By Stacey Harrison
As evidenced by his two very distinct public personas — some know him as the hugs-and-kisses dad on Full House, others as a particularly lewd standup comic — Bob Saget likes to play with expectations.
So instead of trotting out yet another reality show that follows around a celebrity in his personal life, Saget decided to forge a new path with his new series Strange Days with Bob Saget, which airs Tuesdays on A&E. In what he likes to call a “comedy-documentary,” he explores subcultures and experiences that have always intrigued him, from camping out with Bigfoot hunters in the Pacific Northwest, to rushing a fraternity at Cornell University. Other adventures include a stint in the Lucha Libre wrestling circuit, becoming a counselor at a kids’ summer camp, taking a road trip with hardcore motorcycle club, and teaming with fellow comedian Jeffrey Ross in retracing Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing odyssey through Las Vegas.
Saget spoke with me about how he went about choosing the subjects for his show, how he convinced them he wasn’t out to be mean, and the practical concerns that come up when hunting for Bigfoot:
This isn’t your typical celebrity reality show, where we follow you around in some approximation of your daily life. How would you describe it?
It’s not a celebrity-driven show. I hardly look at the camera, I don’t even do anything. I just kind of parachute into a culture, into a world, and I just become part of it for — I guess each episode was about 60 hours of shooting, which is a crazy amount to live and get to know people. And I’ve actually made friends with people, which is really strange. You do a TV show and then you’re e-mailing them nine months later.
You said you’re not really looking at the camera, but are you doing voiceover?
There’s a narration. To give you an example, we did kind of a Las Vegas episode, and we retraced Hunter Thompson’s steps, so we have the same red convertible that he drove, and I have Jeff Ross, the comedian, a buddy of mine, be my Lazlo and we went to the Mint 400, which is a dune buggy race where he wrote the article originally for Sports Illustrated but then he dropped acid and ended up in Rolling Stone. I went through that, and we did all kinds of other off-roadish type of Vegas things, which means you don’t start until midnight. That’s the one that was probably the craziest journey of all of them, but they’ve all been insane.
Was there a particular inspiration for the format of the show?
I went to documentary film school. I’ve been a fan of so many people that have done really cool anthropological-type of journeys where they meet people over the years. I used to love George Plympton and Louis Theroux. I’m not Michael Moore, so what we wanted to do more of was more of a comedy show, because to do a solid documentary, it would be, “These are the people that are in motorcycle clubs,” you know? Instead it’s me in a sidecar from Nashville to Daytona, uploading and Twittering videos of myself while I’m doing it and becoming friends with these guys. So much so that we shot the motorcycle I guess about eight months ago, might be 10 months ago, and I did a show at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., last week, and 100 members of the club that I’m now an honorary member of came to the show, so there were like 75 motorcycles in front of the Warner Theatre in D.C. I joined a frat at Cornell. Last week, I played a date up there in New Jersey and a couple of my frat brothers — I joined the Seal and Serpent — and they … I was at Cornell for a week. I wouldn’t have gotten into Cornell. Not that Temple University is a bad school, but a couple of the guys came to the show. I haven’t really hung out with the guys I hung out with in Lucha Libre and backyard wrestling, but I know I’ll see them again.
Sounds like you ended up making some friends, but was there some initial reluctance from anyone, with them knowing who you are and thinking you were going to make fun of them?
I think everybody thought that. I don’t want to make fun of people. I make fun of myself a lot. People might think I’m one of those caustic guys because I use irreverent language occasionally. But this show is right in between the nastier HBO me and the me that does commercial television. I’m able to do what I want to do, and the people aren’t offended by it because they kind of get it. After 15 years of do-overs, after playing a guy on a family show, enough people think I’m funny that I’m allowed to be trusted that I’m not going to haze them.
The one that was the most that way — and I don’t blame them — was a summer camp that I was at, Coppercreek, two months ago. I hang out with a bunch of 14-year-old boys. Those are my cabin mates. That just sounds wrong, no matter what you say. … But I never got to go to camp as a kid. The shows we did were all psychologically geared to “what have I always wanted to do?” and I’m very appreciative of it. I wanted to do Burning Man, but we couldn’t, because of timing problems with everybody’s schedules. But the ones we’ve done, it’s hard to pick a favorite episode, and we’ve done six. Then there’s another one that we’re noodling with making it a special one. We’ll see how we do. They’re double-running us at 10 or 10:30, which is a vote of confidence. It’s nice because we worked a year on this thing, and it’s truly a collaborative thing. We took our time with it. That’s what’s so cool about working with A&E, the people that run the place just want it to look right. “OK, it’s not ready yet. Just keep working on it.” Like with anything, you shoot 60 hours and you shake the tree and hope something good comes out of it.
Was this a format you chose, or did they come to you with it?
I had this idea 10 years ago, and I really wanted to do it. Ten years ago, I think it would have been a more fame-oriented show, whereas this is the opposite. Celebrity was not the main part of it. I look at “celebrity” as the c-word anyway. I have a real problem with it. … It was something that I wanted to go and see what cultures I might have been afraid of or not known. I mean, I was scared climbing up and going zip-lining at camp, and it took me back to my 9-year-old fear, because I never went to camp. We also looked for Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest.
I take it you didn’t find him, since I haven’t seen the news story.
Well, I’m not allowed to say. But if it is me that found him, it’s going to be a huge story. We shot it six months ago, so maybe we found him and we’re just banking it. It’s all infrared shooting, which is just hilarious, because, you know, a man’s gotta pee in the woods.
Photo: Credit: Steve Seebeck