Stay in the uncomfortable.
That’s what Nathan Fielder and his show, Nathan For You, do in every episode. It’s what he did when he left Canada to take Los Angeles by storm. It’s what he did when he got the attention of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s Abso Lutely Productions when an episode of Jon Benjamin Has A Van that featured him was entirely bereft of audio—not just dialogue—but audio in general. And it’s what happened as his show, about to go into its second season, is turning into a bona fide “kind of a hit” and garnering the attention it deserves.
Jason Woliner, a director from the show’s first season (as well as working on Human Giant, Delocated, and Eagleheart, in his own right) told Den of Geek, “I think it’s the funniest show on TV. It perfectly rides a very delicate line that almost no comedy that takes place in the real world is able to do. Nathan, Michael Koman, and the show’s editors, Eric Notarnicola and Mike Giambra, have created something uniquely brilliant that’s going to be adored for a long time.”
But this isn’t just a prank show. Nathan may be suggesting that a clothing store allows shoplifting, or a burger place stand by their “best burger in LA” claim or pay the consequences, or even a taxi driver who is trained on conversation topics of your choosing, but he’s being serious about all of this. Deadly so, even, about these ideas that will help fledgling businesses.
This is a show about human contact, and how all of us want to do better so as not to end up like the wizards of loneliness that roam the world, as Nathan/they/me/everyone stays in the uncomfortable.
Before its second season starts this Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central, Chris Longo and I go over what made the first season so memorable, why it stood out so strongly for us, and what we expect from Nathan For You season two.
A recurring theme in season one was Nathan’s insistence that his plans would get businesses more press. During the show’s hiatus, Fielder has found his way into the news for a few stunts. Is he the brilliant marketing guy he pretends to think he is? Will it pay off in a bigger audience for season two?
Daniel Kurland: I think Nathan is the brilliant marketing man that he thinks that he is because he doesn’t think he’s much of a brilliant marketing man. He thinks like we do; practically; through experience, and that’s why so many of his ideas make sense or at least sound reasonable and have businesses risking their livelihood as a result. There are a bunch of efforts from last season that actually are good business ideas:
The idea of selecting whether you want your taxi driver to talk to you or not, I think is great; his advice to crass it up to the caricature artist did work and had no fallout whatsoever; and I would love to death a haunted house that made me think me or my significant other was dying for a solid hour or so. I think the rebate gas station is a wonderful idea. And as a fan of riddles and point and click adventure games, I don’t hike much and probably wouldn’t do it though; and I think with the right regulation, the non-customers using a bathroom idea he pitched could even work really well too. They all have kernels of brilliance in them before he pushes them too far.
I think in some of the flashier, more public examples like “Dumb Starbucks” or his text message pranks, or even the time he crashed a concert and faked a marriage proposal, none of these were even instances of him trying to help a business; they were just jokes, for his own amusement, and obviously he knows how to tell a joke. When that can match with what he’s doing here, it can explode like the viral video for the pet farm last season. But I think because he’s getting better at it, and the world’s just getting more viral in nature, that’ll mean he’ll get more of an audience this year too. But do you think Nathan’s a marketing wunderkind, and how will that translate into viewers this year?
Chris Longo: First off, I follow Nathan on Twitter and when he started posting selfies in succession for his first few Instagram posts, I laughed because he’s just one of those guys that doesn’t have to say anything to be funny. Remember when a turtle when fed his interview answers?
As it turns out, everything Nathan does is calculated. His Instagram posts had a special hidden message, a reflection of a man masturbating, and the social media app took down Nathan’s photos and issued him a warning, insisting that they were staunchly against images of men beating off and things that are funny.
That story blew up on the Internet last week and it wasn’t even the most talked about stunt Nathan stunt pulled in between season one and two. Nathan’s “Dumb Starbucks” store, undoubtedly a scheme we’ll see in season two, garnered interest from around the Internet and Starbucks itself, who like Instagram, doesn’t appreciate fun. These stunts and the media exposure they received, coupled with Comedy Central streaming all the episodes, will pay off for Nathan for You. I’m not sure if it moves the needle a significant amount in terms of ratings, but he deserves more eyes viewing his work.
Last season we saw failed stunts chronicled in a segment. What unexplored aspects to the show would you like to see incorporated in season two?
DK: I would be very interested in seeing some sort of writers’ meeting or brainstorming session in pre-production where pranks or ideas they want to do are figured it. Basically just seeing Nathan and company’s process (if there even is one), and what sort of wide net they start with before honing in.
I’d love to see if there have been pranks or ideas that they’ve wanted to execute but just haven’t been able to crack yet. Like if there’s some holy grail of pranks that Nathan just hasn’t been able to work yet but maybe we’ll see it in season four (God willing).
And of course I’d want to see updates on businesses from season one! I’d be super curious to not only see if some modified version of Nathan’s ideas are being used anywhere, or alternatively, if any of these businesses have since gone under after following Nathan’s advice. But what’s got you salivating at the maw this year?
CL: When Nathan was patrolling the streets of Los Angeles looking for a woman to interact with, he recognized that his best asset was the film crew that was following him around. From there, the plan for “The Hunk” was born and soon Nathan realized that though the ladies were just there to be on TV, he could mutually benefit from the experience. That episode blatantly comes out and shows you how people will change their tune if the cameras are rolling.
