Last week I noted how a large part of Nathan For You’s humor comes from how thoroughly Fielder is able to wield control of the awkward situations he finds himself in while trying to convince everyday business owners that his outlandish schemes are in fact legitimate ideas. When Fielder is interacting with people on the show, he is playing a character, but he’s also the only one aware that he’s playing a character, giving him a huge advantage as far as his ability make things as hilarious as possible. It’d be like if Stephen Colbert only interviewed people who thought he was being 100% genuine. It’d be infinitely more funny if Colbert knew this and could toy with his subjects accordingly. This is essentially what Fielder does on Nathan For You. He’s the only one in on the joke.
Fielder lost some of this power in the “Ghost Realtor” sketch last week when he brought in some eccentric ghost-related professionals from YouTube whose own ridiculousness surpassed that of Fielder’s scheme. There was no tension between the pathetically enthusiastic Fielder and the timid business owner because the business owner (the realtor) and the other characters Fielder brought in were more enthusiastic about his idea than even he was. Fielder was playing a character, as always, but to the ghost people this character wasn’t a source of awkwardness, it was enabling them to be their own crazy selves.
The opposite is true for the season’s second episode, “Souvenir Shop/E.L.A.I.F.F,” which was essentially a single scheme that revolved around Fielder trying to bring an L.A. souvenir shop business by pretending to shoot a movie on the sidewalk and enlisting “extras” to come in and buy merchandise. It’s one of Fielder’s most ludicrous and impractical business ideas yet, but the shop owner is such a pushover that it doesn’t matter. One of the best moments of every Nathan For You episode comes after Fielder has met the business owner and finally gets down to detailing the specifics of his scheme, which plays out in animation as Fielder talks. After he’s done, we always come back to a shot of the business owner’s reaction after hearing the terrible idea for the first time, and it’s always. They never know how to react, blindsided by how stupid the idea is and stunned by the cameras and Fielder’s excited, approval-seeking face staring at them expectantly. It’s comedy gold. In this case the shop owner squirms before pathetically trying to convince himself it’s a viable idea.
So not only does Fielder have the store’s clueless owner fooled, he’s also going to be dealing with a throng of celebrity-hungry Hollywood tourists, maybe the most gullible, impressionable type of people in existence. This is a movie set, though, and to up the ante Fielder hires a Johnny Depp impersonator as the film’s star. “Once we gave them a tiny peek at Johnny, they were putty in my hands,” says Fielder. “It was time to sell some souvenirs.”
But the more ridiculous the idea the more holes that idea is going to have; a totally complicit business owner and clientele can only take a scheme so far. The main problem in ushering in tourists and getting them to buy kitschy “Hollywood” crap is that they might not actually want said kitschy “Hollywood” crap. Everything seems to be going fine when the “actors” were only buying magnets, but when Nathan gets greedy and tricks them into buying $80+ hauls of merchandise, a few customers object.
The solution? Arrange a meet-and-greet with “Johnny Depp” himself so that he can sign all of the memorabilia, rendering it un-returnable. This is even crazier than the first scheme, but it’s hard to blame the impressionable tourists for playing along. It really does look like a legitimate movie shoot, and “Johnny’s” trailer really does look like the type of set trailer the real Johnny Depp would be relaxing in. Comedy Central’s money goes a long way in building the illusion for this and all of Nathan For You’s segments.
...But we’re not out of the woods yet. It turns out there’s a small problem with the trick-people-into-buying-merchandise idea: it’s illegal. Fielder brings in his go-to lawyer from the first season, who notes that the souvenir store scheme is fraud and, essentially, theft.
One of the funniest aspects of Nathan For You is that despite his clean-cut appearance, shyness and ostensible innocence, Fielder is totally amoral and will do absolutely anything to bring in customers. He’s left with two options after he learns what he’s done is illegal: give the money back or actually make a movie to prove that he wasn’t lying to the tourists. So what does he do? You guessed it. There’s no way he’s giving up all those novelty Oscars statuette sales.
After putting together a “film” called “The Web” (which, of course, required Fielder to cast an actress he could have an awkward on-screen kiss with), Fielder’s lawyer says it needs to be accepted by the film community and maybe win an award to be hold any water in court, so Fielder, naturally, creates his own film festival. It’s one more way to patch up a hole in a boat that’s doomed to sink, but “give up” isn’t in Fielder’s vocabulary. He couldn’t live with himself if he let down the owner of the souvenir shop.
Thusly, the East Los Angeles International Film Festival is born. Any film festival needs an esteemed judge, so Fielder finds the second unit script supervisor from Bonnie & Clyde on IMDb to be the sole panel member, only to learn later that he was actually not credited on Bonnie & Clyde (...but he was on The Wild Bunch). The only other entry in the festival is a YouTube video of a man farting on command for 90 seconds, so “The Web” is a shoe-in. After the legendary script supervisor casts his vote, Fielder makes him hand him an award. Problem solved.
But sadly, once again, Fielder was rejected socially at the end of the episode. He meets up with the actress he hired to kiss on screen to tell her about the “award,” only to ask her if she felt any spark between them. She didn’t and, of course, she’s the one to blame, not Fielder. “I felt sorry for Jesse,” he says as the episode is closing. “To share a kiss with another human being a feel nothing is a horrible way to live.”
In love and in business, as long as Fielder can rationalize a way to sleep at night, all is well.