No One Can Hurt Nathan Fielder's Feelings
Nathan Fielder is an amazingly weird Canadian comic with a business school education whose brand new Comedy Central show revolves around trying to get businesses to try out terribly bad ideas. It's hilarious so far, and we spoke to him about it.
There's no coffee in there, homie.
Nathan Fielder first made waves in 2006, when his wildly prolific series of video shorts began garnering the attention of the relatively miniature Canadian television industry. It led him to jobs with Canadian Idol and long-running political sketch comedy series, This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Before long, Hollywood came calling. After stints writing for alt-comedy mainstays Demetri Martin and Jon Benjamin, Comedy Central took a chance on Nathan by granting him his own docue-reality show, Nathan For You. In Nathan For You, Fielder uses his real-life business degree to help makeover struggling businesses with his own brand of outlandish and attention-grabbing stunts. With a stone-faced sincerity, Nathan fascinates, infuriates, and confounds viewers through business improvement suggestions like shit-flavored yogurt for a struggling FroYo spot and suggests that a pizza place guarantee free delivery for orders that take longer than eight minutes. It’s awesome.
We talked to Nathan over the phone about his charmingly linear rise to the top, being a celebrity in Moncton, and offering people money to hurt his feelings.
Nathan tries to rebrand a caricature artist.
VICE: Nathan For You parodies a lot of self-important reality show business stuff. Obviously it’s clearly influenced by the Apprentice. What is it about that format that makes it attractive to make sketches out of?
Well, when I worked on This Hour Has 22 Minutes I figured out how to get into scenes with real people, but I only kind of did it as a self-contained interview. My show expands on that, where we’re able to do these mini-stories, which kind of have an arc to them and aren’t just one scene with the person. That allows for a lot more variety and visual jokes. And the self-importance of the host is always a really funny thing in reality shows. I try to be very close to myself, and try to act pretty honest about stuff on the show; even though I know sometimes it’s silly. I like going into situations where I don’t know what’s going to happen. Something about doing that is exciting, even though it’s risky. If nothing happens, you have nothing. But it’s fun to try and think of scenarios where you can’t really predict how people are going to act, then seeing what happens and responding naturally.
Well, let’s take something like the poo-flavored yogurt bit as an example. What’s it like shooting something like that? Do people play along like you expect them to?
We shot that in the pilot. That was the first thing we thought of. We had the concept for a show, but we hadn’t actually done anything yet, so we were very nervous that someone would just say: “Get the hell out of here.”
I didn’t know if that would happen, so that was the first moment where I knew that if it didn’t go well, there was no show. But if it worked, it could be a cool show. I felt like all the ideas and business pitches that we try and pull off in the show have some sort of reasonable logic to them, even if they’re executed poorly. So if I can be intelligent and argue how my insane ideas would work in a confident manner, then people tend to respond politely, even if you can see on their face that they know it’s bad. They’ll try to see the benefits of my crazy proposals. You can see them working through it. It’s a funny line to ride with people if you’re aware of it. People are trying to be well mannered, but you can see it in their eyes that they don’t like what’s happening around them.
Nathan's misadventure with poo yogurt.
Has anyone gotten serious or really blunt with you?
Oh yeah, people have definitely been blunt, but I feel like there’s certain people who have this survivalist aggressiveness that comes out whenever they’re put in an uncomfortable situation. Those are the people we try to avoid, because I think a lot of what’s interesting—or at least what I like about the show—is that it often shows the kindness of people. And that’s not something you see so much on TV. It’s nice to see people who are just…nice. And they’ll do something because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.
It’s easy to pick on someone who’s an asshole and show them being an asshole, but it’s just as funny—if not funnier—to see someone be the nice person in the face of such a ridiculous proposal.
Word. Speaking of assholes, recently on Twitter, you had a contest where you offered $50 to anyone who could genuinely hurt your feelings with an insult. No one—
It’s still going on. No one’s done it yet. They all get tagged with the #HurtNathan hashtag. It’s hard because I look at each one and try to be like, “Does this really get to me?” A lot of peoples' responses have been really funny and actually make me laugh. Nothing has really, really hurt or anything. And I’m trying to be very honest about gauging it.
Well, knowing our audience, you may get some solid entries after this.
Yeah, I know that it was just kind of in the cycle of people that follow me on Twitter, which a lot of people are fans, so some people would apologize after saying stuff.
Much has been made of the “comedy nerd” community—people who follow comedy in the way that some people follow bands or musicians. Some of these comedy nerds have a reputation for being a little obsessive. You’ve toured the country. Have you met any fans who got a little too close?
The most attention I ever received from fans was when I went to Moncton once. A lot of people watch This Hour Has 22 Minutes there. When I was doing that show and I went to rural areas, I would get more attention. But I haven’t been on TV a lot in America, so I don’t really get any comments from strangers. Some people recognize from YouTube, or Jon Benjamin’s show sometimes, but…I’m flying under the radar. [Laughs]
So what do you want people to take away from Nathan For You?
That they like it?
Yeah. Ok. Thanks Nathan.
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