The vast majority of casual fans who hear that Bob Saget was tragically found dead at 65 in a Florida hotel room on Sunday will think only of his most famous role as Danny Tanner, the lovable single father of three on the family-friendly ’90s sitcom Full House—and its recent, equally saccharine reboot Fuller House. Or maybe as that guy who made silly voices on America’s Funniest Home Videos.
But to comedy fanatics like me—and especially to comedians—Saget was known as one of the filthiest and most hilarious stand-up comics of all time. It was the inadvertent irony of his long career that he became best known for entertaining children when his true sensibility was extremely adult. And nowhere was this style more fully on display than in his Comedy Central Roast in 2008.
On that night, his Full House co-star John Stamos served as an affable roastmaster, but it was Saget’s contemporaries Greg Giraldo, Gilbert Gottfried, and especially Norm Macdonald who stole the show.
Giraldo, who would be dead two years later due to an overdose of prescription drugs, gleefully mocked Saget’s characterization of himself as an “artist,” joking, “You are a vortex of artistic compromise.” But he followed even more obscenely cruel lines by saying, “I’m done being mean.
“Everybody that knows you loves and respects you, nobody ever has a bad thing to say about you,” he added, before throwing in an obligatory punchline: “That’s particularly surprising because you’re Jewish and you’re obnoxious people.”
Gottfried, meanwhile, made Saget cry-laugh by spending his entire set defending Saget from an absurdly salacious rumor that he made up for the occasion. “It’s not true that Bob Saget raped and killed a girl in 1990!” he screamed as the roastee slapped his leg in delight. “So if you have any proof that Bob Saget raped and killed a girl in 1990, stop gossiping and go right to the police with it!”
There were no jokes, however, in Gottfried’s tribute to his friend on Twitter Sunday night. “Still in shock,” he wrote. “I just spoke with Bob a few days ago. We stayed on the phone as usual making each other laugh. RIP to friend, comedian & fellow Aristocrat Bob Saget.”
At the time, Saget revealed that he was less-than-pleased with crude jokes that Giraldo, Gottfried, and even Stamos made about the Olsen twins, saying, “Anybody who talks about my TV kids—that upsets me the most. I am very protective. I love them very, very much.” So as hard as he was laughing at those brutal roast jokes, it was the kinder, gentler, more off-kilter approach that he perhaps appreciated most.
Macdonald, who the comedy world lost unexpectedly less than four months ago following a secret bout with cancer, delivered the bit that night that everyone still remembers. It was also one of the most-shared of his clips on social media following his death.
Instead of viciously insulting Saget, as is the custom, Macdonald decided to tell a series of corny, almost non-jokes designed to confound the audience both in the room and watching at home. But if you keep your eye on Saget, he is laughing harder than ever.
“Bob has a beautiful face, like a flower. Cauliflower!” one of Macdonald’s one-liners went. Or, “There are times when Bob has something on his mind. When he wears a hat!”
When Macdonald died, Saget recorded a long podcast episode paying tribute to his friend, admitting at one point that he was “not functioning too well” in the aftermath. During that remembrance, he told the story of how Macdonald ended up choosing such an odd approach to a comedy format he apparently hated.
“I talked to him a week before the roast and, and he said, ‘I can’t say mean things about you because you’re my friend,’” Saget recalled, explaining that Macdonald told him he was “just gonna read jokes from a ’40s joke book’ instead. When Saget implored him to at least throw in an “arbitrary ‘fuck’” to keep with the mood of the roast, he replied, “Eh, I’m not gonna do that.”
While most of the comics on the dais chose to go down the path of “really wrong stuff,” Saget loved that “Norm, of course, chose the path of dignity.”
Fourteen years later, it’s still one of the boldest roast performances of all time. And when you watch it now, you can tell how much both of these legendary comedians were enjoying themselves.
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