With any show as fundamentally different as Nathan For You, the question of “how do they keep things interesting?” always looms large. Even if a show is still brilliant in the technical sense, it can still lose some impact when the audience grows accustomed to its innovations, which begin to feel like tropes. We know what’s going to happen here, right? Nathan is going to “help” a business with terrible (but also genius) ideas, and hilarity ensues. While there’s no denying that Fielder’s offbeat business acumen is still funny, it’s also logical to wonder if this show is still capable of blowing our minds the way it did in 2013.
Or at least it would have been until we got “The Anecdote.” Advertised by Comedy Central with a short video of Fielder hiding in a tree that they claimed was the only footage they could release prior to its airing, this episode was gloriously absurd even by the show’s high standards, once again pushing the limits of just how uncomfortable he’s willing to make people for the sake of a bit. The episode focuses on Nathan’s quest to tell the perfect talk show story, noting that he’s come off as boring on previous late night appearances (note: he’s wrong), and wants to appear more interesting. He comes up with the perfect tale: he’s going to a wedding, he grabs the wrong luggage at the airport, the luggage contains an oversize suit, which is the only thing he can wear to the wedding. Then, he finds a mysterious powder in the suit, and is immediately pulled over by a cop. The cop finds the baggie, calls the original owner of the suit, and it turns out to contain his mother’s ashes. If this story sounds familiar, it’s because he told it in a recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live, which features prominently in this episode. So, yeah, if you heard that story and believed it (which, for the record, I did), Nathan got one over on you.
But of course, for Fielder, having the perfect anecdote isn’t enough; it needs to actually happen, which is where this episode really makes its way to all-time classic territory. He does whatever he can to make this incredibly unlikely series of events happen, including pretending to be from a wedding planning reality show so that he can be “invited” to a wedding “just to see how it looks.” The scene of the couple in question awkwardly figuring out what to do with Fielder’s request is so magnificently cringe-y, and what really tops it off is that somehow, they actually agree to let him come. Maybe the producers talked to them in advance (you can never quite tell what’s real and fake in this show).
The scene of Fielder creepily procuring a wedding invite is fantastic, but it quickly feels like nothing compared to where things head next. He needs a real person’s luggage to mistakenly grab? Okay, we’ve got a guy. There needs to be an oversize suit in said luggage? No problem. He needs to actually find the guy’s mother’s ashes in there? Ah, there’s a problem. The guy’s mom is still alive. He suggests getting some material that looks like it could be someone’s ashes, but Fielder is insistent: it needs to be authentic. He’s in luck, because the guy’s mother willingly gives him some assorted hair and toenail clippings that are literally turned into ashes. Amazingly, she was actually more willing to do this that the couple whose wedding he needed to get into. If anyone can tell me the mom’s name (if they said it during the episode, I missed it), I’d appreciate it, because she has to be crowned as the single greatest sport in Nathan For You history.
With all the material ready, he goes about executing the plan. What’s important here is that while Fielder needs every part of his story to technically happen, he has no problem violating the spirit of the talk show anecdote. Everything is meticulously planned to the point that the producers actually hire a cop to “stop” him at a roadblock the show sets up, and he reads dialogue that Fielder prepared (the muted reaction to his “fashion police” joke is perfect). It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Fielder’s police encounter hadn’t been staged (as he notes in the Kimmel interview, it’s a bit surprising this show hasn’t gotten him arrested yet), but it’s nonetheless captivating to watch Fielder be so meticulous over so many small details.
The Kimmel interview is a success, even though first guest Kirsten Dunst had told a story with similar elements earlier in the show. Fielder notes that audiences just love hearing the same stories from celebrities, they don’t even care if they get to in the same night. Indeed, while the comedic focus on “The Anecdote” goes into the painstaking detail and awkward encounters Fielder goes through, it’s also an adroit satire of the talk show industry. For every truly great talk show guest like Norm MacDonald, there are far more interviews that are just the same cliches over and over again. Fielder noticed this, and took the cliches to their logical breaking point. This episode took on the samey-ness that precedes every episode of Fallon or Corden, and went to surreal lengths to get there. The result was the best episode of the season, and further proof that Nathan Fielder’s absurd genius isn’t just still hilarious; it can still be surprising as well.
-He really does go the wedding, and despite initially hiding in a tree (where the promo came from), he ultimately takes to the floor and dances the night away. Maybe they warmed up to his presence?
-Seriosuly, how many waivers did that guy’s mom need to fill out? I’ll always be blown away that one.
-”We said nothing to each other for the entire flight, which is common for two perfect strangers.”
-Oh, forgot to mention that when the owner of a bridal shop he goes to won’t give him a couple’s phone number, he waits until she leaves the room and takes a picture of the numbers on her computer screen with his phone.