Most people understand the difference between documentaries, which are real, and scripted shows, which are fictional. But when the lines get blurred, like with Comedy Central’s Nathan for You, it's anyone's guess!
Comedian Nathan Fielder’s docu-reality series follows the 34-year-old as he presents (often absurd) marketing proposals to struggling businesses, under the guise of being a consultant and expert. However, sometimes his ideas are so ridiculous that it's hard to believe the employees aren't in on the joke.
To help you better understand this complicated and hilarious show, we’re breaking down how it all works. Scroll down to answer all your burning questions about the series
Is the character of Nathan fake?
The Nathan you see on-screen isn't exactly real — it's actually an exaggerated version of the comedian, which he says is inspired by his actual issues with social anxiety. However, his credentials as a business expert are legit. Prior to show biz, he graduated with a commerce degree from the University of Victoria, and briefly worked at a brokerage firm.
Are the business owners and customers real?
The producers insist that the businesses they "help" are all real. Nathan explains that they screen the owners beforehand, ensuring they don't know it's a comedy show, which would affect their reactions. Instead, employees are often told that they're being filmed for another series (like a dating show) and another network (like MTV). This is all to make sure they're "not in on the joke."
Is any of the show scripted?
Nathan’s character is said to be the only one that's scripted. He and the writing team come up with a general outline, but he says they never can predict what will happen next. “Before we go in, I have a plan of what I'm going to say, and I have a plan for where we wanna go with it,” Nathan tells Splitsider. “But because we're dealing with real businesses and real people, it often goes in an unpredictable direction."
Unpredictable is an understatement — take, for example, the time Nathan worked with realtor Sue Stanford to rebrand her business as an agency that only sells "ghost-free" homes. When they brought in an exorcist to rid one property from an "incubus," Sue started sharing wild ghost stories, including the time a spirit choked her in Switzerland. This is the type of comedy you can't script!
Has it ever caused controversy?
Because the stunts involve real-life people, the show has run into some issues, like when they worked with Cali-based coffee shop, Dumb Starbucks Coffee. The store parodied the coffee giant by putting the word dumb in front of many of the items sold there, including “Dumb Norah Jones Duets” CDs and “Dumb Iced Vanilla Latte” drinks — all distributed for free. Starbucks then announced they were “evaluating next steps” for legal action, but never went through with it.
Do the show’s stunts get covered by the media?
A number of the pranks have been picked up by the press and consumers who were tricked. In the third season, Nathan rebranded a moving company as a workout class called “The Movement.” In the marketing for the company, they released a book that actually made it onto the Amazon best-seller list.
The Movement is one of the fastest selling books on Amazon! Congrats to author Jack Garbarino. pic.twitter.com/UruO2yzjBZ
— nathan fielder (@nathanfielder) October 30, 2015
How long has it been on the air?
The show, created by Nathan and writer Michael Koman, premiered in 2013, and is now on its fourth season. The idea originated from the Canadian satire series, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and the “Nathan On Your Side” segment, in which he played a consumer advocate.
Where else have I seen Nathan?
In addition to his self-titled show, Nathan has acted in movies like The Night Before with Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and TV shows like The League and Transparent. He can next be seen in the James Franco flick, The Disaster Artist.
Tune in to Nathan for You on Thursdays at 10 p.m. EST on Comedy Central!