Nathan Fielder doesn’t mind making you uncomfortable. That holds true whether you’re the subject of one of his cinéma vérité series, like Nathan for You, or if you’re the viewer. When dragging people into his irreverent world of long silences, awkward questions, and increasingly unhinged circumstances, Fielder is not just a comedian—he’s more of a comedian-slash-agitator.
In his new HBO series The Rehearsal, Fielder invites guests to practice some pivotal moments in their lives before things get real—and the line between comic provocation and psychological experimentation begins to blur. For more on the ineffable Fielder, including his apparel line and a little-seen web series, keep reading.
1. Nathan Fielder was in a high school improve group with Seth Rogen.
Fielder, who was born in Vancouver, told Vulture that his childhood was a mix of learning magic tricks, working at a magic shop in a mall, recording and reciting stand-up routines from the bookended segments on Seinfeld, and, later, joining the Point Grey Secondary School’s high school improv team. One of the members was future Emmy nominee Seth Rogen. (The two have known each other since first grade.)
Rogen recalled that Fielder’s idiosyncratic approach to comedy, which is exacting and somewhat inflexible, was evident early on. “It was not even on the table that he would act like he was burning in lava,” Rogen said. Their team took third place at a national improv competition, although Fielder was confused when he discovered the winning teams had practiced. “We didn’t understand how you could rehearse improv,” Fielder said.
2. He made a lot of YouTube videos—and you can still watch them.
After attending business school at the University of Victoria, Fielder briefly worked at a brokerage firm before deciding to try his hand at comedy full-time. He wound up producing a number of short films that he regularly uploaded to his YouTube channel, including one in which he holds up a thin slice of watermelon with no further context (above) as it flaps in the wind. Fielder told Rolling Stone that “people come up to me say that Thin Watermelon is the best thing I’ve ever done.”
3. His Dumb Starbucks project was thought to be the work of Banksy.
Fielder continued his comedy career by writing Canadian Idol and This Hour Has 22 Minutes. In 2013, Fielder debuted Nathan for You, a Comedy Central series co-created with Michael Koman in which Fielder offered help to struggling small business owners. Often, his increasingly complex and irrelevant plans—offering a poop-flavored frozen yogurt or forcing gas station customers to hike a mountain to receive a discount—did virtually nothing for the entrepreneurs featured.
But Fielder did have a smashing success in 2014 with Dumb Starbucks, a parody store that Fielder figured could capitalize on the Starbucks name without summoning a legal response. As soon as the storefront opened in Los Angeles, some believed it might be an elaborate prank by elusive street artist Banksy. After three days, Fielder outed himself as the operator. The Department of Health shut the store down that same day.
4. Nathan for You shot an incredible amount of footage to make its 22-minute episodes.
Nathan for You, which ran for a total of four seasons, took Fielder and his semi-witting subjects into increasingly elaborate spectacles. In one episode, Fielder learned how to wire-walk so someone else could get the credit. In another, he orchestrated a pig-saves-goat viral video that was the work of divers so a petting zoo could get publicity. All told, Fielder once estimated that about 90 hours of footage were required to make each 22-minute episode.
5. Fielder owns a successful outdoor apparel brand.
After reading about a clothing brand that had somehow delivered a tribute to a Holocaust denier, Fielder opted to open his own apparel company. He called it Summit Ice and vowed to donate 100 percent of the proceeds to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. It seemed to live at the intersection between earnestness, cultural critique, and comedy. “When I was younger, and until recently, I used to wear a jacket brand called Taiga, which is from a shop just down the street,” Fielder told Vice in 2017.
“I discovered recently that they published a tribute to a Holocaust denier in their winter catalogue, but I was wearing their jacket on my TV show. I felt like that was bad because I was giving them publicity. I didn’t know what jacket company to trust, so I thought it was easiest to start my own company.” Fielder admits the customer service, however, could be better. He has described it as “awful” because “there’s not a full-time person that does it. It kind of jumps around between different people to manage it.”
6. He helped launch the television career of a private investigator.
In 2013, Fielder enlisted private investigator Brian Wolfe to assist him in a typically obtuse plot where Wolfe was tasked with tracking Fielder down to see if the P.I. was worthy of a good Yelp review. In one of Nathan for You’s most memorable moments, Wolfe—confused by Fielder’s eccentricities—dubbed him the “wizard of loneliness” because he has “no friends.” He later referred to Fielder as a “goober.” Not long afterward, Wolfe was contacted by producers looking to develop a reality series based on his firm. Cry Wolfe aired on Investigation Discovery for three seasons between 2014 and 2016.
7. He once starred in a scripted and fictional web series titled David.
Much of Fielder’s output consists of a slightly distorted version of himself interacting with the real world. That changed in 2016, when Fielder appeared in the five-episode web series David. In it, Fielder plays a man who finds out he has just weeks to live thanks to a black stone growing inside of his heart. Jenny Slate co-stars. The dark comedy was originally on YouTube but doesn’t appear to be currently available on the service. You may be able to find it on Vimeo.
8. Nathan Fielder is very much like Nathan Fielder.
In a 2015 interview with The A.V. Club, Fielder offered what might be his most succinct explanation yet of how his onscreen persona intersects with his authentic self. (It came after he was compared to Andy Kaufman.) “The version of me on the show is much more, obviously, controlled and deliberate than the me in real life because I’m trying to bring things out of people and create situations that will be funny and interesting,” he said.
“But at the same time, I also try to put myself into situations that I don’t know how they’ll go—unpredictable scenarios—so I personally will get thrown off and have to figure out a way out of it. I like doing that with the show as well … But I think the situations and the uncomfortable moments in the show also, I feel like, are designed to bring out a side of the other person that I find very charming and endearing about them.”
Nathan for You co-creator Michael Koman agrees. “There’s only about a 10 percent difference between the Nathan on the show and real-life Nathan,” Koman told Rolling Stone in 2017. “The character is just an amplified version of him.”
By Jake Rossen
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