Nathan For You pulls a lot of its weird, beautiful energy from its unscripted nature, with Nathan Fielder drawing unsuspecting business owners further and further into his web of bizarre ideas. According to show co-creator Michael Koman, however, Fielder’s documentary exploits were originally only going to be part of the show, with the show’s initial concept also featuring scripted sketch material.
Basically, it was this with some written pieces. My feeling is that even if we had made that, we would have looked at it and cut out the portion that wasn’t documentary because I can’t imagine it would have been as strong. But I think at the time, we just felt like, “Well, you’re gonna want jokes.” Once we made the pilot, then we realized, you’ve just gotta make sure there’s enough funny moments that feel like jokes to keep it moving. You don’t have to actually write real jokes. I mean, they are real jokes; it’s just not a sketch. We thought, ‘Well, it’s Comedy Central, maybe they’ll want that.’ But [Comedy Central exec] Kent [Alterman] was very happy when we pitched a version that was just purely documentary. I think they were more excited about trying that.
In an interview with Splitsider, Koman goes on to talk about the balance of empathy and straight-facedness required to film the show, and the constant discussions about whether a particular idea is too cruel to subject a civilian to. He also floats a few ideas that were too expensive for the show’s first and second season, with hints that the future might send Fielder on a trip to Asia.
There’s also some discussion of Koman’s history writing for Conan O’Brien—who, you’ll be shocked to learn, is both funny and nice—and the future (or lack thereof) of Adult Swim’s Eagleheart, which Koman co-created.
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