The best thing John Stamos ever did was realize how funny it is to be John Stamos.
It’s the greatest role of his career.
The dashing 52-year-old is at the tail end of an exhausting day of press for his new Fox comedy Grandfathered, the charming new sitcom that, along with Rob Lowe’s The Grinder, makes up the network’s new Tuesday night Benjamin Button hour.
The show is as tailor-made for him as the suave second-skin suits he sports in it.
He plays the kind of well-coiffed, perfectly tanned playboy that would be described in a character breakdown as “a John Stamos type.” Jimmy Martino is a successful restauranteur whose trendy L.A. eatery is as sleek as his pickup lines. His swinging bachelor lifestyle is turned on its head when a twentysomething boy claiming to be his son (Josh Peck) shows up… along with his own daughter.
“You’re a grandpa?” one of Jimmy’s employees asks. Jimmy slaps him. An ageless lothario forced to deal with raising children for the first time? It’s almost too obvious to call Stamos.
“If I can step outside of myself and think what people would like to see me do on television, I think this is it,” he says.
He’s certainly not wrong. We’re a culture that loves to see beloved icons of our past lampooning their own public image—an obsession that perhaps applies to Stamos more than most.
The former Full House star struggled for years to be taken seriously after retiring Jesse Katsopolis’s mullet and catchphrase. But after treading the boards with Broadway turns in Cabaret, Bye Bye Birdie, and most recently, opposite Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones in The Best Man and winning some accolades for a dramatic turn in ER, he’s finally earning the respect he deserves.
And he’s won it by embracing the very thing that many performers choose to run from: his past.
Grandfathered comes after a string of self-mocking appearances in everything from Jimmy Fallon sketches to yogurt commercials. It joins Netflix’s upcoming Full House spinoff Fuller House—a project Stamos has been trying to get off the ground for years—as a bit of a nostalgia-driven climax in the rebirth of Stamos’s career.
By leaning into the joke of being John Stamos, John Stamos is hotter than ever. “I don’t know why people enjoy watching me make fun of myself,” he laughs. “But I’m glad they do.”
A line Stamos has given a few times while promoting the show is that when he watched Grandfathered for the first time, he thought, “Is this the pilot or an E! True Hollywood Story about my life?!” He’s exaggerating, of course. And he’s not sure how this notion that he’s some self-involved womanizer became his media narrative. That said, he’s more than happy to lean into it, even if it blows reality a bit out of proportion.
Think of it as public image performance art.
“It’s tricky. You play into it because it’s an angle and it’s fun.” Then he laughs. “I don’t know if it will someday be detrimental or not. Or if it’s slowed down any advancement in getting married again or whatever.” (Stamos is divorced from actress Rebecca Romijn.) “I date a lot less than Jimmy does, I’ll say that much.”
Stamos talks about “leaning into” the public perception of himself a lot.
He’s referred to it as “milking the nostalgia factor” before, and it’s hard to argue that it hasn’t paid off for him. But getting to a point in his career where he’s comfortable with and even enjoying making fun of himself has admittedly been fraught.
“I fought it for a long time after Full House,” he says. “I thought I can’t do just Uncle Jesse my whole life. I fought it a little bit after the soap opera General Hospital, too.”
After his run on General Hospital, on which he regularly made housewives swoon from 1982 to 1984, he auditoned to play Jack Klugman’s son on the sitcom You Again? He was told no one would believe he could be funny because he’s a soap opera actor. Klugman forced NBC to hire him, eventually leading to Full House.
Then there was the period after his nine-year run on the T.G.I.F. mainstay. He wasn’t taken seriously as an actor. Being associated with Uncle Jesse became a liability. So he went to Broadway, and from there went to ER.
“You’re always trying to prove yourself,” he says. “And now after all is said and done you can say, ‘I can now embrace all of it and even feel very good about it.’”
It certainly helps that Stamos’s Zen comes when the idea of nostalgia as a marketable commodity is at a cultural peak. But even that’s been a journey.
Sure, now we celebrate and even empower nostalgia to the point where cast reunions, franchise reboots, and navel-gazing oral histories and tell-alls are inescapable, whether we’re talking Saved By the Bell, Boy Meets World, Clueless, or doting uncles who routinely implore that others have mercy.
