Thirty is the new dirty when Montreal's iconic Just for Laughs festival celebrates its three decades of funny with a special edition of its annual program of raunchy stand-up. On Friday, JFL XXX – The Ultimate Nasty Show gathers hardcore comics Jim Norton, Mike Wilmer, Amy Schumer, Jimmy Carr and Mike Ward on a bill hosted by Bob Saget, the family-friendly Full House actor but highly blue comic. In advance of the performance, which airs live and uncensored on The Movie Network, we caught up with Saget, who opined on heckling, woodland animals and the reasons comedians attack.
This is your first Just for Laughs appearance. Do you have much a history when it comes to Canadian appearances?
I started in Toronto when I was 22 years old, playing Yuk Yuk's. I met Jim Carrey there, when he was 17. I met so many friends, like Howie Mandel – people who are my friends today. And I actually opened for Max Webster at Maple Leaf Gardens. The audience booed the entire time. I got like two laughs. Michel Cohl, who was a friend of mine, went on to form LiveNation. So he booked me. It felt like slow motion, but Michael allowed me to get off the stage.
Comedy has been in the news recently, what with Daniel Tosh and his rape-related humour and subsequent apology. What do you make of all that?
When a comedian is in a club, and he or she is channelling "let's see what happens," sometimes things happen. They're not on television. They're not doing something that's meant for public consumption. It's not meant to leave the club. But because of cellphones, it travels. And mistakes travel.
Do you have any thoughts on the Tosh incident specifically? A female audience member was offended by a rape joke and heckled him. He responded harshly, as I'm sure you're aware.
I know for a fact that Daniel Tosh is a kind person. But something happens when you're on stage. I'm not at all defending anything. We all want to be kind to each other. We don't want words of hate ever to be meant. But, it's comedy. There's a reason that people say the dark things. It's because of how dark things are. Daniel is a funny guy, doing what he does. No one has to like anybody.
Do some comedians overreact to heckling? It can get quite vicious.
I have an answer for that. I've been doing this for more than 30 years, and I'll come out on stage and attack a helpless person for no reason. Just to set the tone. Andy Kaufman would do the same thing, in a jazzy-mime sort of way. He would attack someone, and then apologize. And then attack again. That is the genetics for a lot of people who take the stage.
Meaning you can't help yourself?
I think a lot of comedians were outcasts, and, from my point of view, that's what I was. As a kid, I moved a lot, and had a lot of defences. If someone throws one pebble at me, I'll load up a catapult to attack back. It's the nature of our aggressive, onstage beast. I'll get people who want to attack me, and sometimes I'll have an audience screaming at me. Then it becomes a video game of destroying hecklers, where you're just trying to nail everybody. That can happen. It can turn into Thunderdome, just from sense memory, from the times you were put down in the schoolyard.
Whenever a story like Tosh comes up, the age-old question is raised, about what is comedic taboo and what is not. Given what happened in Colorado last week, do you have any places where you won't go?
I usually do what I want. But this past week, I've stayed in a news bubble. Craig Ferguson said something on his show on Friday which I thought was pretty eloquent, which was that he didn't really want to be involved in sensational stories or news that is sad.
And when it is sad, he said he basically shuts down. So I've kept myself isolated. Now, for the Montreal show, I just want to be silly, and not do anything that comes near someone being hurt, or anything related to any of the terrible stuff that's in the air.
What can we expect?
I'm scraping through the dirtier stuff that I did not do in my new special, which I just taped in Seattle.
For example, I've spent enough time in Canada to know that a man can get lonely in the woods. There's material that deals with that, and which animals you should avoid. I have Canadian friends, like comedian Harland Williams – he was a forest ranger for four years. So, pretty much what I'll be saying is what wildlife to avoid.
Is it possible that we should avoid Harland Williams?
Oh, but he's so funny.
He is. And it always comes came back to that, doesn't it? Being funny?
A comedian's job is to entertain people. Basically it's making people laugh. That's the bottom line. People can be offended or not offended. As long as an audience is out there and no one's getting hurt, that's the main thing.
And no one is going to sue for damages from my opening monologue in Montreal.
Look no further than the name of the festival, right?
That's it, exactly. It's just for laughs.
Bob Saget hosts JFL XXX – The Ultimate Nasty Show, July 27, 10:30 p.m., at Montreal's Place des Arts; broadcast live on The Movie Network (11 p.m.).