Perception is indeed reality. This is a tale of two TV fathers. Both were known as “America’s Dad” as they starred in sitcoms that ran for eight seasons that happened to coincide during the 1980s and 1990s.
The actors were standups who happened to attend the same college, Temple University. That’s where the similarities between Bill Cosby, who was the face of the wildly successful “The Cosby Show,” and Bob Saget, who was the charming dust-busting dad on “Full House,” end.
Cosby, 84, portrayed a patriarch of high moral standing who pontificated whenever he had the chance about the failures of Black men. Cosby criticized Eddie Murphy for his profane stand-up while the holier-than-thou icon pedaled pudding pops. Cosby condescended when speaking about Black America. It was if his own race disappointed the good Dr. Cliff Huxtable, the self-righteous protagonist of “The Cosby Show.”
Saget, who passed away last week at 65, was the type of comic who would have been admonished by Cosby since his stand-up was filthy but funny. Cosby would not have approved of Saget’s brilliant “Aristocrats” joke.
There were at least two sides of the multifaceted and talented Saget, who enjoyed delivering blue humor. “I led a double life, and I don’t regret a minute of it,” Saget told me during a 2015 interview. “Some of my greatest memories of the show (‘Full House’) was when I was getting reprimanded by joking around in an inappropriate fashion. But we loved being together. It was great. … I have a reputation for being the dirtiest guy in comedy.”
The reality is that Saget was hardly the filthiest humorist in the room, but that’s how he was perceived. For much of his long career, the insidious Cosby pulled the wool over the masses’ eyes. Cosby, who seemed to be setting an impossible standard, was a better actor than we ever imagined.
Saget, Cosby and I attended Temple. Saget, who is one of the most accomplished alums in Temple history, and I earned our School of Communications and Theater degrees. A half-decade ago, I interviewed Saget for the alumni magazine since he returned to school for an event.
Cosby dropped out but was awarded an honorary degree in 1991. However, Temple’s board of trustees rescinded the degree in 2018 after Cosby was found guilty by a jury of the felony of aggravated sexual assault.
Cosby was a difficult interview. After asking a topical question, he would often wax about his childhood in north Philadelphia, which had nothing to do with what was asked. It didn’t take much to upset Cosby. A few years ago, I had a difficult time finding a handyman to take care of a small job on the exterior of my sunroom. The jack-of-all-trades was hammering away when I interviewed Cosby from there.
“What is all of that infernal racket?” Cosby screamed. After explaining my situation, I asked if Cosby, who lived a half-mile from me, if he would like to meet at the corner of 611 and 73, which was half the distance from our residences. I was surprised that he laughed. Cosby was often as difficult as Saget was a joy. I enjoyed going out to a bar with Saget, who was a great guy to have drinks with, but I can’t say the same for Cosby.
Saget was an altruist who worked tirelessly trying to find a cure for scleroderma, which took the life of his sister. Saville Kellner, who was on a scleroderma board with Saget and has the disease, was taken by his tenacity.
“Bob was just so selfless trying to find a cure for scleroderma,” Kellner said. “It was unbelievable. When most of us drive by a car accident, we slow down and then move on and go 80 mph. I think it’s the same in life when you get further away from a loss;it’s natural to lose interest. But Bob became more and more passionate in his fight.”
During our last chat, I revealed to Saget that I was working on a book on iconic comics I’ve interviewed, and he offered to help. “I’ll be glad to write the foreword if you would like that,” Saget said. “You’ve always been good to me, and you’re funnier than most comics I know. It’ll be a great book.”
Saget was over the top with his praise, but he was always kind and relatable to me since he grew up in Philadelphia and vacationed at the New Jersey shore, like yours truly.
I’ll never forget the first words he uttered to me. “I just dialed 215-572,” Saget said. “That was my prefix when I grew up in Abington (a Philadelphia suburb). We have to be from the very same area, a mile or so apart.”
The following week, I caught Saget at his hometown theater where a drunken heckler had to be ejected within minutes. After the show, I hung out with Saget and met his extended family, and we just talked for about an hour. We chatted about the misconception that Saget was sick of playing straight-as-an-arrow dad Danny Tanner on “Full House.”
“Some people think I was (upset), but I wasn’t,” Saget said. “I remember one time going home to Philadelphia to pick up an award for being a big Jew. As I was walking down to get my award, a gossip columnist said that ‘it must be frustrating doing ‘Full House.’ And I said, ‘It’s frustrating since I’m this really funny guy who can do so much more, but it’s a gift to be on a show like this.’
“The part about it being a gift didn’t make the paper. I also said, ‘I love working with the people on the show.’ That didn’t make it, either. The headline was ‘Saget Frustrated by Full House.’ It was syndicated in 150 papers. I loved working with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and John Stamos.”
You could never joke about the Olsen twins, who played Saget’s daughters on “Full House.” Saget treated them just like his own girls, Aubrey, Lara and Jennifer. Saget loved to talk about his daughters, who are artists. We delivered anecdotes about our children.
It was always light and breezy in his presence. Saget’s anecdotes were priceless, particularly his Rodney Dangerfield stories. “He was over for dinner with my family, and my mother was a very straight person,” Saget said. “Rodney excused himself, and my daughter told me that he was in the family room smoking pot. He was one-of-a-kind. He did whatever he wanted to do.”
During the same conversation, Saget turned serious, particularly when the subject of mortality was broached. Saget couldn’t believe that three of his comedy pals, David Brenner, Robin Williams and Joan Rivers, passed away over the course of a six-month span in 2014.
“There was nobody ever like Robin Williams,” Saget said. “I marveled at how his mind worked. He was amazing, and it’s shocking that he’s not here anymore. He was absolutely brilliant. Joan Rivers was terrific. She was a real trailblazer, and she had no fear. David Brenner was an exceptional storyteller. He epitomized what a Philadelphia comic is about.”
Saget said he hoped to be cracking wise for years. He looked at Dangerfield as inspiration. The bug-eyed comic didn’t hit until he was 59. “That’s how old he was when he starred in ‘Caddyshack,’ ” Saget said. “So, I look at it that I still have a lot of career left. Maybe I can be as productive as Rodney was when I’m in my 60s.”
It’s heartbreaking to know that Saget lived 17 less years than Dangerfield and Cosby has outlived him by 19 years and counting. However, Saget is the consummate sitcom dad, up there with Tom Bosley, Redd Foxx and Andy Griffith.
Saget’s Danny Tanner remains alive in reruns as the widower who does all that he can to take care of his three daughters. Saget did the same for his real-life troika of daughters. There is a big void in the world of comedy now that Saget is no longer with us. However, Saget was an exemplary father on and off screen, and that won’t be forgotten.
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