With a mischievous grin and a twinkle in his eye, the man who had just been on the receiving end of a 2008 Comedy Central roast closed his rebuttal with a potent turn of phrase: “Fuck you all and suck my $100 million cock.”
That gleeful statement may seem very much at odds with how Bob Saget reaped those millions in the late ’80s onward — as the beloved dad Danny Tanner on the sweet and saccharine sitcom Full House, the genial host of America’s Funniest Home Videos, and the future Ted Mosby narrating How I Met Your Mother. But it captured the essence of Saget’s genially raunchy stand-up act, known to be among the filthiest in comedy.
Saget, who died suddenly on January 9 at age 65 while on a stand-up tour, was adored across generations by fans of his wholesome persona as well as his foul-mouthed one. To his friends, he was both at once: a big-hearted and generous man who reveled in getting the bluest laughs, most notably in his giggly but gruesome take on the dirtiest joke in comedy in the 2005 documentary, The Aristocrats.
“I always say The Aristocrats set Bob free because America didn’t know that part of him, and when that film came out, the lid was off the pot,” Jason Alexander recently told Vulture. Josh Radnor (that other Ted Mosby) described Saget in an email as “like a hunter, always looking for either the next joke or the next moment of kindness.” Norman Lear, who was close friends with Saget, reminisced on monthly cigar hangouts the two shared with others and said that Saget “was at the center of most of the laughter.” And Penn Jillette, who became good friends with Saget while serving as executive producer on The Aristocrats, noted that beyond the laughter was a warm and caring soul. “I’m having trouble holding it together with all this,” Jillette said. “Please let people know what a beautiful person he was.”
Saget’s comrades in comedy reminisced about what made him so special as a TV star, a stand-up, and a friend. These responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Bob’s sense of humor was ever present. He would meet you and say the most gracious, complimentary, heart-warming thing and then drop a poop joke.
I’m pretty sure Bob and I were introduced to each other through our scleroderma connection. Bob had a sister who passed away from it; I also had a sister who passed away from it. He was spokesperson for the Scleroderma Research Foundation, and I was spokesperson for the Scleroderma Foundation. The one Bob was involved with specifically is funding research for a cure; the one I was helping is more about support and connectivity for patients and families. We may have met on Capitol Hill when we were both doing the rounds and trying to raise awareness for potential funding. We talked about the fact that when you have a disease that is fairly rare and unknown and you’re splitting the dollars, it does not help either organization. We made a brief attempt to try to get them to merge.
We also bumped into each other in Israel when we were with our families. When Bob and I were together, we mostly talked about weighty subjects. More often than not, we ran into each other at charity events. He was a soft touch; if you called and needed something, he’d show up. He’d literally give you the shirt off his back. He cared about people, and he kept in touch with people.
Bob would never let a dick joke pass by, even in a tragic story. If there was a sexual pun to be made, it would be made; he would not let that opportunity go. He was one of three people in my life who make me laugh so hard and unexpectedly in conversation that I look like a Pez dispenser because of how my neck bends backwards.
I first met Bob about five years ago, but he was in my life for many years prior to that. He was a father figure. I don’t want to throw my parents under the bus, but they’re not the most emotionally present individuals, and I was a really emotional child. Danny Tanner and what Bob did with that role really taught me what I was yearning for from a parent, which was empathy and hugs and being okay with emotions. I’m really grateful for the example he set. And he ended up being exactly that person in my personal life, too. He was so similar to Danny Tanner. I would have fared a lot better during the pandemic living with Bob Saget than living with my parents.
The pandemic brought us closer together because we were frequent guests on each other’s podcasts. We’d have these really deep conversations that were just the same kind of conversation we’d have offline. It’s rare for a man to be able to express his emotions and love so openly and easily in conversations. He knew, having lost people, that no matter what happened in his life, he lived each conversation like it might be your last. He’d talk about how much he loved you, how much he believed in you.
I come from a family that doesn’t hug or say your feelings are valid, so there are times I feel a little foolish to be so sad because we only knew each other for a few years and so many of our conversations happened on podcasts. The irony is I’m questioning my feelings, and Bob himself would tell me, “Feel whatever you want to feel.” But that’s just the way he was — he was able to cut through so much b.s. so quickly and make you feel like you’d known each other forever. He’s one of only a few people in my life where I was certain he understood who I was and really got me.
I remember when The Aristocrats came out and people would say, “Can you believe Bob Saget is talking that way?” Nobody who knew him was in any way surprised. That’s the way our conversations always were: out-and-out filthy. On our podcasts it would start out like a typical interview, and he would immediately veer off into something totally perverted. There was nothing that was too far. There was a friendly competition in our conversations. We would always try to outdo each other.
For a while we were sending each other emails and they were getting more and more crazy, and we thought, “This would make a great book.” We were both looking forward to that. He told his manager, and his manager read the emails and said in no uncertain words, “No, you are not sharing this with the public.”
Since I heard he died, in my head, I still kind of think I should call Bob and talk to him about this. I’m pretty certain that if there was a way to talk to him now, he’d be making some really poor-taste jokes about his death.
You could look into Bob’s heart and say, “This person is so pure that we can go here together and laugh.” That’s why he could say, “I’m going to say things you will not believe and that will stick in your head forever, and you’ll be okay.” The exact same qualities that made him a lovable TV dad enabled him to be as transgressive as anybody I ever saw. It’s not on the one hand and on the other hand; it’s exactly the same.
