Few rituals are more disorienting and dreamlike than tuning into Nathan For You on a weekly basis. The show has showcased a comedian fearlessly tightroping in the skin of another man, hatching a sleeper cell to take down Uber or attempting to reconnect a Bill Gates impersonator with his lost love. As a viewer, it’s a dizzying experience. Now imagine being one of the show’s participants.
Most every episode features star and diabolical genius Nathan Fielder concocting elaborate plans to help struggling businesses. Many of Nathan’s schemes involve him recruiting outside talent made up of ostensibly real, showbiz-thirsty people—whether it’s to run a literal fake news outlet or to be the spokesman for a new workout plan.
In recent episode “Shipping Logistics Company,” Fielder tasked himself with helping a small logistics company, which was saddled with exorbitant tariffs for shipping smoke detectors internationally. The plan: prove that smoke detectors are musical instruments by recording a hit song that uses a smoke detector. So he posted auditions for a standard rock setup, which eventually settled on being called The Banzai Predicament. The layers of deception and absurdity quickly piled up, culminating in the band’s one and only single—the vaguely environmentalist “Orphaned Skies”—being used in a fake Shell commercial. Of course, Fielder orchestrated everything, and steered these events into a ridiculous protest that made the local news.
We reached out to all five members of The Banzai Predicament to get a sense of what it’s like to film a Nathan episode. Although one bandmate declined to comment due to legal concerns, two were willing to open up. We talked to Edi Roque, the guitarist/smoke detectorist who’s since posted instructional videos on how to master the grating instrument, and Darius Love, the bassist. They had slightly different reads on what transpired, but their accounts offer a glimpse into the bonkers and top-secret world of Nathan For You.
The A.V. Club: How did you first find out about the auditions for The Banzai Predicament?
Darius Love (bass): I got an email about an audition for a bass player for a project, and I had no idea what it was about. I met this chick down in Hollywood, and she started recording the interview, just asking me some questions. And then she said, “Okay, well, thank you, if the producers like you, then they’ll call you in.” I was like, “What is this about?” It was all hush hush. Then they called me in, and piece by piece we filmed and put the thing together, which they kept everything under wraps. You never knew what you were doing day from day.
Edi Roque (guitar/smoke detector): Well, they found me actually. People don’t understand about the show; they think that everything is like a big joke, and it’s a prank and people don’t know what’s going on. For some people, yeah, that’s right; there are a few people that tell you what they’re expecting, and of course you’re not acting like a professional, but you know what’s going on. That band thing was just part of the show; it was not the whole thing. A lot of people don’t know about that. They think they found guys on the street; he brought us to play. But everybody on that show—they were real musicians.
AVC: So you were kind of briefed on what was going to be happening beforehand?
ER: In some way, yes. They try to sell you a lot of things. They say this will be a super band for an MTV show or stuff like that, but you start to see what’s going on. They have to give you some guidance, because people can be aggressive. Like the drummer was having a hard time understanding what was going on. And the main smoke detector thing was so annoying. To me, I was playing it, and I knew what it was about. The band didn’t know, but the singer knew a lot of stuff that nobody knew.
AVC: What do you think he knew?
ER: Nathan is a very smart guy; there’s some [things] I cannot tell you because I’m still under the NDA thing. But the singer didn’t even write the song. It was part of the show. It’s a kind of perception thing, like he was reading the lyrics, he was singing some stuff wrong, he had no idea about what the song was about. So there’s a lot of stuff that when you’re spontaneous, you’re telling the truth, you know it’s clear. And when you’re not, like the band’s name, everything came from Nathan. But they play in a way, like they feed everybody a little piece so we can feel like we’re working for real.
AVC: Why did you think the song and band name came from Nathan?
ER: Because they asked us to write on a piece of paper some names and everybody did, but they gave the paper to the singer. So I was very curious about the whole environment, I was watching everything. So I knew it was not his idea. And when he said that he had a song, same thing. I saw Nathan giving him the piece of paper. And he was reading the lyrics and singing wrong, so like how can you write a song if you don’t know how to sing it, you don’t know the lyrics and stuff like that you know? It’s pretty obvious when you’re in that moment and you see the things happen.
AVC: It sounds like not everyone in the band had a handle on what was going to be happening ahead of time, so when certain scenes were being filmed, were you briefed on how you should react to certain things?
ER: No, not about your reaction. But they expect you to do something, and they try to play that game in a way that they know what will be your reaction. So the first time he told me to switch to the [smoke detector], I said “Yes, of course,” because I knew it. But then we have to come back and say, “No, you need to be a little concerned and you should not accept right away and switch, because we need that tension.” But it was part of the show, a lot of things were spontaneous, a lot of things weren’t. So it does not matter if you knew stuff up front or not—what is spontaneous, what is not, it’s still funny.
