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Bob Saget: The funny, sad, misunderstood genius who taught me what love is

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Darrel Bristow-Bovey is an author, podcaster, travel writer and screenwriter.

I knew Bob Saget was a genius, and it drove me nuts that others couldn’t see it.

Bob Saget died in the early hours of Florida’s Monday morning in the way so many American celebrities die: in a hotel room. I once met a comedian in Los Angeles who told me he was relieved he’d finally reached the level of success where if his body were to be found by the cleaning staff, at least it wouldn’t be in a motel any more. Of course, you can’t relax: celebritydom is slippery and at the bottom of the slide the motel room is always waiting. Bob did all right in the end; he died in a Ritz-Carlton.

The comedian I met asked me if there was anyone I wanted to meet. When you’re out of the motels and into the hotels, you get to introduce people to people they’ve heard of. I told him I wanted to meet Bob Saget. He looked puzzled. “The guy from Full House?”  

No. Not the guy from Full House

I first saw Bob Saget in 1993 on a white plastic black-and-white portable television that my friend Julia lent me because she felt sad about how I was living. I wasn’t living badly, I was just very lonely and very poor. At the time I thought it was the money that mattered but now I realise that was wrong. I was in a bachelor flat in Rondebosch and it was that phase of life when the few friends I’d made at university had all left to go overseas and work in a pub in Wimbledon or Earlsfield. When people left then, you had to hope for postcards. There was no internet; we hadn’t even had our first elections yet; the videos on America’s Funniest Home Videos, which Bob Saget presented, were actual VHS tapes mailed to the show using the US Postal Service. 

Bob Saget wore a big 90s suit and smiled at his own jokes, even before he made them. I liked that, because it tipped me off that the joke he was really making was hiding beneath the joke he seemed to be making. He was hosting a cheesy video-clip programme and making cheesy jokes about the video clips, but he was also playing the part of an embarrassed man who knew his jokes were cheesy and was laughing both at the cheesiness and at the industry that would require them, and below that he was playing the part of a man who knew he was playing the part of a man who knew he was playing the part of a cheesy joke-maker. And below that he was just enjoying making people laugh. 

I knew Bob Saget was a genius, and it drove me nuts that others couldn’t see it. My only company those days besides Bob was Alan, who lived two floors up and came down with a bottle of whisky to watch Dame Edna Everage on Tuesday nights. I didn’t drink whisky in those days and couldn’t afford drink of my own, so I would sit not drinking while he finished the bottle, but it was better than not drinking alone. I tried to get him to come down and watch America’s Funniest Home Videos with me, but he refused. It was dumb, and he was too smart.

I tried to explain that it was genius and subversive, that the lyrics to the theme song were sardonic, not celebratory. How could you overlay footage of a man being hit in the crotch by a baseball with the lyrics: 

Oh, the red, white and blue –
The funny things you do!
America, America, this is you! 

and not be satirical? If you don’t get that, you’re the unsophisticated one, not America’s Funniest Home Videos

I became convinced that Bob was the saddest, most misunderstood man in showbiz, plying his art unseen in the bright glare of the spotlight. In America, America’s Funniest Home Videos hit number one on the Nielsen ratings. Did that give Bob comfort? No. I mean, yes, obviously, but also no. Bob wanted to be understood. Bob was seen by plenty, but he really wanted to be seen

The first thing I ever published was a letter to the Weekly Mail — before it was even the Mail & Guardian, and you could still read it — trying to start a Bob Saget Fan Club. I promised regular newsletters and circulars, and a range of Bob-related merchandise: “Honk if you love Bob” bumper stickers; a database of Saget-related facts and trivia on a floppy disk, titled “Bob for Apples”. 

The letter was my best imitation of a smirking Bob Saget deadpan (did you think you can’t smirk and be deadpan at the same time? Now do you begin to understand the genius of Bob?!), but it was also serious. I wanted to find people who understood. Even then, I had faith in the wisdom of an audience. Individuals are always disappointing and no one understands anyone in person, but an audience alchemises magical pockets of fellowship. In life you are lonely, but an audience breeds understanding. 

I was pleased when the letter was published. They spelt my name right. One night, when I was playing pool at the River Club, a girl I sort of knew from university came up and said, “Hey, did you write that letter about Bob Saget?” I leant on my cue and said that I had. “Do you really like him?” she said. I chalked my cue and told her I did. “I think he’s so annoying,” she said and walked away. 

Four years later I became a television columnist for a Sunday newspaper, but by then it was too late. America’s Funniest Home Videos was over, Full House had begun and even I, with all the love in my heart, couldn’t find the dark-hearted genius inside Danny Tanner. Looking back, it’s sad how things turned out.

I wanted to be a television columnist because of Bob Saget, and to not be lonely: I wanted to share things I loved, and say why I loved them. I did that maybe half the time. The rest of the time I made fun of things I didn’t like, because it was smart to do that, and those were the columns that received the most attention, so over time those were the ones I wrote more often. Some people are surprised and disappointed that the internet, once it was invented, turned out the way it has, but I’m not. I’d seen it happen already with me.

I never did meet Bob Saget. He was out of town that week, probably touring, staying in a hotel. I wanted to thank him for teaching me that loving something is a kind of sharing, that loving anything is less lonely than being smart. DM

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