Laughter the Best Medicine for Bob Saget’s Personal Pain

Bob Saget

Bob Saget likes to tell the story about the dying old man who gets out of bed and goes into the kitchen for a sandwich. Just as he’s about to take a bite, his wife slaps his hand.

“That’s for the shiva,” she scolds him.

Sadly, it’s a story Saget, who’ll bring his standup comedy act to the Keswick Theatre in Glenside on March 30, knows all too well. Many of his family members are gone, several dying at an early age.

That may explain why Saget — a Philadelphia native who graduated from Abington High School and went to Temple University — made his career in comedy.

No, he’s not the proverbial clown laughing on the outside to keep from crying on the inside. But all that loss made an impact.

“The tragedy I’ve dealt with goes into what my stand-up act is now,” said the 60-year-old Saget. “It also defined me with how I dealt with life.”

You probably won’t hear much of the sad side of Saget when he steps onstage next week. Rather, you’ll get more of the fun-loving side of the star of Full House and the onetime host of America’s Funniest Home Videos.

“It’ll be interesting to come back home,” said Saget, who’ll come to Philly a day before his show to be at Temple when the university renames its media and communications school in honor of Lew Klein, the man who got Saget his first break in show business. “I used to go to the movies [at the Keswick] with my friend. Then I took a girlfriend there. We ended up married … and had three kids.”

Growing up, the Sagets lived in Northwest Philadelphia, where father Ben ran the meat department for Food Fair and Pantry Pride. When Ben Saget got a new job, the family moved to Norfolk, Va., for a decade.

From there, it was on to L.A. for most of Saget’s high school years until the Sagets did an about-face and returned to Abington in time for him to graduate. For college, Saget was the typical Temple commuter, taking public transportation while living at home. He’d already figured out that entertainment was his bag: comedy, singing and filmmaking.

“I opened for Frank Stallone at Stars, Stephen Starr’s old restaurant,” he said. “I did improv at the University of Pennsylvania and hung out with a bunch of guys called the Mixed Nuts. And I won the student Oscar for Through Adam’s Eyes, about my nephew who had his face reconstructed.”

He still has friends in the area, like dentist Sam Domsky.

“We met in college,” recalled Domsky, Saget’s former Mixed Nuts’ sidekick. “I wrote comedy for a bunch of male performers at Penn, while he did song parodies at coffee shops.

“I remember being somewhere listening to him doing stand-up and one of my buddies saying, ‘Someday, this guy’s going to be famous.’”

It hardly happened overnight, though. Saget enrolled at film school at the University of Southern California, but didn’t last long.

“I quit after a couple of days,” he told the Saturday Evening Post in 1990. “I was a cocky, overweight 22-year-old. Then I had a gangrenous appendix taken out, almost died and I got over being cocky or overweight.”

It would be a few years before he found success, though, which included performing at L.A’.s famed Comedy Store and The Improv and taking classes at The Groundlings, where his classmates included Kevin Costner and Barbi Benton.

But after spending six months telling jokes on PBS’ Morning Show, Full House came along. Saget’s career, which has included stints on HBO’s Entourage, a few short-lived sitcoms and his 2014 book Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian has been busy ever since.

He’s also played on Broadway, both in a musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, and in the drama Hand to God.

Aside from his stand-up tour, he’s preparing to direct and star in Jake, a film about a 15-year-old crystal methamphetamine addict who goes through a family intervention.

But whatever he’s doing, the pain of what he’s lost is never forgotten.

That’s why he’s on the board of the Scleroderma Research Foundation (SRF), which researches the incurable autoimmune disease that killed his sister Gay at 47.

(His other sister, Andrea, died of a brain aneurysm at 34 some years before.)

“I love doing charity stuff,” said Saget. “But it’s nice to come home.”

As much as he looks forward to his visit, Saget is distressed by the cemetery vandalism in his hometown.

“It breaks my heart to see what’s happening now,” he said. “I’m a human being, and I care about all people. To hear about atrocities at a grave site — I have family at Roosevelt [Memorial Park], which is nearby. The first thing I want to do when I get back there is go out and fix a bunch of headstones.

“It’s disgusting how people can act like that because of someone’s religion or race,” he added. “We deal with persecution no matter who and what we are.”

At the Keswick show, Saget will delve into more sober material than he has in the past, having toned down his stand-up since his 2014 Grammy-nominated special That’s What I’m Talkin’ About, which aired on Showtime.

“There’s a lot of serious stuff, like about my mother passing away a few years ago,” Saget said, “but there’s a lot of comedy and a lot of Jewish humor.

“I have more pride now than before about being a Jew,” he continued. “It’s what I am. I’m not very observant, but I like the traditions. And, at this time, when it feels like a fuse is being lit because of ignorance and lack of caring for your fellow man, I show my love through my comedy.”

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