It’s been nearly two years since a new episode of Nathan For You hit the airwaves. During that time, host Nathan Fielder was almost completely out of the spotlight, popping up only in bit parts on things like Transparent, Comedy Bang! Bang! and Tour de Pharamacy. That whole time he kept his cult audience completely in the dark on the status of Nathan For You – his hysterical Comedy Central business improvement show – but on September 21st he’s finally returning with a special episode where he’ll revisit many of the characters and businesses from the first three seasons of the show. A new season begins the following week, wrapping up with a two-hour finale that’s been shrouded in secrecy.
Rolling Stone recently ran an extensive profile of Nathan Fielder that provides a little peek into the new season, but there was tons of stuff we simply couldn’t cram into the article. Here are 15 things we learned after spending a couple of days with Fielder and chatting with some of the people that know him best.
1. Summit Ice – the winter jacket company he founded in season three to spread awareness of the Holocaust – continues to do big business. “We created a website and within the first three months we had sold almost a half million dollars in jackets,” says Fielder. “It was crazy because we didn’t have the infrastructure to run a business, so I think the customer service is awful. It’s been annoying for people because there’s not a full-time person that does it. It kind of jumps around between different people to manage it. But all the profits go to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Center.”
2. People still love Thin Watermelon, a ridiculous, little video he made during his days as a writer on Important Things with Demetri Martin. “I’ve made four seasons of Nathan For You,” says Fielder. “And people come up to me say that Thin Watermelon is the best thing I’ve ever done. I was working on Demetri Martin’s show and there was like craft services on set and they cut up watermelon, and one slice was paper thin. So I just picked it up and said, ‘Just film me’ I just held it in the wind. But people love that video for some reason.”
3. He had a life epiphany while studying science at the University of British Columbia. “When I first went into university I was like, ‘Well, I need a real job, so I guess I’ll just become a dentist or something,'” he says. “So I studied sciences. I remember the moment I quit. I was studying plant cell biology and I said out loud, ‘I don’t care about this.’ I remember just saying it. It was like if you saw this scene in a movie, you’d be like, ‘That’s so cliché. No one talks out loud to themselves.’ It was very close to final exams, so I met with the dean and pleaded to not fail me on the classes, and just give me an incomplete, so when I transferred universities it wouldn’t be on my record.”
4. Things only got a little better when he transferred to the University of Victoria to study business. “I thought business would be a good general education until I figured out what I wanted to do,” Fielder says. “I got an internship at a brokerage firm, but I started to feel weird about it. The industry is just about making money be being the middle man. You’re not creating anything. I don’t mean any offense to anyone that does that, but it wasn’t for me. It pushes you to just think about life in terms of money. It wasn’t for me.”
5. His work on Important Things With Demetri Martin played a crucial role in his career. Not only did the job move him to Los Angeles from Toronto, but it was there where he first met his Nathan For You co-creator Michael Koman. “Unique among almost anyone I’ve ever worked with, he would just go off on his own and film something on his own,” says Koman. “Then he would bring in a finished piece rather than pitching a script and going through the process of having other people shoot. I don’t know if it was about control or if he just knew exactly what he wanted, so why not just not waste time and do it that way? But I thought it was fantastic.”
6. The General’s Raisins was created while Fielder was out shooting a different skit for Important Things With Demetrti Martin. “We were shooting a Civil War sketch that was really long and time-consuming,” says Koman. “He broke off with a camera and had them shoot something on the side that was as funny as the thing we were doing. It’s really stupid, but it’s him speaking to his platoon about the reasons they are fighting, but he keeps saying ‘raisins’ instead. It’s just a stupid southern accent joke, but really funny.”
7. Not every Nathan For You idea makes it onto the air. A few years ago, they tried one where a Reiki healer charged people extra money to remove negative energy from their bodies and store them in containers. “The piece went from that to us going to a town hall where we had to convince a small town to let us bury the energy,” says Koman. “People just went crazy. We needed someone on our side, so we paid a guy twenty bucks to constantly stand up and say, ‘Hey, we gotta hear these guys out! It sounds like a good deal to me!’ It was like watching a small town turn against each other.” In the end, Fielder felt it just didn’t quite work. “It was unclear how much the healer believed what she was doing,” says Fielder. “It just didn’t quite work and we abandoned it.”
