The King of Awkward Humour.
Nathan Fielder has created the pinnacle of television comedies with his stellar brainchild: Nathan For You. Simply put: this is my favourite television that I’ve seen. In my opinion, it’s one of the greatest comedies in the history of television and the best from the past decade.
I know. That’s a big claim to make and for awhile Rick and Morty held that top spot.
While I still see that as the best-animated show that’s ever been made, Rick and Morty have been prone to a few weak episodes (even though these are still ten times better than other comedies that are somehow still going right now *cough* The Big Bang Theory *cough*). Unfortunately, Rick and Morty set an impossibly high standard and sometimes it failed to match the bar it raised so brilliantly.
But more on that in another review.
Nathan For You, on the other hand, has never failed to make me laugh, even with episodes that weren’t as good as others. It’s by far the most consistent comedy I’ve ever watched with such high quality of humour that always made me genuinely laugh out loud.
For those unaware of the show’s premise, Nathan For You follows the exploits of the character Nathan Fielder, as he attempts to aid small businesses and promote sales revenues for those that are struggling.
Yes, this premise isn’t necessarily new to the landscape of reality show television, with shows like Kitchen Nightmares and Hotel Hell that have employed the same concept. But the unique selling point for Nathan For You is that the show creates an original twist on this idea because the suggestions Nathan provides use unconventional ways of thinking to create out of the box solutions.
For example, in one of my favourite episodes of Season 1, Nathan instructs a local gas station owner to substantially decrease the fuel price in order to increase the number of customer sales. The catch: the cheaper selling price could only be claimed back after a rebate which required customers to hike up a nearby mountain to drop the form off in a rebate box deposit.
However, that synopsis just scratches the surface for what the rest of the episode entailed of and I won’t spoil what happens because it’s best to simply watch it. What I will say is that it’s wildly imaginative, unpredictable and most importantly: hilarious.
I should also note that Fielder’s style of humour is heavily reliant on the cringeworthy and self-deprecating style. I put it as a variant on Da Ali G Show but with awkward “pranks” that will have you laughing at both the people in the show and at Fielder himself.
Personally, I never found it tiresome or repetitive simply because Nathan For You has so many other unique and entertaining aspects going for it.
The first being the genre-defining and re-imagining of the format.
While Nathan For You essentially works as akin to a mockumentary, it’s also a subtle parody of reality television. Episodes often lampoon the common tropes of such a style and those individuals that the series follows.
Ultimately, the people of the show indirectly make themselves hilarious to watch and you can’t help but laugh at their sometimes-ridiculous reactions. In their defense Fielder does intentionally put them in awkward and often extraordinary situations. But it’s never to the point of him being overly mean-spirited towards them.
If anything, he’s also willing to make himself look equally bad through his introverted demeanor (even though yes, he is playing a character). Comparing this to Da Ali G Show which uses ignorant characters of Borat, Bruno and Ali G, to make others look ridiculous and generally portrayed in a negative light. Yes, in Nathan For You you’re still laughing at the people Nathan Fiedler interacts with but it’s never greatly at their expense.
The focus of the show’s comedy is also more heavily weighted to making everything feel so authentic and allowing that to be the catalyst for the laughter. It does so because Nathan For You examines actual situations that play out with real people being affected and that have genuine consequences as a result. This makes it incredibly entertaining to watch because of the realistic aspect and most of the time you’re in disbelief at how the events are unfolding.
I’ve found that this style of comedy from real life creates something special compared to typical sitcoms which feel more structured and often rely on formulated punchlines. Most of these also use overused tropes to conjure up cheap laughs such as the laugh track. Nathan For You doesn’t lend itself to such as lazy aspect of filmmaking. The show cleverly exemplifies the how it can be funnier by focusing on comedy that comes from within the characters and not just calculated punchlines or cheesy one-liners.
The realistic element also allows Nathan For You the element of the unexpected with many hilarious moments coming from improvised lines. This further strengthens the style of comedy to show wants to highlight by getting hilarious reactions from real people. Once again, I feel that traditional sitcoms in comparison often insert as many jokes per minute and have little to no attention to care of how they’re delivered.
Let me add that I’m not saying that all sitcoms aren’t funny because they all have their moments. How I Met Your Mother and Frasier are examples of shows that I’ve enjoyed but nevertheless I still wasn’t a fan of that annoying laugh track which grew weary over time.
Laugh tracks work because science indicates we’re more prone to laugh when we hear the sound of laughter from others around us. So even do a joke might not have been that funny, more often than not an insert of a laugh track will make it appear funnier than what it really is. Hence my grievance with it.
But back to Nathan For You.
I want to also mention that the show has an astute awareness for the timing of its gags, which is primarily reflected in Nathan himself. Not only does he know how to improvise reactions to situations, he, more importantly, understands when it is time to do so.
One of the best examples of this comes from another favourite episode of mine, in which Nathan steps in to help the chemistry of two actors trying to recreate what should be a powerfully emotional moment.
He almost consistently prompts an actress to say the words “I love you” to the point where he feels it’s genuine and believable for performance. But it’s the time he takes with pauses in between the prompts that really make it hilarious to watch.
I’ve watched the scene a few times and I still have no clue as to how many times Fielder prompts her and how long he holds those pauses in between.
But the best part of all is that it’s only a small part of the broader picture for the whole episode.
Appropriately titled Smoker’s Allowed, the out of the box idea Fielder suggested was to increase the number of customers visiting a small bar by giving them the right to smoke inside. The only way he could legally do so was to convince the law that those that visited were playing a larger part of a real-life theatrical art piece.
Which leads me to the third and probably best aspect of Nathan For You: the originality of concepts.
I’ve given two examples already but as I’ve hinted at before, these are only scratching the surface.
If you weren’t convinced so far, the show also tackles staging a viral video of a pig rescuing goat to simply bring attention to a small petting zoo. There’s also an episode where customers are reassured that the quotes received from a car repair shop are honest and fair, by hooking the mechanic up to a lie detector as they give them their rates.
It’s this style of original and creative thinking that works not only just from the reactions that provide for some great laughs, but also because the ideas aren’t necessarily that far from the truth of being a genuine solution. Yes, there are certain ideas which are intentionally impractical but it’s still entertaining and interesting to see how they play out given they do still work to some degree.
Nathan For You is the ultimate realization of those seemingly stupid concepts, that have enough backing to be plausible but are focused on being entirely innovative and more importantly, hilarious.
Which is why I believe Fielder has mastered the art of laughter, as his brand of humour is a culmination of everything that makes a great comedy. From the unique format of his show to the awareness of how to deliver jokes and the wonderfully creative concepts; Fielder has created the pinnacle of television comedies.
Everything about this show works to not only deliver incredibly original scenarios, but also the most genuinely hilarious reactions and the hardest laughs produced from watching a television comedy.
So, if you’re looking for what’s currently the funniest show to watch, then look no more and enjoy the genius that is, Nathan For You. There are numerous examples and takeaway lessons, for those wanting to view what makes a great comedy. But also gaining the knowledge and more importantly, the appreciation for the art of laughter.
Note – to see the video essay format of these ideas explored with clips from the show, click here.