Catch Nathan for You Thursdays at 10/9c on Comedy Central or anytime on the Comedy Central app.
With his “really good grades” from a top Canadian business school, Comedy Central’s Nathan Fielder could surely have made millions in stock options by now and moved to the Caribbean. Instead, over the past two seasons of Nathan For You, he has used out-of-the-box thinking to help struggling business owners succeed. Nathan is a corporate adviser who does it all, a polymath who is just as proficient at crafting viral videos as he is at directing TV commercials. He doesn’t always get the credit he deserves, largely because his beneficiaries don’t always have the courage to follow through on his ideas, but there’s no denying that the man is an entrepreneurial mastermind. Season three premieres tonight and airs Thursdays at 10/9c on Comedy Central and the Comedy Central APP, but first here’s a look back at his ten best marketing stunts.
10. Ghost Realtor
Nathan excels at helping business owners distinguish themselves in a crowded marketplace. Take, for instance, Sue Stanford, who was just one of thousands of Los Angeles realtors until Nathan transformed her into a Ghost Realtor who could guarantee that “[her] homes are 100% ghost and demon free.” Unfortunately for Sue, a medium Nathan hired found an evil incubus, or a “a ghost that will have sex with someone until they die,” in one of her homes. Fortunately it was nothing that a quick exorcism couldn’t fix. Nathan helped Sue set herself apart and he even got his hemorrhoid demon exorcised in the process, too.
9. Liquor Store
Anyone in marketing will tell you that you have to understand youth in order to drive sales. Nathan’s plan to help Nabil “Bill” Khalil, owner of Bouquet Plaza Liquor, proved that the host truly has his finger on the pulse of the rising generation. Nathan skirted the law prohibiting the sale of alcohol to minors by having Khalil sell them claim tickets instead so that the underage customers could retrieve their purchases when they turn 21. Nathan sweetened the deal by allowing the kids to pose with liquor bottles for pictures that they could show off to their friends. If you want proof that Nathan is hip to the trends of his day, look no further than the “cool basement” he used as a backdrop for these photos, complete with “Rock Music” and “Sports” posters.
8. Funeral Home
Nathan isn’t just a brilliant businessman, he’s a talented musician and a poignant lyricist, too, as he demonstrated during his marketing stunt for Boyd Funeral Home. Nathan proposed that owner Candy Boyd hire actors to make it appear as if deceased people had more friends in life than they actually did. As proof of concept, he did a test run for Boyd and hired mourners who sang a touching hymn during their performance that Nathan, of course, composed himself: “Death is so sad / Death is so sad / Death is so sad but it happens.” Never has there been a truer statement, nor a more non-denominational one. Beneath Nathan’s business savvy lies an uncommon and, indeed, poetic insight into mortality.
7. Hot Dog Stand
The taboo against line cutting is what separates men from animals, and what keeps businesses from spiraling into chaos. Most mortals would be afraid to tinker with this cornerstone of the social contract, but not Nathan Fielder. For Pink’s Hot Dogs in Los Angeles, Nathan devised a plan to allow line cutting “if you’re in a hurry” and, more precisely, for five specific reasons ranging from having a doctor’s appointment to being an air traffic controller who is late for work. That plan required an enforcer, and who better than Nathan to track down a man who fabricated his excuse, take that man out to sea under false pretenses, and teach him how to be a “good, cool guy” instead of a “liar.”
6. Toy Company
Nathan’s schemes might seem complicated but, at their core, there is usually a simple truth carried out to its logical extension. In this case: Toddlers don’t want to be seen as babies, ergo you can sell them a bouncy ball if they believe it will help them seem mature. Marky Sparky Toys, manufacturer of the Doinkit, was one of Nathan’s least cooperative businesses, which is a shame because his plan to sell their toy through peer pressure was one of his most effective yet. Nathan’s shocking commercial for the Doinkit, in which a cigarette-smoking spokesperson informs children between flashes of crying diaper-wearers that owning the toy is “now the only proof that you are not a baby,” could have made the toy a hit if it had ever been permitted to air.
5. Petting Zoo
The best viral videos happen spontaneously as a function of coincidence and timing. But in his advertisement for Oak Glen Petting Zoo, Nathan willed one into existence with the right ingredients. In this case: a cute pig rescuing a baby goat with the help of some scuba divers, animal handlers, and an invisible PVC track. The video was a massive success, dominating the Internet and making the morning talk show rounds the next day. It now has over 9,000,000 views. Nathan didn’t put the name of the petting zoo in the video description because it would be too “transparent” but he did leave the owner with a sign that says, “Home of Vince The Hero Pig As Seen on the Internet.”
4. Pet Store
As a great poet once said, death is so sad, but it happens. It also happens even more quickly to our pets than it does to us. This pragmatic understanding of animal lifespans helped Nathan come up with the idea to use a gigantic gravestone in a pet cemetery as an advertisement for the Burbank pet store Pet Mania. People often buy new pets immediately after an old pet dies, so why not cut to the chase, he reasoned. It might seem like a ruthless marketing strategy but Nathan injected it with his characteristic warmth, caring for a pet fly until it died and then using its tombstone to pay tribute to its “favorite store.”
3. Souvenir Shop
Nathan’s plan to help Hollywood souvenir shop L.A. Fame was simple, really. All he had to do was create a fake blockbuster movie set outside the store, hire two Johnny Depp impersonators, persuade tourists to patronize the store in exchange for a promised bit part in the film, write a script that uses the customer footage, film an actual movie using that script to avoid fraud charges, inaugurate a film festival, show that movie at the film festival, and have it win an award to prove its legitimacy. That’s all.
2. Gas Station
Rebates are already designed to be annoying. But until Nathan innovated the concept of the rebate for Sevan Gas owner Daniel, no rebate had ever required anyone to climb to the top of a mountain and solve a series of riddles. Shockingly, several of them decided to hike the mountain with the host and three people decided to stay overnight with him in tents. The diehards never got the rebate but they did tell Nathan all about divorce, drinking urine, and being investigated for arson in heartfelt conversations by the campfire. You can’t put a price on friendship like that.
1. Dumb Starbucks
Dumb Starbucks was Nathan’s most elaborate stunt and by far his greatest success. What started as a stunt to help Helio Cafe gain notoriety by parodying the popular coffee chain Starbucks became the host’s first independent venture. When Helio owner Elias Zacklin loses faith in Nathan’s idea to use a parody law loophole to open a mock Starbucks in which every menu item has the word “dumb” in front of it, Nathan presses on, establishing himself as a parody artist through a local art show and hiring two staffers to run his store performance art project.
But what Nathan went to such great care to build was quickly shut down by the Los Angeles Department of Health Services after Dumb Starbucks became an overnight media sensation. Nathan’s stunt was so well-conceived, in fact, that some fans speculated that Banksy was behind it and started selling Dumb Starbucks cups on eBay for as much as $500. But this effort also brought out the devil in Nathan, distracting him from his mission to help others with the lure of fame and fortune. In the end, the entrepreneur saw the error in his ways and sent fans Helio’s way. From the looks of it, Nathan has learned his lesson and returned to helping the little guy in season three.