8. The high school improv team he served on with childhood buddy Seth Rogen won their provincial championship and went to Ottawa for the national competition. “All the Ottawa teams spent 40 hours a week rehearsing improv, which was so odd to us,” says Fielder. “We didn’t understand how you could rehearse improv. And it seemed like they had almost things planned out, where they would just slot in the suggestions.” Fielder and Rogen’s team came in third. “We won this big trophy that was bigger than any of the trophies the sports team had won,” he says. “Our gym teacher wouldn’t let us put the trophy in the school trophy case because he didn’t consider theater sports to be a sport. I remember that it was this big thing”
9. Seth Rogen loved Nathan For You from the first time he saw it. “It was instantly one of my favorite things I’d seen in a long time,” Rogen says. “I worked on Da Ali G Show for a while, so I had some experience doing that kind of reality-based comedy. I know how hard it is. I know how much work goes into it and how little of it is useable, how dealing with real people is really hard. Not only was he doing it, he was doing it in a completely new way, which is also really hard.”
10. Rogen’s favorite episode is “Antique Shop.” Not only does it feature a drunk dude from a bar putting on a sumo suit and wreaking havoc in an antique shop, but when Fielder drove the guy home, he confessed to having threesomes with his brother and a woman. “That stands out for me because that, of all the parts of the show, that felt like a moment where Nathan has dropped his shtick in some way and he’s actually just being himself,” says Rogen. “He’s so appalled by what he’s hearing that it’s like he’s unable to maintain his persona and he’s just like, ‘What the fuck?’ I remember seeing that and I was laughing so hard. I was like, ‘I can’t fucking believe I’m seeing this right now.'”
11. His fearlessness reminds Jimmy Kimmel of early David Letterman. “It feels similar to those early Letterman ‘man in the field’ pieces where you felt like nobody was watching,” says Kimmel. “He’s probably too young to have seen any of that stuff, so I’m sure he’s coming up with it on his own. …What he shows is that people are so polite that they will at least humor you if you have a weird idea as long as they believe you think it’s good. It especially works when you come off the way Nathan does, where it does not seem like he’s joking.”
12. The upcoming season wraps up with an epic, two-hour finale. It took some convincing to get that much airtime from Comedy Central. “I have a contract to deliver half-hour episodes,” says Fielder. “So I came to them and said, ‘This wasn’t intended to be this long, but we have this now, what do we do?’ [Comedy Central president] Kent [Alterman] was skeptical it could be two hours. He was like, ‘Let me see it first.’ I did a screening for him and he came out and said, ‘Okay, this has to be two hours.'” Alterman says he has no doubt he made the right call. “It seemed so clear that it just played so well as a self-contained movie,” he says.
13. Marketing Nathan For You in the early days was a challenge for Comedy Central. “It’s a quiet, understated show that is hard to describe,” says Alterman. “That makes it a marketing challenge. The irony is that I feel like the appeal of the show is not niche or narrow. What I have found anecdotally is that when people actually see this show, they flip over it. It’s so accessible and so immediately relatable and funny and inventive and so easy to appreciate. That, to me, is the built-in paradox of the show. It’s challenging to market, yet if people watch it, they flip for it.”
14. The future of the show is very uncertain. “I think I need to feel like there’s a reason to do a fifth season,” says Fielder. “I always want the show to be good and I want it to feel organic. I don’t want it to just feel like we’re delivering content. That’s why were only do a certain amount each season. We want to make sure everything feels necessary. I want it to feel like a complete story.”
15. Comedy Central definitely wants more. “Every season he’s expressed to me a worry that he’s not going to be able to come up with ideas for another season to match what he’s already done,” says Alterman. “Look, if I had my druthers he’d make more than eight episodes a season now, but we’re happy to take what we get.”