What is it about messing with people that is so universally funny? For decades random people have become unsuspecting subjects in some of history’s greatest comedy shows. Our parents and grandparents saw it on the family-friendly hidden camera show Candid Camera. Sacha Baron Cohen made us laugh in the 2000s with his absurd interviews and interactions on the criminally-underrated Da Ali G Show, while Johnny Knoxville & crew were crafting their own amusing brand of raunchy prankster comedy on Jackass. There have been dozens of knock offs over the years and no matter which way it’s sliced or the time period in which it occurs – pranking people has always been downright hilarious. And since 2013, the undisputed King of Fucking with People has been Canadian comic Nathan Fielder, and his masterpiece of a television show, Nathan for You.
If any readers haven’t jumped on board with Nathan for You yet, I have to ask – where the hell have you been? I get it, the dynamics of television viewing have changed. People aren’t flipping through the channel guide or even watching random cable TV too much these days, fine. But if you’ve managed to avoid hearing about Fielder and his antics by now, consider me both impressed and disappointed. In a nutshell, Nathan for You follows Fielder as he brings unconventional business ideas to struggling small companies across the US. The results are rarely (if ever) practical or profitable, but always hysterical. Most times, the naïve business owners are hesitant with Fielder’s initial approach. The gas station owner in Season 1 predictably didn’t think offering a rebate was a great idea, until Fielder clarified the only way to claim the rebate was an overnight hiking trip to the top of a mountain. The liquor store owner in Season 2 obviously wasn’t thrilled with his idea of selling alcohol to minors at his store, before Fielder explained that these excited teenagers would only be able to take home the alcohol once they turned 21 years later. These are just two examples of the many WILD suggestions he cooks up over the course of the first three seasons of the show.
The incredible out-of-the-box ideas are an integral part of the show, and stunts like his “Dumb Starbucks” creation have helped cast a nationwide spotlight on the 34-year old. The pranks are certainly elaborate – in one episode Fielder stars as the subject in a Bachelor-esque reality show with dozens of fame-hungry women competing for this attention. In another, he created a Holocaust awareness clothing company (author’s note/brag: I’m a proud owner of a “Summit Ice” t-shirt thanks to my lovely girlfriend). But it’s his deadpan style during the execution of these ideas that makes him and the show such a spectacle. Fielder rarely, if ever, raises his monotone voice or changes his subdued facial expressions. Business owners never know whether to take his ideas seriously before eventually (reluctantly) conceding control. The interactions with innocent customers are even funnier, as these people clearly have no idea they are pawns in Fielder’s chicanery.
Pranks and circumstances like those found in Nathan for You are good, wholesome fun. We’ve all been in uncomfortable situations with odd people at one point or another, albeit not on camera for the entire world to see. But maybe that’s why these simple-plotted shows become so popular – it’s relatable. It’s fun to watch and imagine what we would do in their shoes, if we would handle the awkwardness with grace or anger or whatever. Its pure, unscripted, and quite honestly one of the funniest shows on TV right now. Every season I wonder if it will be the last – how many people can he dupe without them recognizing his shtick? I guess he’s not a household name quite yet, but I can’t say for certain that will be the case for much longer. I’ll be tuned in to each and every episode starting tonight to see what ideas Nathan has for us next. Join me!
Season 4 of Nathan for You premieres September 21 at 9PM central on Comedy Central
Oddities: Nathan Fielder was childhood friends with comedy superstar Seth Rogen. The two were even in the same improv group at high school in Vancouver
Photo Credits- ConsequenceOfSound.net, Slate.com