Revisiting Nathan for You’s Best and Worst Business Ideas

Nathan Fielder.
Photo: Comedy Central

Nathan for You, Canadian comedian Nathan Fielder’s bygone quasi-reality show–cum–absurdist comedy on Comedy Central, was truly a one-of-a-kind television program. A dark, malevolent take on entrepreneurial fixer-upper shows such as Bar Rescue and Kitchen Nightmares, Nathan for You featured Fielder giving advice to real-life business owners — specifically, advice so wrongheaded (and, at times, questionably legal) that you wonder why the business owners in question agree to go along with his off-kilter plans. The answer, of course, is easy: Appearing on TV is in itself its own free press.

With the recent news that Nathan for You is officially over, we’ve ranked all of Nathan’s business ideas, from the most disastrous down to the least. (You’ll notice the word successful isn’t used in that sentence — although Nathan frequently pretends his ideas are hits with business owners and their clientele, his rate of failure and relative obliviousness concerning it is part of the show’s conceit.) One note: We stuck strictly to his business ideas for this list, so more abstract segments featured in the show — the “Claw of Shame,” the dating-show parody The Hunk, and a few others — have been left out for coherence. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth checking out, though — and if you’ve never watched this underappreciated show, now’s a good as time as any to binge it all.

53. Nail Salon: Certainly a contender for one of Nathan for You’s least comedically successful segments, Nathan’s attempt to offer a nail salon valet-parking service to avoid the danger of chipped nails turns into a referendum on the age-old stereotype that Asians are bad at driving — concluding with an ugly caricature performed by Nathan himself that crosses the already ultrathin line the show walks between comedy and cruelty.

52. L.A. Fame: This particular gambit — driving business to a Los Angeles souvenir shop by tricking potential customers into playing the role of “paying customers” in a movie that doesn’t actually exist — involved several levels of graft on Nathan’s part, including selling fake Johnny Depp autographs from Depp impersonator (and Tim & Eric regular) Ronnie Rodriguez. In other words, he risked committing the very real crime of fraud, and barely escaped charges by finishing the movie and creating a film festival for it to screen at (and win an award from), thus giving the film “legitimacy.”

51. Andy OC Taxi Cab Company: Nathan’s plan to gin up free press for this struggling cab company by giving free rides to pregnant women — thus increasing the chance of a headline-making birth taking place in the back of a cab — backfires about as gigantically as you can expect a plan to have a pregnant woman give birth in a car to backfire. Worse than the plan itself, though, is the titular company owner’s attempt to hard sell an expectant couple on going along with the plan — which doesn’t go over well at all with the couple. Nathan gives the owner enough rope to hang himself, granted, but after seeing Andy’s sense of self-possession in trying to make this scheme a reality, it’s inarguable that he’s the victim of his own greed.

50. Marky Sparky Toys: There are some business owners that Nathan just flat-out rubs the wrong way, and Marky Sparky Toys owner Mark Rappaport is certainly one of them. Nathan’s idea to sell the unpopular Marky Sparky product Doink-It by essentially bullying children and calling them “babies” is met with resistance by Rappaport from the beginning — and by the segment’s end, Rappaport is outright hostile to Nathan. (Once you see Nathan’s “parting gift” to Rappaport, the latter’s frustration makes sense.) Notable for the return of James Bailey, the former criminal turned mall Santa from season one.

49. James Bailey, Mall Santa: Mall Santa James Bailey is one of Nathan for You’s most curious, notorious cases — a jolly part-time St. Nick who also happens to have a criminal record and an extensive gun collection. So the plan to sell discounted kids-with-Santa photos in the summer quickly goes awry when the Southbay Pavilion Mall finds out about Bailey’s criminal past and cancels the promotion. Nathan and Bailey go along with it anyway, though, and the results — including a potentially violent encounter with mall security — have to be seen to be believed.

48. Valley’s Pizza Land: Promising pizza-delivery customers an “eight-minute delivery guarantee” (otherwise you get a free pizza) seems like a great idea to drum up some extra business. But when Valley’s Pizza Land customers are confronted with the gimmick’s “catch” — the “free pizza” is, in fact, an inch-wide pie — their reactions range from incredulousness to downright rage.