There was a time, however, when culture cringed at its reflection in the rear-view mirror. These brands and franchises were things to be embarrassed by and distanced from. Profiting off of them or attempting to capitalize from them was considered sad, pathetic even. It’s a far cry from the squeals of glee and #OMG hashtags that accompany any sort of revival of these pop culture relics now.
Stamos, who perhaps should be considered a foremost expert on the pulse of nostalgia, says he noticed the shift taking place about four or five years ago.
“I think the rise of social media helped tear that down,” he says. “I think these shows like Kimmel and Fallon and Funny or Die where everybody’s taking the piss out of themselves helped, too. It’s great.”
He remembers specifically watching John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John reunite several years ago to sing songs from Grease. More, he remembers loving every second of it. “I was like, why not? If somebody gets that same satisfaction from us doing a Full House bit, why not?”
After all, he doesn’t think it’s hurting his career or pigeonholing him in any way. “I’m never going to be some dark actor in an independent movie,” he says. “That ship has sailed. There are so many guys who do that better than me. And I think it’s a gift to be able to do this. Playing this kind of character is difficult, too.”
And then that phrase again: “That’s what I do, so I might as well lean into it.”
Leaning into it by participating in a reunion on a late-night talk show, of course, is one thing. Crusading for a full-fledged revival of a show that went off the air 20 years ago is another. (Yes, Full House ended two full decades ago. We’re old.)
Stamos actually first started shopping around a Full House spinoff about six years ago but couldn’t make a deal with a network. In the years that followed the show only gained more popularity among an even wider, younger audience, thanks to incessant reruns on networks like Nickelodeon and the show’s arguably singular status as one of the few true family-friendly comedies.
When he met with Netflix about Fuller House—which will follow a recently widowed D.J., who, pregnant with her third child, moves in with her sister Stephanie and best friend Kimmy—the streaming service thought the idea was perfect.
Stamos is an executive producer and he managed to convince the entire original cast, sans the Olsen twins, to return—a feat met with loud cheers on Twitter. But how quickly we forget. Many key members of the original cast, Jodie Sweeten (Stephanie) and Andrea Barber (Kimmy) specifically, haven’t acted in decades. Now they’re carrying a major new sitcom. Can they hack it?
“That’s a really good question,” Stamos says. “Nobody has asked that, and honestly I wasn’t sure how it was going to play out.” But rest assured. “I don’t know why or how but not a beat was skipped. Jodie is so friggin’ funny. Andrea is, too. And they found ways of playing their kiddie characters with their catchphrases and stuff as adults. I don’t know how they’ve done it but it’s uncanny.”
But before any of this—Grandfathered, Fuller House, our little interview about his career revival—could happen, Stamos had to deal with some personal demons. In June, following a DUI arrest, Stamos checked himself into a rehab program for substance abuse treatment.
In July, he tweeted a photo of himself with boxing tape around his hands with his fists pointed at a punching bag. “I’m back,” the photo is captioned. “Took a month to take care of things. Healthy. Feeling grateful for the love & support of family & friends.”
“Don’t you think it’s a good analogy?” he tells me when I ask why he chose the boxing imagery for the big announcement. “Everybody likes a good heroic rebirth. I just thought it was symbolic of just coming back strong and feeling good.”
Now that he’s “taken care of things,” just premiered the first episode of Grandfathered to solid ratings, and is about to debut Fuller House, he must be feeling at least a little triumphant, right?
“I’m not quite triumphant,” he says. “I’m in the beginning rounds of a new, really good fight. I feel like I have all the tools to be triumphant through it, and that’s what makes me really happy. I’ve been recalibrated in a sense, and I think I can take on all this good will and really great opportunities that have been set before me.”
And is it strange to think that all of this is owed to nostalgia?
“I saw something the other day that was saying, ‘Fox brings back nostalgia with John Stamos and Rob Lowe,’” he says. “When did that happen? In a blink of an eye I was a teen idol and now I’m nostalgic.”
And finally respected, too.