Realistically, the businesses in season one don’t get much out of appearing on the show and I think a good amount of them actually were pissed off by Nathan’s ploys. In a highly recommended Grantland feature on the show, Fielder said: “If you saw the full scene as it played out in real time it would be excruciatingly uncomfortable.” I so I agree with Daniel, I’d love to see a behind-the-scenes episode where an entire scheme is played out in as close to real time as 30 minutes will allow. Nathan For Youis a reality show redefined and I want to savor all the real reactions he gets out of people.
Nathan For You is more than a reality/prank show; it’s about connecting people and healing others so none of us are the wizards of loneliness. What moment of connection affected you the most, or made you realize this show was something more?
DK: It might be cliché, but the overnight camping trip in the “Gas Rebate” episode is truly some special, amazing television. Just how all of it slowly unravels and you get more and more of a sense of these people who have nothing better to do with their days really needing each other. When one man is given the opportunity to open up, he reveals that he’s still wearing his wedding ring fifteen years after getting divorced, that the FBI is investigating him for arson, and a whole slew of other details. They cry. They bond. And we’re constantly reminded of the literal cents they’re saving on gas through it all.
Getting into the mall Santa’s home life was also very revealing and early on in the series, but even the pilot has that moment with Nathan and the pizza guy talking about girls not getting “guys like them” and right from that point it felt like this was a different entity on television. It’s not poking fun at the pizza guy, it’s making a fan club for him; empathizing with him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had been given his own voiceover to close out the episode. The same thing is going on when Nathan is setting the guy up on the Subway-sponsored blind date and he has an uncanny obsession with the movie Click, presumably because it’s about a guy who can stop time and change his life; he has control and agency, which this guy wants in any way.
When we spoke with Jason Woliner, he offered us some insight on the filming process: “I was lucky enough to get to direct a few segments in season one (‘The Hunk’ and ‘The Claw of Shame’) but I think my favorite moment would be the reveal with the gas station owner at the end of the ‘Gas Rebate’ segment. I can confirm that it was entirely real and unscripted, like a million other jaw-droppingly bizarre and human ‘this can’t be real’ moments in the show. That alone should prove that there is something very magical about Nathan For You.”
When did you first start to realize that there was something magical about this show, Chris?
CL: High atop a mountain, in the early-evening darkness, Nathan For You produced a moment that hundreds of episodes of Survivor have yet to top. Three strangers gave up more than 24 hours of their time to win a rebate of less than $20. Nathan couldn’t believe it. Out of that experience something more admirable than their determination was born. There was a very real heart to heart between Nathan and the three rebate seekers, and who knows, maybe even a few friendships were fostered. As I said before, an underlying theme of the show is seeing how people behave when the cameras are rolling. That moment on the mountain was as reality as reality gets.
Which previous scheme of Nathan’s would you like to see updated or referenced in season two?
DK: I’d be curious to see if the viral video idea he did for the petting zoo could be taken even further. Like maybe making a whole stupid web series that is ultimately just a convoluted ad for a petting zoo? The haunted house idea could certainly be tweaked into like a home invasion angle. Or even outside the house, there being pageantry like someone’s car braking down and them needing your help to get to the hospital, and then in the car, craziness starts going down? Basically, just going further and being more fluid with the concept to disorient people even more.
Even the gas station riddles could be extrapolated to an Amazing Race-type stunt, going through a whole city, with a larger prize like your gas for a month is refunded or something like that (although it surely wouldn’t be when the final riddle, likely tied to the ceiling of a subway tunnel, precariously swinging above oncoming traffic, would never be found). If Nathan does choose to “sequel-ize” any of his past efforts though, I’m sure he’ll know what he’s doing. What ventures from last year do you absolutely need to see follow-ups on?
CL: You can go in so many different directions with this one. I couldn’t breathe when Nathan had a young boy, his comedian friend, and a turtle feed him interview questions because I was laughing too hard, so I’d be thrilled to see a new take on that. Who knows if the restaurant owner had a change of heart and included Nathan in her will? What if he remained friends with the trio of gasoline-rebate seekers? What’s Tony Napoli up to?
While Nathan rarely missed on any of his segments during season one, I’m so excited for new material that I could probably pass on a season one catch-up. I also wouldn’t be against a season two of “The Hunk,” but I want the show to keep moving forward and pushing boundaries.
If Librarian’s Quest had a sequel, what would it be, and how much would you love it? What would you use it to spy on?
DK: The sequel to Librarian’s Quest would obviously be Librarian’s Quest II: The Adventure of Dewey Decimal; an ambitious, but mess of a game that decides to incorporate RPG elements where they have no business being, and risks alienating fans from the original game and its boring aspirations. That being said, I’d love it to death, and wish dearly that it were an actual video game and not just an elaborate working prop for a cable-TV “prank” show.
In terms of what I’d use it to spy on, it seems pretty natural to combine this with the ornery private investigator from season one. Set up the Librarian’s Quest II terminal in or near his office, and see how seriously he actually takes his job, or perhaps discover the meaning behind his hair-trigger hatred to all things Yelp. One thing’s for sure though, he’d be ignoring that video game pretty hard, making him the perfect mark. What say you on this necessary sequel?
CL: You nailed it on the sequel, so I’ll take a shot at my own terrible video game.
From the makers of Guitar Hero, comes the game no one will ever want to play: Pan Flute Hero. Pick your subway station, place down a bucket for change and annoy the fuck out of any passerby for hours on end. This game is so miserable, you’ll want to hollow out the insides and use it to spy on your cheating significant other.
Nathan For You returns on Tuesday, July 1 at 10:30 pm on Comedy Central.