody Allen and Albert Brooks. I think Louis C.K. is going to make it. I really adore Bill Burr. He works so hard and is so good at what he does.

What was the first joke you ever told?

One of the first jokes I told goes something like: There’s a kid sitting on a bench and another kid comes up to him and goes, ‘Hey what are you eating?’ He goes, ‘Smart pills.’ The other kid says, ‘Let me try one of those,’ and he takes it and says, ‘It tastes like rabbit poop.’ The other kids goes, ‘See you’re getting smarter already.’ It’s not even a good joke! It’s the idea that why was the other kid eating it?

You’ve said you prefer to call comebacks do-overs or redefinings. What do you think will be your next redefining career move?

I’ve never known what the redefining roles were in my career at the time. It seems that every seven years something happens that I’m in three things at once that converge and make an impact. There are three things I’m working on right now, and it could be any one of them. It won’t be my male modeling career. The thing that makes me happiest in life is being a dad to my daughters. That’s still the thing that fills my heart the most.