'Nathan For You' shows the need to check the legitimacy of celebrities' stories
November 29, 2017
Nathan Fielder, host of Comedy Central’s reality show, "Nathan For You", is no stranger to the needlessly elaborate. For three seasons, he’s used his aptitude for the unconventional to help struggling small businesses overcome hurdles, usually through over-the-top marketing stunts.
Throughout his televised adventures, nothing has proven too daunting for Fielder, be it convincing a clothing retailer to encourage shoplifting or getting a local electronics store to lower the cost of their TVs to one dollar each. Only one setting has challenged his absurdly unexpressive demeanor: late-night talk show appearances.
In September, shortly before season four premiered, Fielder appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Known for his awkward, unpolished conversational skills, he surprised the crowd with an epic, nine-minute story about an out-of-town wedding, a luggage mix-up at the airport and a run-in with the police at the worst possible moment.
It was an uncharacteristically articulate showing for Fielder. It seemed like his life off-screen had finally become exciting. However, in season four’s best episode, "Nathan For You" changed its formula, revealing the truth behind the story. Titled, “The Anecdote,” the episode shows the lengths it took to orchestrate each event.
After studying hours of popular late-night appearances, Fielder discovered several recurring themes that helped him construct the perfect anecdote for Kimmel. Traveling for a wedding, he would grab the wrong bag at the airport, forcing him to wear a stranger’s oversized suit to the ceremony. Right after finding a bag containing a chalky substance in the pocket, he would be pulled over by the police. When asked what it was, he would contact the owner only to find out that the bag contained his mother’s ashes.
Such a story would incorporate many of the recurring elements: a funny visual, a run in with the police and, best of all, a twist ending. However, “I didn’t want to become the next Brian Williams,” Fielder confides. He simply could not tell the story if it didn’t happen. The solution was simple: It would only require a few Craigslist ads to find willing participants, a wedding to travel to and a police officer in on the plan. That and $350,000 of the show’s budget. It certainly beats appearing on live TV without a conversation topic.
The first step was to find a wedding to attend. Fielder wasn’t exactly drowning in invitations. Under the guise of a soon-to-be groom requiring special accommodations, he received permission to scope out an engaged couple’s venue on their wedding day for research. Close enough. He then used Craigslist to find someone willing to lend him an oversized suit and their mother’s ashes. The best candidate’s mother was still alive, but being a good sport, she was more than willing to part with an assortment of hair and toenail clippings that were turned into ashes. They belonged to her. The producers even hired a real cop to pull him over and ask about the bag. Fielder followed through with every aspect of the scripted story. Everything technically happened.
Fielder’s appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live was a glowing success in every sense. The crowd was hanging on every word. His anecdote fit the late-night script perfectly. Best of all, nobody questioned its legitimacy. However, in many ways, Fielder’s story broke the rules. None of the events arose as part of his everyday life. In reality, there was nothing surprising about the contents of the bag in his pocket. For the story to work, viewers had to take Fielder at his word. He knew that wouldn’t be a problem. This episode of "Nathan For You" pointed out the disingenuous nature of our favorite celebrities’ public lives and the positive reinforcement they receive for it.
Should we be more skeptical of what we hear from celebrities? More importantly, should we demand more from late-night talk show guests? If you’re asking Nathan Fielder, the answer to both questions is yes.
Bennett Ryynanen is a student at UW-River Falls.