Nathan For You: Irony & Intelligent Comedy

What makes good humor? Adam
Sandler getting hit between the legs by a baseball? Will Ferrell farting for
extended periods of time? This slapstick humor can prompt a smile or even a
genuine laugh in the right context, but for me, deadpan irony is the epitome of
comedy. Irony occurs when expectations do not meet results, and though it may
not sound amusing by definition, it creates the sharpest comedy in practice.

Now in its second season, the
television show Nathan for You interweaves comedic
irony in every scene, making it one of the funniest series of all time. The
premise is ironic in and of itself as the plot description sounds unimaginably
dull. Filmed like a documentary, the show follows young consultant Nathan
Fielder in his quest to help the small-business owner. Snore, right? Think
again.

Having graduated from “one of
Canada’s top business schools with really good grades,” (cue the a picture
of his transcript full of B’s), Nathan travels around America as a consultant,
armed with a camera crew and a dry sense of humor. Focusing on different small
businesses every episode, Nathan gives unorthodox, yet effective advice to
innocent owners. His kooky ideas are often met with surprised laughter, yet
Nathan’s expressionless face gives the impression he is dead serious about
putting them into motion, and he is.

It takes a certain type of person
to remain completely serious in hilarious situations with unsuspecting
people, à la Jackass, yet Nathan Fielder has mastered the art
of apathy. The documentary style of the show enhances the comedy as Nathan and
his brilliant film crew are able to capture real reactions and bizarre
conversations. I watch in awe as he remains stone-faced in cringingly awkward
situations with uncomfortable storeowners. The camera holding a second too long
on his face to increase the tension, the uneasy silence palpable. It is his
unrelentingly bold nature that creates such real humor.    

I first became hooked when I was
introduced to season two, episode two: “Souvenir Shop,” in which
Nathan and his show approach a failing Hollywood souvenir shop with a plan for
success, no matter the financial or social cost.

His plan: pretend to film a movie
to first attract, and then con, tourists into buying products. The storeowner:
dubious yet agreeable. As the plan rolls into motion, a crowd forms outside the
souvenir shop. Although the line alone would probably have been enough to
attract customers, Nathan takes the project a step further (as always).
Randomly selecting unsuspecting tourists, Nathan hands out fake scripts, in
which the role requires purchasing an item from the store. The ‘actors’ enter
the scene with a fake ‘Johnny Depp,’ buy the product, and then, following the
script, leave the store and walk down the street.

I’ll leave the rest up for you to
watch, but I will allude to a potential lawsuit, fake film festival and a still
unflinchingly-calm Nathan. Nathan for You is high quality
comedy at its best, replete with sidesplitting irony. Nathan is aware that his
ideas are ridiculous, that his B+ average doesn’t qualify as ‘really good
grades,’ and that the small-business owners are often extremely upset with his
wild results. But his constant indifference to the awkward and bizarre leaves
me with a stomach sore from laughing.

If you take away anything from
this article, don’t think that Nathan for You is a
business documentary following an apathetic consultant. Lacking any interest in
business myself, this was not the appeal. The appeal for me was the subtle wit,
which made these 30-minute episodes fly by far too quickly. They feel genuine,
they portray real people and they prompt real laughter.

Of course, if you want to just
stick with the joke-wait-laugh-track shows, go right ahead. Or if farting and
burping hold a special place in your heart, there is undoubtedly a great
supply. But I ask you to try this smart wit of comedic timing with an edge of
irony, and I promise that you will end the episode with a smile on your face.
And you never know, Claremont, maybe you’ll learn some business tips along the
way.

But don’t believe me, just watch!

Sawyer Henshaw SC ’17 is a
media studies major. Believe it or not, the film columnist wasn’t allowed to
watch R-rated movies until she was 17 years old. 

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