Explaining Nathan Fielder For People Who Don’t Get Nathan Fielder

What a complicated, socially awkward man.
Nathan Fielder
Nathan Fielder on Seth Myers (NBC via Getty)

Nathan Fielder. 

Ah, what a complicated, socially awkward man, known for his overly-intricate and sometimes downright obscene ventures into the minds of people and back ends of businesses. 

Some people think Fielder is a psychopath. Others, a genius. Maybe he’s both. But no one can deny that his opuses, ‘Nathan For You’, and now, ‘The Rehearsal’, have delivered some of the 21st century’s best TV. 


While in ‘Nathan For You’ Fielder poses convoluted solutions to business owners in order to increase their profit, in ‘The Rehearsal’ he seeks to “help” people rehearse real life experiences with constructed sets and actors before they happen.

Recently a New Yorker Article titled ‘The Cruel and Arrogant Gaze Of Nathan Fielder’s ‘The Rehearsal’, described the show as “A wet squib of disingenuous self-deprecation that exhausts itself in the first minutes of the episode.” Nathan was “arrogant, cruel, and, above all, indifferent”. The author was barely five minutes into the first episode when he wanted to throw his laptop across the room – “or just to throw Nathan Fielder out of it”.

Viewers are allowed to like and dislike TV shows based on their own assessment of the characters and plots, but when the joke flies so high over the head, as it did here, you wonder whether the article itself is a plot point in a hidden scheme Fielder is waging on the world. Either that, or you’re left asking “Do some people just not get it?” And, if so, “How?”

When it comes to ‘The Rehearsal’, not only is the plot clever, but it is ironic. In a world built on predictability – corporate data profiles that know you better than you think you know yourself – Nathan uses the same algorithmic predictability to medicate the potentially awkward nature that stems from a craving for connection or setting a situation right.


“Fielder can’t relinquish control; his obsession with details, with predicted outcomes, suggests his very failure as a filmmaker,” the New Yorker review continued. Again, it had missed the point.

What ‘The Rehearsal’ shows us is that human behaviour cannot, in fact, be rehearsed, as is exemplified in multiple failed rehearsals throughout the series. We saw it when he had to take part in episode two, after rubbing one guest the wrong way, and in episode 3, when one of his studies, Patrick, failed to turn up for a rehearsal. The point is that Nathan fails at controlling life in a world where life is so controlled. That’s also what makes it funny.

Admittedly, Nathan Fielder’s antics can be cruel, he does take advantage of well-meaning people (that’s also if the people in his show aren’t in on the joke) and, in every instance, his antics are ludicrous (you might remember that one time in ‘Nathan For You’ where he made a store sell poo-flavoured yoghurt). But his scheming often points to deeper tellings of human behaviour. Beyond cruelty (and Nathan is, in fact, most cruel to himself), the interactions between his self-deprecating character and the people he aims to “help” highlight the opposite – empathy and earnestness – and point people to what they crave most in the world: human connection.

Nathan’s character is built to be the one that always misses the point. One who never really gets it. His deadpan style and confected inability to read people and situations – for example, when in ‘Nathan For You’ he pays a woman to like him and in the end believes she has fallen in love with him – is what makes every episode, whether it be ‘Nathan for You’ or ‘The Rehearsal’, so compelling. While the crux of his show revolves around helping people, his calculated and designed onscreen persona neglects the tools needed to do so meaningfully. Yet that’s also the point. He’s a misfit by design.


When it comes to his schemes they are purposefully complex and over-the-top, and in their bravado offer viewers a vehicle for the study of the American consciousness. ‘Nathan For You’ offers a running critique of a culture of consumerism, the American dream, and a ‘hustle’ mentality that encourages us to reach the top by any means necessary. ‘The Rehearsal’, on the other hand, dives into the want of human connection in a world separated by screens. 

While some viewers may find ‘Nathan For You’ unfunny or something they don’t get, in the end, all you really need to know is it’s one big joke. None of his schemes are serious, nor are they actually intended to work. Instead, they open the door to more complex issues faced by people around the world. And that’s the real art of Fielder's work.

Follow Julie Fenwick on Twitter and Instagram.

Read more from VICE Australia and subscribe to our weekly newsletter, This Week Online