Nathan Fielder on cult-comedy grails, making new TV shows...
+ the Safdie Brothers & selling magic tricks to Canadian ravers. A BBSP WORLD EXCLUSIVE
Nathan For You: it’s the 3rd greatest TV show ever, just below Seinfeld and just above a tie between Neo Yokio: Pink Christmas and the 1986 BBC postmodern musical mystery The Singing Detective.
For 4 seasons, comedian Nathan Fielder — winner of the inaugural Blackbird Spyplane “King of Laughter” award — played a gently sociopathic business-consultant version of himself, pitching real companies on deranged / ingenious schemes. (The New York Times Magazine published a classic profile of him by a truly masterful writer in 2014 — link below).
The most important thing about Nathan For You, as far as BBSP is concerned?? It was an unparalleled rare-merch generator. Here at Spyplane HQ two of our DOPEST PERSONAL TREASURES are an apron from the “Dumb Starbucks” coffee shop that Nathan opened in L.A. for season 2, below left, and a copy of The Movement: How I Got this Body by Never Going to the Gym in My Life, which is an insane fitness book that Nathan helped a guy named Jack Garbarino publish for season 3…
Along the way Nathan also created a Holocaust-awareness-themed outdoor-apparel brand called Summit Ice — higher-concept Canadian GORP than Arc’teryx Veilance — which notable ppl such as Jack Black, John Mayer (who wisely follows us on Instagram) and Ellie Kemper all looked tremendous wearing:
The other day we called Nathan to see what’s been popping with him lately. He was in a remote edit for the new HBO series How To With John Wilson, which he’s an executive producer on, and which will debut October 23. We’ve seen the first 3 episodes and can verify that this s**t is bizarre, profound, and very funny.
Nathan also recently sold a pilot to Showtime with Uncut Gems directors / personal BBSP heroes Josh and Benny Safdie for a series called The Curse, so we wanted to ask him about that… And most of all, since Blackbird Spyplane is the No. 1 newsletter for “unbeatable recon” on dope under-the-radar joints, we wanted him to tell us about a unique personal possession he cherishes.
Nathan lives in L.A., but he asked his parents in Vancouver to dig thru boxes from his teen years for some vintage Fielder treasures. He zeroed in on the “D’LITE,” a magic trick by New Jersey illusionist Rocco Silano…
Blackbird Spyplane: What’s D’LITE & why’d you pick it?
Nathan Fielder: “I’m actually not super precious or nostalgic about objects, but I used to do magic from when I was 13 to when I was 20, so there’s a ton of magic stuff I’ve collected.
“The D’LITE is this trick that makes it look like there’s a glowing light at your fingertips, and you can pass it from hand to hand or put it in one ear and out the other. In high school I worked at a magic shop at the mall and this was our number-one seller — but I don’t think we ever sold one to a magician. Raves got really big at the time, and we just sold a ton to ravers.
“I guess being in that environment and being able to put a ball of light in your mouth probably looked really cool to people on drugs.”
Blackbird Spyplane: How did the ravers hear about it?
Nathan: “This magic store was weird. It was kind of like Spencer’s Gifts except half was magic, and my job was to demonstrate tricks for people. I think some ravers came in to buy, like, glow-sticks one day and saw me using these.
“As time went on they’d come in and teach me dance moves, like how to make your arms and hands move like liquid, or the energy ball, where it looks like you’re moving around a ball of energy. I’m not great, but I can still do those.”
Blackbird Spyplane: It’s cool that yr parents held on to all this stuff…
Nathan: “A weird thing is that in one of the photos my mom sent me, she lined up all these VHS tapes of my old magic videos, and I noticed that one of the tapes is a Jenna Jameson porn.
“I’m not sure if my mom saw it. Clearly I must have hid that with my magic stuff but I don’t know if she noticed it, because magic videos have such a weird aesthetic. So I’m in this weird position now where if she reads this interview I’ll have to address it.”
Blackbird Spyplane: How come you stopped doing magic?
Nathan: “It was a humiliating hobby. The reason I started had to do with it being an ‘in’ to talk to people, but once you get into your twenties and everyone’s asking you, ‘Oh show us a trick,’ when you don’t want to… I remember a magician saying, ‘If you want to be a magician you have to be ready to do a trick whenever,’ and I didn’t want to live a life like that.
“Now when I’m talking to people and they find out I’m a comedian, they don’t ask me to tell them a joke, they just think I’m mentally ill, like, ‘This is the most boring guy I’ve ever met, and he thinks he’s a comedian. I just feel pity for him…’”
Blackbird Spyplane: Let’s talk about the artifacts that came out of Nathan For You. Someone was on eBay in May selling a Dumb Starbucks paper cup for $499 (currently discounted to $99), and while certain ppl might call this seller nuts, others know that u gotta smash the BUY IT NOW on a grail when you see one. Did you hold on to some mementos from the show?
Nathan: “Yeah, I definitely have a small stack of those paper cups, and some aprons and hats, because Dumb Starbucks was an unexpected phenomenon and it’s fun to hold on to reminders. But the episodes themselves work as reminders, too. I think I have more of an attachment to things like that than any object.”
Blackbird Spyplane: You recently sold a TV pilot with the Safdie Brothers. How did that come about?
Nathan: “A few years ago I was watching their movies Heaven Knows What and Good Time, and I texted my friend Adam Locke-Norton about them. Adam and I made a short film that had gotten into the 2005 LA Short Film Festival, and he told me, ‘We met these guys and hung out with them at that festival!’
“He sent me a photo I didn’t remember of us with Josh from 2005, and then the very next week I was at an A24 party and Josh came up to me and said, ‘Nice to meet you, we’re fans of the show,’ and I said, ‘I’m gonna blow your mind: I have a photo of us from 15 years ago.’ So I started texting with him and Benny, and one day Benny and I were hanging out and we kind of had a joke that turned into a bit that turned into a real thing. I can’t say much more about it right now.”
Blackbird Spyplane: In the meantime you’re about to help put out a new HBO show, “How To With John Wilson”… U kindly sent me the first 3 episodes and I loved them. It’s very hard to categorize…
Fielder: “Yeah, it’s a show by this guy John who comes out of the experimental-documentary world. His voice is really unique — few things make me laugh when I’m alone watching something, and his stuff does. It’s equal parts funny and sad, not so much joke-heavy as a tone I really enjoy.
“Our show has this How To format, but underneath that, it’s about being comfortable with how confusing modern life is. I’m excited to see what people think.”
- Nathan’s on Twitter and Instagram
- Nathan For You is streamable at Comedy Central and Hulu
- The Summit Ice webstore is here
- You can watch some of John Wilson’s pre-HBO stuff here
- The NYT Magazine profile of Nathan mentioned up top is here.