Bob Saget Got $30M Bill for ‘Dirty Work’ but Still Loved It
No one was happy with the comedy movie Dirty Work when it arrived in 1998.
Conceived as an over-the-top, lewd-and-crude caper starring Norm Macdonald and Artie Lange, the film was watered down from an R rating to PG-13, washing away most of the laughs. Its launch was moved from early in the year to blockbuster season, and many of the few who did see it, including critics, panned it.
No one was happy ... except for Full House star Bob Saget, who made his directorial debut on the production. He loved the movie dearly, despite its flaws, and many came to agree with him as the film secured cult status in the years following its premiere. There were even discussions about a sequel, although they died with Macdonald in September 2021.
“Norm had seen a couple of things that I'd made and thought I’d be right to direct Dirty Work, as did the producer, Bob Simon, and MGM at the time … until they went broke!” Saget told writer Will Harris in 2010. “I had nothing to do with that ... even though I got a note that said I owed them $30 million personally!”
The script was based on one of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected short stories titled Vengeance Is Mine Inc. Co-written by Macdonald, the movie follows half-brothers Mitch (Macdonald) and Sam (Lange) as they take their dad’s motto “Don’t take no crap from nobody” to ridiculous extremes, eventually setting up a revenge-for-hire business.
Watch the ‘Dirty Work’ Trailer
“It’s in some kind of comedy zone, and I was happy to be part of it,” Saget said, but he admitted that "it wasn't a laugh riot to make it, because it was a year in the guerilla war house of comedy, but it was [Chris] Farley's last movie, and I got to work with Jack Warden, Chevy Chase, Chris McDonald and Artie Lange, who I love. ... It was just a special, weird, ratified air of comedy people.”
"There's some things I like very much," Macdonald told Forbes in 2018, when it was noted that he seemed to avoid talking about the movie for much of the previous three decades. “There were things I wanted to do, that I ended up doing. Like I wanted to do a static shot for a full 60 seconds, not a second more. We thought it'd be fun in a motion picture. I got my way. We just have me and Artie standing there with fish. I thought that was so funny that a whole audience full of people in a theater would be watching just two guys standing still. That made me laugh a lot.” Referring to the cuts demanded by the rating change, he reflected: “I like Dirty Work, it's just that there was so much more that we had.”
Watch the 'Dirty Work' Fish Scene
When Saget was asked about trying to direct insult-comedy master Don Rickles – who plays a theater owner fired after the brothers play a porn movie to a family audience – he replied: “I got in trouble for that. … I’d turned two cameras on him and just let him talk, and I said that we'd just cut it together afterward. And everybody got mad at me.” In his defense, Saget explained that "you shoot two hours of straight footage of a man rifling for a two-minute monologue, you're going to wind up with something as long as you can get his hands and his energy to match. And George Folsey's a masterful editor and was able to do it. But I got in trouble. I shot the entire week's budget of film that day shooting Don Rickles, and I got in trouble.”
Saget insisted the shoot was worth it just for the experience of having been there while Rickles performed. “He's a dear friend of mine now, and we're very close,” he said of the veteran comedian, who died in 2017. “And there's a lot of nice footage of him saying what a piece of crap I am! He went on Jay Leno's show, and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ve had a great career. I’ve had two directors: Martin Scorsese and Bob Saget. Yeah, I'm really doing great.’ That's how he went on to promote Dirty Work! But he's one of the dearest people in my life.”
Watch Don Rickles in ‘Dirty Work’
He said he even had plans for a director’s cut of Dirty Work “because there are, like, five minutes that are just really filthy,” but that he was too busy to make it happen. With Saget's death, it never will happen. Lange, the only leading cast member still alive, paid tribute to Saget in a Facebook post, noting that "Bob was so special to me, and I’ll be sad about this day forever. Please be kind like Bob always was.”