'Bob Saget': He'd Empty A Full House

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 25, 2007

Maybe one reason that Bob Saget's new hour of stand-up on HBO is so dreadful is that Saget is aiming for a place or two in the Guinness Book of World Records: fewest actual jokes in a one-hour comedy special while also logging the most uses of a certain infamous four-letter word.

The punishing repetitiousness, supplemented with as many self-conscious obscenities as Saget can summon, becomes burdensome within the first 10 minutes of "Bob Saget: That Ain't Right," and how demoralizing to realize there are 44 minutes to go. Saget's excessive deployment of "that" word -- uttered to greater excess than in any four episodes of "Deadwood" -- is supposed to signify his emergence into adulthood after eight years of starring in the family sitcom "Full House" and a similar term as host of "America's Funniest Home Videos."

As part of this revised identity, awkwardly previewed on a sodden installment of "Saturday Night Live" that Saget hosted in May 1995, he not only announces his liberation from those wholesome shows but also trashes them for not having been sufficiently cynical and smutty. Saget's is the polar opposite of a class act, hypocritically assailing the programs that made him famous enough to land him his own HBO special in the first place.

Saget is relentlessly tasteless, never straying far from such squirm-inducing topics as lusting after his three daughters' playmates or acquiring carnal knowledge of his dog. Other subjects include diarrhea, flatulence, genitalia, voyeurism, sex and, of course, more sex. ("My daughter's wearing a thong," he complains.)

It's historical fact that some of America's most brilliant and cutting-edgiest stand-up comedians made liberal use of words and phrases commonly considered verboten. Lenny Bruce was a martyr to free speech, and among those following in his footsteps was the brilliant, madcap Sam Kinison, the comedy equivalent of the first man to walk on the moon -- or maybe relieve himself on it. But the best of the shock comics always had a counterbalancing social relevance. In their hands, obscenity was an artist's tool, masterfully utilized.

Saget, by contrast, is emptiness incarnate. He has no larger context. He adopts a pose of disingenuous candor, rationalizing his act as having "shock value" and sometimes scolding the audience for laughing at it. "If you laugh at [junk] like that, you lower the bar," he tells them after one pitiful gag. "This is a horrible joke; this may be my worst joke," he says a short time later, and near the end of the hour he says, "If I have offended anyone -- how could I not?"

It's all some unsavory variation on having one's cake and eating it, too, reeling off lewd remarks at warp speed, stopping occasionally to feign an apology or upbraid the audience for laughing, then plunging ahead with numbing monotony. And while claiming shame over the sitcom and the "Videos" show, Saget keeps trying to mine them for laughs. He tells a member of the audience to "ask me my favorite episode" of "Full House" and then quickly answers, "the last one."

By that show's finale, he was probably making seven figures per episode, but just think of all the artistic suffering, the compromising of his high ideals, the thwarting of his desire to stand before a theater full of people and talk dirty. When he tells the audience, "I'd like to do something special for you now," one longs for a heckler to shout out, "How about shutting up?"

As Capt. Jeffrey T. Spaulding in "Animal Crackers," the great Groucho Marx sang: "I hate a dirty joke I do/Unless it's told by someone who/Knows how to tell it." Saget doesn't know how to tell it. His humor isn't bawdy or even raunchy; it's just simple-mindedly and coldly coarse.

"Don't applaud that," he chides the audience after one wisecrack. "That is wrong," he tells them after another one. And he is forever shouting "Stop it!" when pockets of laughter open up.

The pose is that he just can't help himself and that all the hilarious nifties pouring out are somehow beyond his control. "I'm sorry," he says fairly early in the proceedings, sheepishly adding, "I'm a good person." A good person maybe, but a witlessly lousy comedian.

Bob Saget: That Ain't Right airs tonight at 10 on HBO.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company