[Note: According to a source close to Comedy Central, Jani wrote “Orphaned Skies” prior to his involvement with Nathan For You, though some lyrics were altered to meet broadcast standards. They also state that Edi was not informed he’d be playing the smoke detector before filming.—ed.]
AVC: Were you familiar with Nathan For You or Nathan Fielder at all before you signed up for the show?
DL: It was a surprise. I had not heard anything.
ER: No, that’s the funny thing. I never heard about this guy.
AVC: What was it like being around Nathan on set? How did he act around you?
DL: It was funny because you never knew what to expect from time to time. If you’ve seen the part where he was singing and telling us this song he wanted to write, it was quite comical, because we’re looking at each other like, “What the hell?”
ER: You never know when they’re recording and when they’re not. That’s the way this show is. So it’s not easy to say when he’s acting and when he’s not. Because you don’t know when he’s making that joke, and when he’s just, you know, something’s off. Because we don’t talk outside the studio and different places, it didn’t happen. So to me, it was 100 percent acting.
AVC: What did you think when Nathan first brought up that he wanted Edi to play smoke detector?
DL: I thought, “This will never work.” We had to figure out what key that thing was in so we could put the song around it. I know I felt this would never work. A smoke detector, I don’t know what we’re trying to do, but I’ll just do it.
AVC: Did you think things started to seem off once you saw the Shell commercial?
DL: We actually believed that Shell stole our song. We just put this thing together, and he had the convincing video that they were at the meeting, and that the song was stolen so we actually believed that. And we were trying to figure out a way, what could we do, because that had occurred. I said, “Well, if they stole from us, let’s steal from them.” And we came up with the plan, “Well they stole gas, let’s just give gas away.” I guess it was already headed that way, but we didn’t know it; we were kind of prodded like cattle. We just arrived to that situation. That’s a great idea, we should give gas away. Just so happened we had a tanker of gas [Laughs.] So the next thing you know, the next day, we loaded up on that tanker, and we went down to Sunset and we sang that song and gave away free gas. And Shell, the gas station we pulled up in front of, they had no idea we were coming, so I think that part was pretty real.
ER: I knew it was not true because the song was not released. Nobody could have that song. The band didn’t hear the song, so there’s no way for two days after you record you say, “Oh, there’s this campaign, they stole your music, they’re using for this stuff.” So I knew it, but again, I don’t know if everybody from the band, they knew.
AVC: How did the performance go down in front of Shell? Was there initially any pushback from the gas station?
DL: Sure, they called the police. Police pulled up, we kept singing our song, and they said, “Well, they’re not doing anything illegal, giving away free gas. They’re not parked on your property.” The cars were lined up in a circle, but we weren’t on the property so it was nothing they could really do.
We were out there for quite some time. You saw the big yellow sign that said “free gas,” and we were right off the freeway, so cars were lining up.
ER: After one or two hours, we had to perform that song like 30 times. So after the KTLA and that stuff and a lot of cars trying to get free gas, the police arrived. But you don’t know if it’s part of the show or if it was a reaction because nobody knew what was going on. But I’m pretty sure that everything was planned. Because we were there just playing and doing what we were supposed to do, so we didn’t have to stop or move. There weren’t any problems like, “Oh you have to stop right now or leave right now.” It was like a day at the beach.
And I had a few shots playing drums and the drummer playing smoke detector. They were not so happy about that. But you start to get bored, like, “I think that’s enough.”
AVC: Based on what you filmed, what did you think the finished product was going to look like?
ER: To be honest, I was not expecting this thing to be released. Because we did this a year ago. I had no idea if it would be about the band, because it was clear after the last day that for anything we will make about a show for a band, there’s stuff that was missing. So I don’t know if the initial idea was about a band and they changed because they were missing some stuff and they built the episode around this thing, or they had the idea before and the band was just part of the thing. This I will never know. But I had no expectations about what this would turn to be or anything like that. I was just trying to have fun, and it’s good that a lot of people are giving me this feedback and they’re liking this stuff. They understand that we’re real musicians just having fun and making this joke and a lot of people are getting to my music because of this thing. So it’s good.
AVC: Any possibility of a Banzai follow-up?
DL: Yes, we have thought about that. We’re all real musicians, and so we’re all doing projects and keeping up with each other. I’ve even worked with some of the others offstage, Chris Thigpen the drummer. And Edi, he’s an awesome guitar player. Worked with him on some other things outside this. I spoke with [lead singer/guitarist] Jani [Jaako] just last week, maybe we’ll get together and do something, and we’re all in hopes that we can.