47. Speers TV: What would you do to get a deep-discounted TV? Would you crawl through a small door and face off with an alligator? These are just a few of the questions posed by Nathan in his business plan for Speers TV, which represents a larger attempt to combat Best Buy’s mom-and-pop-store-flattening price-matching policy. The bit turns out to be more than a little convoluted, but the ensuing class-action lawsuit against Best Buy that follows is much funnier.

46. Park Place Stables: Nathan’s attempt to create an elaborate system allowing plus-sized people to participate in the act of horseback riding — balloons and all — comes across as just plain mean-spirited, in addition to being a driftless segment. The confrontational stinger of an interview between Nathan and Park Place Stables owner Joy Lazarus redeems the gambit slightly, if only through heightening the cringe factor Nathan for You has become known for.

45. Cyberguy: All this computer-repair shop wants is your trust — specifically, for you to trust that they’re not going to snoop through your PC for nudes and stuff while they fix it. But is a promise enough? Nathan’s idea to staff the store with asexual repair specialists is humorous, but a little thinly stretched when it comes to comedic material (or confident execution, for that matter).

44. Bugs A to Z: Nathan’s plan for landing this extermination company a lucrative hotel deal — specifically, staging a series of distractions so as not to make hotel guests think the place they’re staying at has an infestation — doesn’t work at all. He does get the hotel manager to sign a contract with the extermination company, though — but it’s under extremely false pretenses, and even the cleverest of editing can’t disguise how angry the hotel manager is after being tricked.

43. Niky’s Sports: Nathan’s attempt to assist a struggling sports store in recruiting junior talent for future sponsorships isn’t as memorable as this segment’s introduction of “Age Progression Specialist” Cornelius Ladd, whose methods of photographic age progression aren’t exactly … foolproof. Ladd returns to work his magic (or lack thereof) in “Finding Frances” as well.

42. Madam Dora: Generic marketing is the plight of this struggling psychic — and Nathan has the answer: target people named “Maria Garcia,” a common name in the Los Angeles white pages. Cute — and that’s about it, although we do get an always memorable cameo from Nathan’s employee Solomon, who has some extremely specific requests when it comes to dating.

41. A Cure for Lateness: Nathan concocts a supposedly foolproof plan for lateness that involves two bikers offering motorists stuck in traffic a ride to work — one giving the ride on bike, the other taking the motorist’s place in traffic and safely getting their car to where they’re going. There’s a reason this practical interstitial wasn’t given as much airtime as most of Nathan’s other conceits: It simply doesn’t deliver on a comedic or practical level, even as it ends with another failed entreaty on Nathan’s part to seek some human company.

40. Swan Day Spa: A little Business 101 courtesy of our favorite business-school graduate (with really good grades): Nathan takes on the concept of “upselling” to help this spa by offering a low-rate massage given by a masseuse with viral warts. Kind of funny as a concept — and “kind of funny” defines this segment as a whole, right down to when Nathan gets into fake-charity territory.

39. Andy vs. Uber: Everyone’s favorite scheming cab company owner returns for an episode-long gag in which Nathan unveils a stealth campaign to intimidate Uber out of business. One of a few gambits where the idea is funnier than the execution — but watching cab passengers freak out while being forced to listen to “Mambo No. 5” is very funny nonetheless.

38. Joe K’s Deli Restaurant: Nathan’s elaborate, typically overcomplicated gambit to gain a local diner fame through having a Michael Richards impersonator leave a huge tip is moderately successful and about as entertaining. Some points for a brief montage of Kramer impressions, because there’s little funnier than people trying very hard to do their best at bad impressions.

37. L.A. Burger: How do you back up the claim that you have “the best burger in L.A.”? What about offering $100 if the customer thinks otherwise? After L.A. Burger owner Gustavo Muñoz initially gets nervous about putting his own money behind Nathan’s potentially costly idea, Nathan puts his own money behind the gambit instead — and Nathan, accordingly, pays through the nose to the tune of $6,000.

36. Pink’s Hot Dogs: At first, it seems that Nathan’s plan for this popular L.A. hot-dog stop — allowing customers to cut the line to the register if they’re “in a hurry” — is destined to be a disaster. But it all works out initially — that is, before Nathan goes to extreme seafaring measures to catch a Pink’s customer lying about their line-cutting excuse. After suggesting the plan to Pink’s owners, they cut ties with Nathan and escort him off the premises, forcing him to act alone — technically more a failure than a success, then.

