Classic Comedy: Nathan For You

classic comedy nathan for youIf someone was to put a gun against my head yet a-bloody-gain and demand that I tell them what my favourite tv comedy series is I’d probably um and ah for about five minutes, as I’m annoying like that and take such a thing far too seriously, before telling them it was Nathan For You. It’s a little hard to explain in brief just why it’s so funny, or what kind of show it is for that matter, unlike Father Ted you couldn’t just say “It’s a sitcom about daft priests” or with Frasier “It’s a comedy about a very irritating and neurotic man who keeps on making the same mistakes over and over again”.

The brainchild of Canadian comedian Nathan Fielder at its very core it’s essentially a prank / stunt show, except that does it an enormous disservice as it’s so much more than that. In each episode Nathan claims to be a business expert and that he can help boost the income of any company, except that his ideas are…well, let’s just say they’re unconventional at the very least. Also no one is a victim here, unlike other prank and stunt shows, the target is nearly always Nathan himself as he tries to sell ideas which are clearly unconventional, though it’s surprising how many times they created a stir.

Unfortunately it starts off with the weakest episode of the whole lot, though that’s not to say it’s not funny, just that it doesn’t represent how inventive and astonishingly funny his ideas can be. The first segment sees him trying to help an ice cream café by introducing a new flavour – Diarrhea. Of course he doesn’t expect anyone to fall in love with it, just that word will get around that such a thing exists and so people will visit the place to witness it being served up. It’s easily the crudest idea Fielder comes up within the whole series, and though there are some funny moments where we get to see it being made and then tested out on surprisingly open customers, it’s a little slight, especially compared to what comes later.

Among the crazier ideas that Nathan comes up with are an estate agent who can guarantee that her properties are ghost free, a coffee shop which sets itself up as a parody of Starbucks, an electronic store where to get to the very cheap tv’s on sale they have to crawl through a small room which has an alligator inside of it, a way to get fit by helping a company move people’s belongings, a hotel which shields children from their parents being intimate by containing a wooden space ship in the bedroom, and a travel agent who offers special deals to elderly people by promising a discount on their funeral were they to die while on vacation.

A fair few of these ideas went viral and were picked up upon by various television shows, “Dumb Starbucks” being the most famous of these as the coffee shop was identical to a normal Starbucks apart from its name, but a video showing a pig saving a goat was faked in a gloriously funny way, while a store that sold clothing meant to help holocaust awareness saw those clothes become available to buy online, with Fielder generating over $300,000 for charity.

Much of this might seem daft or silly and that’s often true, but the manner in which Nathan presents the various ideas is where it becomes beautifully funny, and the way he often persuades people in to going along with schemes despite their being well aware of how idiotic they are generates a huge amount of laughter, as does seeing them in action. But the best thing about the series is Nathan’s ability to get the best out of people, he portrays himself as a lonely, friendless type who’s desperate to be liked, and that somehow gets people to open up and talk about their lives in often rather sweet ways, though many also admit a fair amount of unusual secrets too.

Among those who Nathan sort of befriends includes Jack Garbarino, a very fit muscular man who’s happy to pretend that he got his muscles without ever working out in a gym in a day in his life, and Austin Bowers, a ghost writer who puts together a full book detailing Jack’s supposed life, which includes being friends with Steve Jobs as a kid and also his touching mentorship of a jungle child as an adult. A few also appeared several times in the show, like a judge who offers Nathan legal advice, a security guard with a weakness for large breasts, a private detective who really doesn’t seem to like Nathan, and best of all, Bill Heath, a Bill Gates impersonator who doesn’t look much like Gates or know about computers.

There’s also a number of special episodes, including “The Claw Of Shame” where Nathan risks exposing his genitals to a bunch of school children unless he can escape a pair of handcuffs, and one where he spent seven months practicing a walk across a wire stretched between two buildings, all so that a man can impress his date. He also managed to appear on a number of tv chat shows telling a bizarre anecdote which was actually true, while the final ever episode was two hours long and all about the aforementioned Bill Gates impersonator and his quest for love.

Said series finale, “Finding Frances” is an astonishing piece of work, and quite different from everything that had taken place before, as Nathan tries to find Bill Heath’s very long lost love, the one woman he regrets never getting married too, though said search is complicated as Bill has no photographs and only a very sketchy drawing of her. It’s a complex episode which involves many different schemes and ideas, the funniest of which sees Nathan become enamoured with an escort that he hired to help Bill develop his conversational skills, and everything is wrapped up is incredibly captivating manner.

All of the above really doesn’t do this astonishing show justice, the character of “Nathan” is a complex, unusual but hilarious creation and one who you’ll find adorable as well as joyfully funny. The ideas that are developed across the series are often astonishingly convoluted and are all the funnier because of this, and it’s a show which doesn’t have a single bad episode across its four season run. Indeed if anything it just gets better and better as it continues, and because of this is deserved of all of the acclaim and love it received, if you know a fan of the show than I’m all but certain that you’ll know someone who loves it to pieces and would be horrified by meeting someone who didn’t like it because it’s such an amazing, and special, work of comedy.

Alex Finch.
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Related Links: Previous Classic Comedy Articles:
Classic Comedy: Friends
Classic Comedy: The Larry Sanders Show

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