RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Let's hear now about a new reality show featuring a mild-mannered Canadian who gives outlandish advice to companies looking to up their game. It's called "Nathan for You," and as NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, it's become an unlikely hit for Comedy Central.
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MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: On a sunny winter day in North Hollywood, Nathan Fielding is directing his latest quirky marketing ploy, this one for a new housecleaning service. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The comedian's last name is incorrect throughout this piece. It is Fielder, not Fielding.]
NATHAN FIELDER: You know, one maid takes four hours to clean a house; and two maids takes two hours, half the time. So, like, we're seeing if 40 maids can clean a house in six minutes.
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DEL BARCO: On cue, a busload of unsuspecting housekeepers arrive to clean a two-bedroom house. You'll have to tune in this coming season to find out what happens next. The premise of Fielding's show, "Nathan for You," is to give what he calls out-of-the-box business advice.
FIELDER: It's very easy to take a really absurd thing that would normally be a joke but when it's framed as marketing, people are kind of like, oh, yeah. I guess that would get attention.
DEL BARCO: In one episode, Fielding staged an elaborate PR scheme for a small petting zoo.
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FIELDER: What they needed was a star animal. The plan: to create a hero pig by staging a viral video in which he rescues a baby goat from drowning.
DEL BARCO: The outlandish mission involved a team of animal handlers in scuba gear, guiding the pig to the goat; video of which got posted on YouTube, and ended up on national TV news. In another harebrained plan - to promote an independent gas station - Fielding devised a way to offer customers cheap gasoline.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Is it really $1.75?
FIELDER: (As character) After rebate.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What type of rebate?
FIELDER: It's not mail-in rebate. You have to take it personally.
DEL BARCO: To get the discount, customers had to hike up a mountain and camp out overnight.
The deadpan, 29-year-old comedian has managed to get a lot of people to play along with his ridiculous ideas, such as getting a shop to sell poo-flavored yogurt.
FIELDER: We're dealing with real business owners that aren't idiots. I mean, they're intelligent people. And it's not like they necessarily think these things are good ideas, but they're thinking: Is this worth doing to like, be on TV? And then we try to push the limits, I think, of what they are comfortable with doing.
DEL BARCO: What makes Fielding so persuasive is his monotone voice and unassuming looks. He comes across as an earnest, pale, skinny whiz kid, clearly uncomfortable in front of the camera. Here's how he describes his comedy style.
FIELDER: Like, really cool, yeah, and like, on trend. Like, really - like, hip and really high energy and loud. Just so you know, too, my lips are really chapped. I'm not wearing lipstick, in case you were wondering.
DEL BARCO: This kind of deadpan self-consciousness is key to the Vancouver native's humor. He says he's somewhat qualified to dish out marketing advice, having studied business at the University of Victoria. As a standup comedian, he landed a stint on Canada's answer to "The Daily Show," as a pseudo-consumer advocate.
Comedy Central offered Fielding his own show. He admits some of his cockamamie ideas do make the network's humorless legal team a bit nervous. But he says the show's best reactions are unpredictable.
FIELDER: The type of thing that one person would get mad at, another person would laugh at, is a good - kind of zone to be in.
DEL BARCO: "Nathan for You" starts back on Comedy Central in the spring.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
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