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Bob Saget pushed boundaries in his stand-up shows

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The comedy world is still reeling from the loss of Bob Saget, who was found dead last night in a Florida hotel room. He was 65 years old. Many remembered him as the loving dad on the sitcom "Full House" and as the welcoming host of "America's Funniest Home Videos." But as NPR's Andrew Limbong reports, he was most at home by himself on stage, telling jokes. And just a heads up to folks with younger listeners around - those jokes were sometimes dirty, raunchy, perverse and ultimately boundary-pushing.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "9TH ANNUAL YOUNG COMEDIANS SPECIAL")

RODNEY DANGERFIELD: Here's a guy who is very funny, but he's lonely.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: That's Rodney Dangerfield introducing a very young Bob Saget in the '80s as part of HBO's 9th Annual "Young Comedians Special." Saget comes up, tall and in an all-tan suit, playing up his wide audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "9TH ANNUAL YOUNG COMEDIANS SPECIAL")

BOB SAGET: Thank you. Gosh, you're a wonderful audience. You really are. I'm not just kissing up. I'm really not, I swear.

LIMBONG: So he can deliver jokes like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "9TH ANNUAL YOUNG COMEDIANS SPECIAL")

SAGET: You know, I had it rough when I was a kid - never got to go to camp. My mom thought I'd get embarrassed undressing in front of little boys. But I've changed because I kind of like it now.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGET: That's not true. I'm no senator.

(LAUGHTER)

LIMBONG: Bob Saget was born in Philadelphia in 1956. He studied film at Temple University and got recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a documentary he made about his nephew's facial reconstruction surgery. Saget then moved to Los Angeles, where he built a reputation for his raunchy brand of humor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SAGET: I'm scared there's going to be, like, a major quake, and I'll be getting a vasectomy at the time. That's what I'm scared of, you know. It was a 7.3, but now it's a 4.1.

(LAUGHTER)

LIMBONG: It wasn't long until he got the lead role in the family sitcom "Full House," playing the squeaky-clean Danny Tanner.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FULL HOUSE")

SAGET: (As Danny Tanner) Hi, girls.

JODIE SWEETIN, CANDACE CAMERON AND MARY-KATE AND ASHLEY OLSEN: (As characters) Hi, Dad.

LIMBONG: Saget was self-aware of the shadow cast by Danny Tanner. And he used it to full effect.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE ARISTOCRATS")

SAGET: Some people think I have a reputation of being a dirty comedian and I don't really want to expose that anywhere because I think - you know, I'm really a family kind of oriented guy, which brings me to this joke (laughter).

LIMBONG: Possibly the best example of this is his part in the 2003 documentary "The Aristocrats." The movie interviews numerous comedians all telling their version of one joke, which starts with the premise...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE ARISTOCRATS")

SAGET: This family - mother, father and four kids. It doesn't matter if they're boys or girls. They're going to be used anyway as just nothing more than a hole - is what this joke's about anyway.

LIMBONG: Because the family is performing for a talent agent. And it's really just an excuse for a comedian to flex how dirty they can get, which is to say it is the perfect joke for Bob Saget. In 2018, he was on "The H3 Podcast," talking about how the joke was more than just about gross-out humor.

(SOUNDBITE OF "THE H3 PODCAST")

SAGET: It really was about freedom of speech. I mean, Lenny Bruce went to jail for saying things that were said overtly in that film.

LIMBONG: Penn Jillette co-directed the documentary. He said there is a purity, a vulnerability to Saget that let him tell transgressive jokes.

PENN JILLETTE: Saget, who I'd never heard say an unkind word to anyone, who was sweet and gentle and open - and a wonderful father, I might add - could say stuff that would absolutely rip you apart, shock you, freak you out. But you always felt safe that the person doing it was doing it totally from a gentle and sweet place.

LIMBONG: The joke usually ends with someone in the family saying, we're the aristocrats. But in the doc, Saget doesn't get a chance to finish because it's his time to go up on stage.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TORRES SONG, "THREE FUTURES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.