Becoming Joey: Dave Coulier Looks Back to Move Forward

The actor on embracing a career-defining role ahead of the premiere of <em>Fuller House</em>
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Dave Coulier can’t hold a conversation that doesn’t include the words “Fuller House” these days—but right now, he’s more interested in talking about boogers. He spells it Bugars.

The joke-slinging 56-year-old is writing, voicing, and composing a musical electronic storybook called The Adventures of Jimmy Bugar. He calls it an “incredible labor of love” but also a “sophomorically funny” compilation of music and punny witticisms that will drive parents crazy.

“There’s going to be a graphic of a nose, and you pick the nose and get the song,” he says, unable to hid the pride in his voice. “It’s for kids of all ages and the big kids in all of us.”

Coulier was frequently and lovingly referred to as “the big kid” on Full House 20 years ago, and he’s been owning the clean-cut, quasi-uncle Popeye-impersonator thing ever since. The original comic relief character, Joey Gladstone has lived on in syndication, and, arguably, will never die (at least according to Coulier). He sees this on the Fuller House set (premiering on Netflix February 26); he sees it at his stand up shows, where swarms of fans wear “Cut it Out” tees, eating up any reference to the family-values-centered comedy; even in the aisles of Whole Foods, where strangers call him Joe and beg, “Do your woodchuck voice!”

“The role has truly defined my career,” he says. And he’s okay with that. “The way I look at it, it’s a gift. There’s something in the Kool-Aid with Full House—we created video comfort food for a lot of people.”

Coulier as Uncle Joey, lounging with DJ (Candace Cameron Bure) and Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin)
Coulier as Uncle Joey, lounging with DJ (Candace Cameron Bure) and Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin)

Photograph courtesy facebook/FullHouseTVshow

Comfort via binge-worthy sitcoms is what Netflix does best. It was a surprise to few when Coulier’s co-star and best friend, John Stamos, announced that Fuller House would make a 13-episode (at least) comeback with the streaming service last April.

“They say you can never go home, but we came back home,” Coulier says. “It was that same feeling of togetherness. It was like no time had passed since our last table read.” He gets sentimental for a second, then laughs it off. “It was like restarting an antique car and taking it out for a drive.”

Robert Thompson, a professor of TV and popular culture at Syracuse University (also dubbed “pop culture ambassador” by the Associated Press—don’t ask him how), categorized the series reboot as part of what he calls “the Brady Bunch cottage industry”. He noted that several shows, whether they were hits or not, are making their way back to computer screens via Netflix, Hulu, and other services—some more successfully than others. From Arrested Development to The X-Files, refurbished, televised nostalgia is in.

And Thompson thinks that “the Joey phenomenon,” i.e. the solace we derive from comic relief characters, is a huge part of the projected success of these remakes. The catch? They have to be done well. “For every one beloved comic relief, we could name hundreds that didn’t hit the mark,” he says. “It was good casting. [Coulier] was a good match. He fit the role really well.”

Coulier has a more simplistic outlook on comic relief: “I think it’s really healthy to laugh,” he says. “I think people need to laugh as we all make our way through this world. There’s a lot of serious things that happen and laugher breaks that up in a great way.”

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Making an 8 a.m. appointment in L.A. is almost as unheard of as a Danny without Clorox, a Jesse without mousse. But there’s still a bit of the Midwest in Coulier, who is now based in California. He’s (only) running about five minutes late for this interview, nearly a miracle in L.A. It’s the first indication that the Michigander has held on to some hometown roots after years of living in a Weezer song.

No matter how long he resides in Hollywood, it seems Coulier has left his heart in (a house in) San Francisco, and he says such will always be the case. Over the years, the cast has stayed close: many were on hand for the birth of Coulier’s now-23-year-old son Luc, as well as for his marriage to his wife, Melissa. “I think we just became great friends and it kind of turned out for life,” he says. “We really love each other and care about each other; they’re my second family.”

Coulier, John Stamos, and Bob Saget
Coulier, John Stamos, and Bob Saget

Photograph courtesy facebook/FullHouseTVshow

Stamos can attest to this. The Grandfathered actor talks about Coulier the way we all hope our best friends would talk about us when we’re not around. “The beauty about Dave, and one of the reasons why I love him so much, is there is no hidden agenda with him,” Stamos says. “What you see is what you get. And what you see is a hard working guy who loves his wife and his son and is a really good friend.” The pair (plus Bob Saget) has been “soul brothers” since they were first cast in 1987, and they’ve had each other’s backs from the first table read—through good times (Stamos describes Coulier’s sense of humor as what would result if “Liberace and Rich Little and Jonathan Winters had a baby”) and bad: Stamos recalled a moment sitting with Coulier and Saget in Dave’s backyard. Their mothers were nearing their deathbeds, as he put it. “We all just sat around and talked for a long time about our mothers,” he said. “The most memorable moments of our lives are the highlights and the low times that we’ve been there for each other.”

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“He’s just a really funny guy.”

Or so they say—“they” being everyone, from Stamos to Lori Loughlin to Karen Miller, a then-up-and-coming production manager on the original set; “he” being Coulier. The word “funny” comes up a lot—20 times to be exact—in Loughlin’s eight-minute phone interview. “Oh, my gosh. I have to say Dave’s one of my favorite people on the planet,” Loughlin gushes. “He makes me laugh harder than anybody.”

Miller backs her up. “The guy always brought laughter, no matter who he was talking with,” she says of Coulier’s interactions with the cast, extras, and stage crew on the original series.

Saget and Coulier
Saget and Coulier

And he’s still bringing it. Coulier refers to Fuller House as “Full House 2.0: an update to the original operating system.” This time around, DJ Tanner is a single mom, raising three boys. Her sister, Stephanie, and long-time bestie, Kimmy Gibler, move in to help out. Of course the rest of the cast is around, too. “The values are the same, the lessons are the same, and the characters are the same,” Coulier says.

He chuckles a bit before delivering a punch line: “They shouldn’t have called it Fuller House, they should have called it Full Circle.”

→ Fuller House premieres on Netflix Friday, February 26. 

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