35. Simon Sees: The return of Simon, season one’s breast-obsessed security guard, provides for one of the series’ most cringeworthy segments as Nathan attempts to develop a reality-TV show, Simon Sees, focusing on Simon’s perversions and how they affect his ability to do his job. The show pitch is obviously turned down by a reality-TV exec — but Simon’s own post-rejection persistence suggests that Nathan for You fans may not have seen the last of him.

34. Whittier Village Cinemas: Suggesting a mandatory policy that movie-theater patrons can’t share their concessions with friends is one thing; installing a high-grade night-vision camera system in the theater in question (and putting offenders’ pictures on a bulletin board that equates them with public masturbators) is another. Suffice to say, the general manager of this movie theater was not pleased when he understood Nathan’s outlandish pitch.

33. Veronique Events: The owner of this party-planning service admits that Nathan’s plan to have party invitations for undesired guests land in their spam in-boxes, thereby guaranteeing they never seeing the invitation but technically receive it, is a “very great trick.” (Very confusing, too.) Unfortunately, Nathan’s lack of friends — a running concern of his throughout Nathan for You — means his “test party” doesn’t quite go as planned, and not even the business owner (and the party’s only guest) is entertained by professional Bill Gates impersonator “William,” one of Nathan for You’s most ridiculously hilarious recurring characters.

32. Pet Mania: Advertising a pet store on gravestones in a pet cemetery is pretty dark stuff, even for Nathan for You. And even though Nathan pulled it off, with a comically oversize gravestone for his dead pet fly, Buzz, Pet Mania’s owner seemed cautiously ambivalent about the venture at best.

31. Hardwear Clothing: This business plan — to allow attractive people to shoplift from a clothing store to spread word of mouth — only comes together after Nathan forces one of the attractive shoplifters, under threat of arrest, to encourage a friend to purchase something from Hardware, too. Most notable for introducing breast-obsessed security guard Simon, who returns in more cringeworthy fashion in season two.

30. Best Buy Class-Action Lawsuit: The class-action lawsuit that Nathan attempts to file against Best Buy following the Speers TV price-matching gambit never materializes for a variety of reasons — including the self-incriminating faux-testimony provided by the people Nathan enlisted for the initial gambit in the first place. As the third-season opener, both this premise and the larger Speers TV plan represent a point in Nathan for You where many of his plans involve an eventual self-destruction of said plan, which has varying results throughout seasons three and four — but the blind date–cum–investigation Nathan engages in with a Best Buy employee (not to mention their dancing lesson!) is pure comic gold nonetheless.

29. Sue Stanford, Real-Estate Agent: The fact that Stanford was forced to tell a potential homeowner that a house up for sale was possessed by an incubus that “rapes women” probably wasn’t good for business — but was it as traumatizing as her admission to Nathan that she was choked by a ghost in Switzerland? Only she knows for sure.

28. Magnolia and Willow: There’s something a little tragic about both parties on the receiving end of Nathan’s plan to boost sales at an antique store open 24 hours a day and a “You break it, you buy it” policy: The owner of Magnolia and Willow witnesses her goods utterly destroyed by the drunken, sumo-suit-clad buffoon that Nathan ushers into the store, and said buffoon is out hundreds of dollars because of Nathan’s scheming. The real-life twist to the end of this segment, though, is hilariously grotesque and has to be seen to be believed.

27. Bouquet Plaza Liquor: A logically and legally sound, if terrifically convoluted, business plan: Allow minors to purchase liquor, but don’t let them take the liquor home with them until they turn 21. But the minors weren’t happy, nor was the Little League baseball official whom Nathan tried to bribe into sponsoring the store — or the liquor-store owner, for that matter, who wasn’t pleased with Nathan’s (admittedly pretty mean) prank involving a male stripper dressed as a policeman.

26. Boyd Funeral Home: Hiring actors to stand in as “friends” for the relatively friendless deceased who have their services at this funeral home isn’t quite a success or failure (“I need a little more time to think about it, but … more yes than no,” the extremely polite funeral-home head Candy Boyd tells Nathan). Unsurprisingly, the Nathan-penned original song that the actors sing during the mock funeral, “Death Happens,” didn’t exactly sway her toward the affirmative.