He was wholesome offstage. I can’t stress enough how much he wore his heart on his sleeve. If he hadn’t done that kind of humor, he would have been so cloying he would have made Tom Hanks look like [Screw magazine publisher] Al Goldstein. But when you went out with Saget, the server would come over, and Bob would be talking about fucking his daughter. When the server would be shocked, Bob would say, “I’m sorry, there’s no reason you had to hear that. It was terrible. I’m the guy who played a father on TV. I’d like to cum all over your face. Now you shouldn’t hear that either. It’s a horrible thing.” Without fail, every person I saw him interact with that way — of every age, every gender — was laughing hysterically.
As a Harvard student, I invited Bob to perform at a show called The B.J. Show, which I was putting on with another student named B.J. I told him the Harvard Lampoon would give him an award, and part of the award included being the guest in the show. He said yes, and I gave him some award we quickly came up with.
Bob is so wholesome. His heart is just bursting out of every pore of him, yet he does have a very filthy mind. I’m using present tense because he’s still so present to me.
We performed in Sanders Theatre, which is this historic theater where Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela spoke, and here’s Bob Saget telling the filthiest jokes anyone has ever heard. And he brought the house down. Dan Mintz — who is now an acclaimed stand-up and writer — and I wrote a parody episode called “The Lost Full House” in which Danny Tanner tries to teach Michelle about sex, and Uncle Jesse realizes Danny doesn’t know what sex is. I played Uncle Jesse, who teaches Danny about sex, and Danny gets so excited about it and says, “I got to get me some pussy.” It was one of the best nights of my life.
Bob called his manager after that night and said, “You have to sign this guy because I want him to write for my show.” So I came out that week as a 21-year-old to write for Raising Dad. It was a head-spinning idea. He called my mom and said, “It’s okay. He’s a good kid. I’m going to take care of him.” I remember her being emotional on the phone because Bob Saget was America’s dad. That’s what made her comfortable. What he did to take care of me was take me out to the nightclubs every night of the week.
He was very social, and he loved being in the mix. People loved him because he loved everybody. He was very close to me, like family. I had him give me a blessing at my 40th birthday as my show-business father.
A lot of friends have been reaching out, and I’ve said Bob actually left us with incredible coping mechanisms. Bob dealt with so much grief in his life — he lost four sisters, and in the last few years, both of his parents — and he’d have an outpouring of emotion over whomever he’d lost, but also tons of dark jokes about it, too. In my mind, I alternate between crying and thinking of disses and riffs that would crack him up.
Everybody says, “He was so dark, he was so raunchy.” But it was never from a mean-spirited place. It was from a giggly, I can’t believe we get to do this stuff kind of place. I know people came to see him because they thought, Oh he’s that wonderful man we watch on TV, and I’m sure they were initially shocked, but it was hard to be offended by him because he was so clearly having a goofy time up there. It was not coming from a place of personal angst but from a place of just having fun.
When you meet him personally, he still has that same friendly, goofy upbeat energy. He wasn’t just telling dirty jokes — although he could, especially if he was with other comedians. He was just a very nice guy.
I like the fact that he’s going to be remembered in very different ways. The fact that it’s not just one homogenous memory is really neat, because he had those multitudes in him.
We met in an ADR room early in the first season of How I Met Your Mother. He was finishing up his voice-over work, and I had to rerecord a few lines of dialogue. He was so immediately warm and funny and kind about my performance. He had really been studying me; he wanted his voice-over to feel like this was all one character but at different stages in his life. I mean, he certainly didn’t need to do that — he could have just rattled off the lines and taken the paycheck.
That speaks to something true about Bob: He was an intensely present person. Whatever was in front of him was all that was going on. And in that way, you felt pretty special when you were with him. He was really there. He was also — it goes without saying — hysterical. He was just so alive and alert, which is why his passing is so disorienting.
I never tried to keep up with him as far as dirty jokes. Our connection was much more about depth and vulnerability — two Jewish guys in show business just trying to figure it all out and hang onto their souls. He was a really deep guy; he wanted to live a meaningful life, and we connected a lot about that.
An undercurrent of our friendship was that we had both played these wholesome characters on hit shows. That comes with a lot of wonderful stuff and some less wonderful stuff. The circle of people you can talk to about this is pretty small, as you can imagine. He was conflicted for a long time about being thought of as this TV dad, and he worked hard to shake it off and diversify his career while also honoring how much that role and show had brought him and of course the fans.
He was a great model for me of how to be on a big show and then take a number of deft left turns and create something new. He was also wildly supportive. At Sundance in 2010, he came to the premiere of the first film I wrote and directed, and gave me the warmest hug afterwards. He took his daughters to see me in a Broadway play that I was in. He was generous with compliments in a way that a lot of people aren’t. You never sensed he thought your success was his failure. He didn’t have a scarcity mindset, if that makes sense. He celebrated his friends’ good fortune.
I was thinking recently about how unconflicted Bob seemed about his fame. Maybe it was because he’d been famous for so long, but he never seemed put out by someone approaching to say hi or wanting a picture. I think it made the world seem smaller to him in a really nice way. Losing one’s anonymity can be really unnerving, but Bob just seemed to really like meeting new people. He showed me that the weird world of being visible didn’t have to be a headache — that it could sometimes be really fun. At one of our dinners, the waitress was kind of stunned that we were together. And Bob said, “Which age Ted Mosby are you interested in tonight?”
Bob was on his way to being one of the great old guys. I said this in my Instagram post, but had he lived to be 99, I’ve no doubt he would have been beloved like Betty White. I wish he could have seen the outpouring of love for him after he died. It reminds me that we really need to eulogize the living. Luckily, I got to tell Bob I loved him a lot while he was still here. But I’d sure love to be able to tell him again.