A coffee store named “Dumb Starbucks Coffee” opened in Los Angeles last Friday, and it is indeed just like a Starbucks shop with added dumbness. The parody store’s menu mirrors that of the real Starbucks, right down to the choice of typeface, except that the word “dumb” has been placed before every item. Also, Dumb Starbucks gives away coffee for free, which is at least foolish if not dumb.
As word of Dumb Starbucks spread through various cellphone tweets and web instant-grams, people looked at the pictures and laughed. But this mere enjoyment of comedy was not enough for the insatiable members of the Internet-connected public. They demanded not just to laugh but also to know why they were laughing. Is Dumb Starbucks a publicity stunt, performance art, or the transgressive act of a crafty businessperson?
If online sleuths are correct—and when have they ever been wrong?—the answer could be “all of the above.” The Associated Press has been looking into L’affaire Starbucks Stupide, and that reportorial effort has turned up filming permits for the Dumb Starbucks location that were filed three weeks ago on behalf of Abso Lutely Productions—Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s production company. So the store now looks to be some sort of Tim & Eric prank.
Among the choice programs on Abso Lutely’s slate is a reality series called Nathan For You in which Nathan Fielder “helps” struggling small businesses by giving them terrible ideas. In one episode of the show’s first season, Fielder had the proprietor of a frozen-yogurt store unveil a new shit-flavored variety, and in another, he made business boom at a gas station by lowering prices with an impossible-to-obtain rebate. With that kind of precedent in mind, a Hacker News commenter was among the first to float the theory that this store is another inspired Nathan For You setup.
The theory fits. Dumb Starbucks has all the characteristics of a Nathan For You stunt. Like many other ingenious Fielder schemes, Dumb Starbucks pushes at the boundaries of the law—the renegade store contends that because everything on the premises is technically making fun of Starbucks, the First Amendment’s protection of parody makes the enterprise legitimate. (Starbucks’ lawyers, who don’t buy this creative legal reasoning, are “evaluating next steps.”) Fielder also has a talent for exploiting the tendencies of both traditional and new media, so if this is indeed part of an upcoming Nathan For You segment, the organic tweet-splosion that surrounded Dumb Starbucks was likely part of the plan.
The store’s official Twitter feed has promised an announcement later today in which the store’s proprietors could shed more light on Dumb Starbucks’ origins. But the definitive answer to humanity’s most pressing mystery may not come until later this year when Nathan For You’s second season airs on Comedy Central.
[UPDATE: Yep, it’s Nathan For You. Video below.]
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