Bob Saget, the Jewish dad who didn’t play one on TV


PJ Grisar, The Forward

“This story was originally published on Jan. 9 by the Forward. Sign up here to get the latest stories from the Forward delivered to you each morning.”

Children of the ‘90s discovered Bob Saget in phases – he was one of the rare comedy acts that aged with you, while never quite maturing.

The comedian, who was found dead in a Florida hotel room Sunday at the age of 65, first entered my life as Danny Tanner, the neat freak single father on “Full House.” His second life, to a youngster, was as the long-tenured host of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” These two credits alone are enough to cement Saget’s status as a figure of outsized importance for Millennials. He was one of TV’s most visible dads and, out of character, was the guy who introduced the primal dad humor of men suffering minor testicular trauma.

That Saget had a ribald side, a fact long intimated by my own father, didn’t register for me till I was around 14 in 2005. That year, “The Aristocrats” came out. Saget’s version of the infamously filthy shaggy dog joke is a jarring monologue for someone who first encountered him sanitizing the counter of a San Francisco townhouse and tucking the Olsen twins into bed after a soft-learned lesson about responsibility. (Google his bit of the documentary if you’re not easily offended – much of Saget’s material is not fit to print.)

But the miracle of Bob Saget was, even when his secret blue work – it wasn’t a blue period so much as an entire parallel career – was exposed to many of my generation, he could still return as his squeaky clean avatar on a nostalgia-steeped Netflix reboot of the sitcom that made him. He was still Danny Tanner. He was still your Jewish dad. (OK, his character wasn’t Jewish in the show, but c’mon.) Only he was now the Jewish dad who, now that you’re of age, removes his child-friendly filters. Or told you how he met your mother. The knowledge of his bawdier potential could be embarrassing. But also endearing.

Growing to learn about this other part of Saget was never disillusioning for me. If anything, it prompted a greater appreciation for how he switched his code, able to toggle from x-rated roasts to kidcoms at the drop of a hat. He never saw it as a contradiction.

“I love doing family entertainment,” Saget told Joe Rogan in July of 2020. “That’s my many different sides.”

L’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. These were sides his own father had. Benjamin Saget, he recalled in his act, once told his son the following at a restaurant: “Today’s specials are cake and c–k, and they’re all out of cake.” Ben worked even bluer than Bob did – to a much younger audience. (Saget was 11 at the time.)

But the younger Saget insisted his standup was never blue for the sake of being blue. He was just himself, doing the comedy he liked. Asked if his audience might expect something different from his act, given his prime time persona, Saget had the perfect response: “What am I gonna do, hug people and clean?”

Perhaps the greatest testament to Saget is that yes, of course we want him to hug us and clean our kitchen. But, we also want him to tell us a dirty joke after — or even better, embarrass us with one in the presence of our friends. At least that’s what I want. It’s sad to never have the opportunity, but far more tragic for his three kids who survive him.

He was a Jewish dad — and didn’t just play one on TV.

“The Forward is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to providing incisive coverage of the issues, ideas and institutions that matter to American Jews.”