The TV series “Nathan For You” is “businessman” Nathan Fielder's magnum opus. If you’ve ever watched, you’ll know that his ideas are those of a raving lunatic yet an unquestionable genius. The business owners he approaches bend at the knee to his often round-about, outlandish ideas, to propagate their commercial success.
It’s a show that’s special to millions, not just because of brilliance, but also because of the innocence of its participants. This is a program that first aired in 2013 and wrapped up four years later, debuting at the beginning of Obama’s second term and finishing up only a year into the chaos of the Trump regime. Then, fake news and conspiracy became just another part of the newscycle, the insane became real life, and shows like “Nathan For You” - which imbued an “is it real, is it not” storyline and a satirical take on the serious - became a blueprint for a generation of creators.
“Nathan For You” was always about taking the real and pushing the boundaries of what the public were willing to accept. It’s a memento to a time when people were less aggressive and far more eager to be involved: the American dream was still alive in the hearts and minds of everyone on the show, even if their businesses were falling apart in the face of the nation’s dwindling economy.
Where the beauty of Fielder’s series really stems, though, is through it’s odious main character. Nathan plays up to an anti-social awkwardness, presenting a version of himself that is overtly an asshole while also dipping into a softer, more self-aware side tainted by his own weaknesses. He’s the king of manipulation. It’s pure machiavellian genius.
In one episode, in a bid to win the war for cab drivers against Uber, Nathan promotes free rides for pregnant women in the hope that an untimely birth would throw cabbies into the media whirlwind. In another, he approaches a petting zoo, looking to up visitor numbers by staging a viral video of a goat rescuing a pig. The “pig stunt” was a huge success, finding itself all over digital media – who reported it as true – well before the skepticism now trained into every writer and reader online existed like it does now.
Though his show, by all means, was successful, it could be argued it only just teetered on the line of mainstream until it’s final season. To this day, Nathan is still slightly unknowable – particularly to a younger generation who came into the internet and social media in the final years of its airing. But Nathan’s reach is vast, and over the last few years other creators have eaten from his ideas buffet.
Youtube, though synonymous with innovative, original content, is full of “Nathan For You” inspired-content. He’s become a wellspring for creators desperately searching for a proven idea to feed into the content machine, day-in, day-out.
One of Nathan’s most recognized business ventures comes through “Dumb Starbucks”, a bold attempt at marketing a small coffee joint to the masses by entering through a loophole that allows businesses to market with the likeness of a larger chain if it is considered a “parody”. It’s the first major international news coverage one of Fielder’s ideas received. The fact that he was able to continue his show for years despite this attention is just further testament to his ability to blend in and skate just under the precipice of becoming known by everyone.
Niko gained himself a flurry of subscribers from these videos. KFC was even rumored to have reached out to collaborate. And while others might be less conceding and find this Starschmucks idea to be a little too close to the original idea, it’s just one example of “Nathan For You” as a blueprint for digital content. A prime example of imitation being the highest form of flattery.
While “Starschmucks” might be the most obvious of imitations, Fielder’s legacy stretches further. Other creators, such as BuzzFeed’s Mike Carrier, YouTuber Mr Beast, and even VICE’s own Oobah Butler, have ridden the invisible wave stoked by Fielders creation - one that asks the public to believe, if only for a second, in the odd man just trying to see how much he can get away with.
“I Got Hunted by a Real Bounty Hunter'', is Mr Beasts’’ version of Fielders ‘Hunted by a Private Investigator’ episode in Season 1. BuzzFeed’s, ‘I Tried to Escaping a Bounty Hunter’ also plays to Fielders infamous dead-pan style.
Most recently, star of the hit Youtube show “Chicken Shop Dates”, Amelia Dimz, released a businessman-helping-client style video titled “Celebrity Rebrand”, a tongue-in-cheek satire of celebrities looking to up their commercial success with an often outlandish method.
And even “Nathan For You” has its clear inspirations. Shows like “The Ali G Show” (and just about anything Sasha Baron Cohen has done) pushed the idea of a satirical, host-driven program just as the internet was finding its feet. But in an era where the social internet and the Creator Economy (shudder) have led a whole generation to believe they need to be creating content, there are few things easier, or more accessible, than being a dialled up version of yourself with a few good ideas to make the general public better off.
These days, if you’re looking for a big hit, it’s not enough to be yourself online. Sure, people appreciate being genuine in their personal accounts, but the 2020s will be all about the personalities you can build on top of yourself. “All Gas No Brakes” takes gonzo interviewing to the next level – but even the host, Andrew Callaghan, and the rest of the editing team, know what they’re doing. Hosts that further this to the top tier, like Eric Andre or Crackhead Barney, are presenting news stories and politics with downright bizarre and polarizing hosting styles.
Now, all of this could just be a ramble about why “Nathan For You” is incredible - and I wouldn’t apologize for that. Every day I wake up hoping he’s back: his slim-fit oxford shirt and stoic, unbroken gaze reflecting back at me on my TV screen. But really, I see Nathan everywhere now.
At the end of the day, “Nathan For You” was perfect content for the social internet. Smart, sweet, and just the right amount of revealing – it showed us who we really are. It’s just a shame that it packed up shop before things really started kicking off.
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