Comedy Central’s business-makeover show “Nathan for You” follows host Nathan Fielder as he tries to help struggling small businesses turn their luck around. The real-life Fielder, a Canadian comedian and business school grad who plays a needier, more awkward version of himself for the series, has created an absurdist parody of a reality TV staple, concocting business ideas that are more about getting laughs than results (in the pilot, he convinced a fro-yo shop to launch a poop-flavored dessert).
But because Fielder interacts with real, unassuming business owners, the series is also an oddly earnest examination of the human condition. When Fielder tried to rebrand a real estate agent as the Ghost Realtor, who would guarantee to potential buyers whether a home was haunted or not, she unexpectedly revealed her own harrowing experiences with ghosts — a genuine moment that came out of a ridiculous idea.
“Some of the best stuff comes from when people bring up something or something happens within shooting that you don’t expect at all,” Fielder says. Ahead of Sept. 28’s Season 4 premiere, Fielder is bringing a “Nathan for You” sneak peek to the Lincoln Theatre, where he’ll show clips from new episodes, answer fan questions and more.
Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW; Sun., 8 p.m., $35.
Season 3 ended in 2015, so it’s been a long wait for Season 4. What have you been up to?
Well, between seasons we’ve been making the new season. I did break my foot at one point, so we kind of had to stop for that, but we did some more stuff this season that changed the format a bit. For example, [on Sept. 21 there’s] a one-hour special called “Nathan for You: A Celebration,” where I revisit past guests and stories from the show. I’m really excited about that because I think it’s very different.
And our finale this year started as something that we thought, ‘Oh, maybe this could be an episode,’ and then it turned into this two-hour story that’s going to be aired all together.
What can fans expect from your live shows?
I don’t like to talk too much about what these shows are, but I have a couple of things planned. I’m going to be showing some stuff from the new season, but what I show kind of depends on the audience. One of the reasons I started to do these things is because when I started out [in comedy], I used to make short films every week and edit them myself and then I would show them for an audience. TV is different because it just goes out there and you don’t get to see how people are responding to it.
So you like getting to see an audience watch the show?
Yeah, it’s nice, too, because I’m really appreciative of the fans. Most of the people find out about the show through a friend of theirs forcing them to watch it. The way we make the show, we also try to make it so people laugh out loud, you know, not just smile and watch, so I think showing stuff live keeps me in check, like, “Oh, this is actually something that makes people laugh versus just pleasant TV,” you know? We want people to feel something when they watch the show.
There are genuinely human moments on the show that make it unlike anything else on TV.
This season, I would bet people will have the most feelings of any season. We definitely go into different territory this year, so I’m curious to know what people think.
Does that mean there is less of you helping businesses?
Well, there is that stuff; we definitely have the more traditional episodes — I would say that’s half the season — but there are things that kind of evolved just from making the show and things that happened.
Switching gears: Some people don’t think President Trump is doing a good job in office. If he came to you for a segment on the show, what would you do to turn his administration around?
I guess it depends what your goal is. He seems to be into ratings, right? So in that way, he’s doing well, right? In that aspect? So it’s hard to know without knowing his goal. If he’s trying to get attention, then yes, he’s doing great. If he’s trying to make the world a better place …
What do you think his goal is?
I honestly don’t know.
Just please don’t make the headline of the article “Nathan Fielder: ‘Trump is doing a good job.’ ”
‘Nathan for You’s’ biggest ideas
Nathan Fielder’s outlandish business strategies often go viral before the episodes air. Here are three of his most infamous schemes, one from each season of “Nathan for You.”
‘Pig rescues baby goat’
Before anyone even knew what “Nathan for You” was, Fielder had already orchestrated one of his biggest viral successes. In 2012, he staged a video of a pig rescuing a baby goat from drowning to help a struggling petting zoo in California and it went viral (to date, it has nearly 10 million YouTube views). When the episode aired during Season 1 in 2013, Fielder showed how he made the video and what happened once it took off.
To help a Los Angeles coffee shop that was losing customers to big chains, Fielder in Season 2 followed parody law to create a version of Starbucks called Dumb Starbucks that looked exactly like a Starbucks, except “Dumb” preceded everything. He opened Dumb Starbucks as a pop-up art gallery and all the coffee was free. People were so drawn to this bizarre stunt (many speculated it was the work of anonymous street artist Banksy) that Fielder had to hold a press conference revealing that he was behind it.
During Season 3, Fielder discovered that his favorite jacket was made by a company, Taiga, that had ties to a Holocaust denier, so he created a nonprofit clothing company, Summit Ice, to raise funds for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. Fielder, who is Jewish, says Summit Ice has done more than $500,000 in sales and was run by interns at one point. “That stemmed out of this real thing that happened behind the scenes,” Fielder says. “As the show goes on, I’m attracted to those more and more because they feel so real in a way and they have these real stakes to them.”