Canadian comedian (say that out loud, it’s fun) Nathan Fielder may be best known to the general public for his “Dumb Starbucks” prank to promote his show Nathan for You, but to his fans he’s one of the most under-appreciated comedians working today. At the start of Monday’s Reddit AMA, Fielder told fans, “We don’t only have to chat about the show though, we can chat about whatever. Because I’m super chill and easy going.” But even with all that “we don’t have to do what my publicist says” leeway, many fans actually did want to talk about the show — to learn how Fielder keeps a straight face when dealing with ridiculous characters, to understand what types of strangers are willing to participate in such a mysterious show, and mostly, how “real” certain scenes and episodes are. Read on for the highlights from Fielder’s AMA, Nathan for You-related and otherwise (unfortunately, he wouldn’t reveal which starter Pokémon he’d pick).
1. Nathan for You has taught him “that everyone in the world, including myself, is totally nuts.”
2. His onscreen persona might seem dry and unflinching, but it’s harder for him to keep a straight face than it may seem:
It might be surprising but keeping a straight face in many of the situations we get into on the show is quite difficult for me. I began to realize that I’ll sometimes do this thing where I act like I’m picking a piece of food out of my back teeth to cover the fact that I’m smiling. Then if I can’t get it together within a few seconds, I might ask for some dental floss or something because I’ve clearly been picking at this tooth for 20 seconds or so.
Some moments that stand out off the top of my head would be the Gas Station episode where the owner told me that he drinks his grandson’s urine to ward off fear. I often laugh when I feel uncomfortable too, so I remember having to turn my head away a couple times during the realtor segment when she was getting the exorcism. There are many more, but I can’t recall them right now.
3. About that “drinking his grandson’s urine” thing… there’s a fine line between respecting different cultures and knowing if someone is crazy, and Fielder has to walk it:
At first I thought he was kidding, and it took me asking a lot of questions before I realized he was for real. As crazy as it was though, I still felt the need to be respectful of this practice if it came from a culture or tradition I didn’t understand. Weird, conflicting emotions inside of me.
4. He keeps his comedian identity secret from the business owners he’s shooting with by being vague about the premise of the “reality show”:
In general, there seems to be an understanding that when participating in a reality show you’re not going to get full information about what will happen so that authentic moments can be captured on camera. The people that appear comfortable with this are usually the ones we end up involving in the show – those that seem open to an experience or adventure that’s different from their day-to-day life. Often in the casting process we’ll encounter business owners that have lots of specific questions about the show and exactly what we’re planning to do with them. Because going into a shoot we don’t want participants knowing any of that or that it’s a comedy show (as this would take away from them acting naturally), we usually end up avoiding these more controlling/protective personality types as the chances they’re going to get very upset by an experience they aren’t prepared for is much higher. And the goal is never to get people upset.
5. Surprisingly, people don’t usually realize exactly what the show is, even midway through a ridiculous shoot:
We’ve definitely had business owners that start to realize that the show isn’t as straightforward as they first thought it would be (this probably happens with most of them), but we’ve only had it happen once where someone mid-way through shooting realized exactly what the show was. For that segment, we ended up having to re-shoot it with another business since it was difficult to continue after that.
6. He can find beauty even in insults — such as when, in Nathan for You‘s first episode, a private detective called Fielder “the wizard of loneliness”: “As mean as that was,” Fielder wrote, “I thought that was incredibly poetic for a guy like him. Very unexpected. But I guess there are many sides to all of us.”
7. UK satirist Chris Morris had a big influence on Fielder:
I’m a big fan of Chris Morris. When I first began doing comedy a friend of mine introduced me to Brass Eye and I was blown away. It was so dense and visual. The pedophilia episode with the guy dressed as a school… oh man. So hilarious. He’s definitely been an influence on the stuff I do. Among many others.
8. Nathan for You was inspired by a segment Fielder did for a Canadian series called This Hour Has 22 Minutes, where he would “interact with real people in an interview setting.”
9. His Nathan for You persona isn’t quite his real one, but “it all comes from a real place”:
I definitely play up certain parts of my personality and exaggerate vulnerabilities I have for the sake of comedy. I feel like the Nathan on the show has a much tougher time reading social cues and is way less self aware than the real me. He’s also much more confident. So yeah, it’s different, but at the same time it’s not like in my real life I’m strollin’ around scorin’ babes. It all comes from a real place. A lot of the time I feel like I’m emulating a younger version of myself.
10. His university allowed students to negotiate their grades:
True fact: The business program I went to actually let you negotiate grades. Like it was part of the curriculum. They said “In the real world everything is a negotiation..” or something like that. So if you could prove that you deserved a higher grade because you did something “entrepreneurial” in the real world, they’d give it to you. I would say things like, “I changed the tire on my bike instead of bringing it to a bike shop, which shows self initiative – a trait that’s very important to running a business.” And they’d bump me up one letter grade. Nuts.
11. Business owners catching on to the show’s premise would be a big problem, but what about random customers who might recognize Fielder and his work? “Fortunately, fans of the show are usually very kind and they don’t want to disrupt anything,” Fielder said. “So when it did happen, they usually just said hi and left.”
12. But what will happen if the show gets bigger, and Fielder becomes even more recognizable? How will they film then? “There’s always China.”
13. “It’s sometimes fun to set the thing up and then take a step back” if a business owner has his or her own idea, or wants to push things further than Fielder does. “I like a variety of responses and reactions,” he wrote.
14. If you were a fan of the teen salesman Kyle from “Catching a Vandal,” Fielder has even more entertaining stories about him:
We have a lot of footage of that teen telling me his tricks about how to make money. He was very confident and was big into living the American Dream. At the time, he sold bubble gun (squirt guns that shoot bubbles) for a living. He sold them door to door. He told me that he’ll put the gun in someone’s hand and let them try it for a moment, then he quickly takes it back which he said creates a “fear of loss” and makes them want the bubble gun really bad – to the point where people beg him for it. He said on a good day he’d sell $200 worth.
15. Fielder and his team actually had to cut a scene from “The Hunk” because it felt too much like a crazy moment from The Bachelor:
It was very surreal how seriously competitive the women were getting. Actually, a fight broke out (verbal, not physical) between two of the women over how much time they were getting with me. We ended up cutting it from the episode because it felt a bit too much like a moment you’d actually see in The Bachelor, but it was a very crazy moment and a very surreal night.
16. He used to write for Canadian Idol, which was “very fun”:
I got paid to travel across Canada and stay in fancy hotels and all I had to do was come up with lines for the host like “The temperature may be ice cold here in Winnipeg, but things are really heating up in the judging room.”