As the third season of Nathan For You comes to an end, “Nathan Fielder,” as played by creator and star Nathan Fielder, has crystallized into one of most brilliant and singular comic creations in years. He, like the show itself, is also hard to explain to a non-fan: “He’s really awkward and deadpan, and he’s lovable even though he’s kind of a jerk to people.” “Like the Bazinga guy from The Big Bang Theory?” Nothing succinct can really convey the character’s bizarre yet somehow airtight logic, or his and his show’s unique, humanistic blend of cynicism and earnestness.
True Nath-heads, though, understand exactly what makes Nathan For You and its title character so great. Alongside the bizarre logic and awkwardness stands his craven capitalism, his desperate grasping for love and validation, and his total disinterest in social conventions. The real Fielder once explained to Tom Scharpling on an episode of The Best Show how another, otherwise totally dissimilar, Canadian import had been a major influence on him: Tom Green had a knack for offending or discomfiting someone but then seizing on some tiny perceived breach of etiquette that person had made in expressing their discomfort. He could then change the situation to be about that other person’s failings. This is something Nathan Fielder and “Nathan Fielder” are both experts at doing, and it sums up what makes the show and character great, in its own miss-the-forest-for-the-trees-and-get-away-with-it way.
A good 70 percent of that premise existed years before Nathan For You ever aired, in Fielder’s segments for This Hour Has 22 Minutes, the long-running Canadian satirical news show. Lucky for Nath-heads, the show still has a trove of Fielder segments from 2008 and 2009 sitting on YouTube, and has helpfully compiled them into a single playlist.
The conceit isn’t dissimilar from Nathan For You. Here, Fielder is ostensibly an investigative reporter addressing consumer complaints or questions, but just as he would later do on Comedy Central, he has no qualms about veering from that premise for a segment. Even the name is close: “Nathan On Your Side.” What’s really striking, though, are the seeds for what the “Nathan Fielder” would become. This isn’t the case for every single segment, some of which just take a silly premise and execute it well, like Nathan treating adults like infants when asking if they’re excited for Christmas; or accidentally going to Washington state to cover the first Obama inauguration; or (the Tom Green influence is real) thinking random passersby in L.A. are actually the celebrities they only barely resemble.
But a lot of the time, the Nathan Fielder of “Nathan On Your Side” is at least a close relative of Nathan For You’s Nathan Fielder. His penchant for acting as an either naive or vaguely antagonistic straight man to weirdos is there when he talks to this pet psychic:
And when he visits a club populated by people who enjoy forcing themselves to laugh maniacally:
His convoluted approach to fix a problem using methods both logical and absurd appears when he tries to understand what it’s like to be tall by strapping a camcorder to his head:
His willingness to take advantage of people’s natural politeness and then throw them under the bus shows up in his refusal to take the bait in a roleplaying situation that he himself proposed to an mp3 player salesman:
And in this segment where he keeps pressing a nervously “ho ho ho”-ing mall Santa with questions about penis extension devices:
Or when he forces a Lebanese-Canadian pizzeria owner in Nova Scotia to pretend he and Nathan are in his “native” Italy after the show couldn’t afford to send Nathan to Europe:
Nathan’s self-sabotaging desperation to be liked and even loved shows up when he interviewed the president of the CBC (home of This Hour Has 22 Minutes), just to ask him obsessively about his favorite Fielder piece:
And in these two segments, in which he tries to pick up the experts on love and romance that he’s interviewing:
There are many more, plus a few Fielder segments that didn’t fall under the “Nathan On Your Side” banner, at the source.