25. Travelure By Rose: Sometimes, a bit is just a bit too cruel for Nathan’s liking — which is exactly what happens when Nathan tries to help travel agent Rose Ilandrian increase business by selling funeral plans to her aging customers. After giving it the good old college try, Rose throws in the towel, and a usually persistent Nathan backs away while praising her goodness. Sometimes you have to let something just be.

24. Reign of Terror: Nathan attempts to gin up notoriety for this haunted house by creating an experience so scary that customers could potentially sue owner Bruce Stanton. It doesn’t quite go as planned. Although the couple faced with potentially contracting a disease “a step below AIDS” from a haunted-house worker are certainly terrified, they aren’t litigious — and Stanton ends up bemused, if not exactly angry, at the whole enterprise.

23. Independent Cab: Nathan’s plan to give customers of this taxi service the option to have a conversation with their cab driver is pretty sharp — not wanting to have a conversation with a cab driver is a pretty small scale, if still nagging, concern — but things quickly go haywire when a customer chooses the option to speak with cab driver Ruban about specific topics (such as, say, the types of whales that are native to California). Ruban pulls it off at the end and tells a few fibs in the process (it’s hard to believe that he actually fought and killed a great white shark), but the overall execution isn’t quite a success, if not quite a failure either.

22. Byrnes Logistics: What, exactly, is a “blues smoke detector”? You’ll have to witness this episode-long ploy to skirt shipping tariffs, which involves a fake band, a fake Shell spokesperson, a very real protest against Big Oil, and a very frustrated Byrnes Logistics employee. This one gets real convoluted, but not so much that it prevents you from busting a gut at the ridiculousness of it all.

21. Wolfe Investigations: How does one measure success? Nathan’s plan to give Über-cranky private investigator Brian Wolfe his first five-star Yelp review doesn’t quite pan out — after Nathan hires Wolfe to investigate himself, he cheekily gives Wolfe a four-star review for being “too talkative.” But Wolfe prevailed: His appearance on Nathan for You led to him getting his own reality show, Cry Wolfe. Good for him!

20. Fun: Is Nathan fun? Nathan attempts to answer this question through finding a new friend (read: complete stranger), taking him to try on some hats, racing some go-karts, and collecting said new friend’s urine. That’s how we all typically make new friends, right? Right?

19. Yogurt Haven: Poop-flavored frozen yogurt? The first business plan featured in Nathan for You, conceived to drive notoriety (and profits) to this fro-yo shop, is probably one of the least extreme plans conceived for the show, all things considered. It’s not unthinkable that a yogurt shop would sell something so revolting, if only to get attention — and even though the plan doesn’t bring “hundreds of thousands” of customers into the shop, as Nathan initially promises Yogurt Haven’s general manager, he ends up bringing some curious fro-yo fanatics to the store nonetheless.

18. Elizabeth Albert: So much of Nathan Fielder’s humor centers around his ability (and inability) to relate to other people — so there’s an inherent comedy in him crafting a “Man Zone” for this boutique women’s clothing store, as well as his attempts to get fellow men jazzed up about hanging in a windowless room cluttered with arcane sports memorabilia. Who doesn’t want to kick back with a brew and watch some royalty-free football?

17. Billy’s Deli: Allowing potential customers to use the bathroom of this restaurant without actually purchasing anything — and aggressively advertising the restaurant’s food while the customers use the bathroom — is not actually a terrible idea, and it ends up attracting a few new customers to Billy’s. Nathan’s request to have restaurant owner Gloria include him in her will, however, does not go over as well.

16. Lie-N-Den Bar and Grill: A secret suit engineered to illegally sell chili at a hockey game: What could go wrong? This Nathan for You gambit is structurally brilliant, and worth witnessing in action if only to see a group of surprised hockey-watching children’s faces as Nathan dispenses chili seemingly out of thin air.

15. Dating DNA: Blind dates — especially those set up through online-dating services — can be treacherous territory. So Nathan’s “Daddy’s Watching” idea, in which he shadows dates set up on this online-dating service to make sure the woman isn’t in danger, is a smart, if questionably sustainable, business plan. Still, it goes off without any notable hitches, though it remains to be seen how potential Dating DNA users feel about Nathan’s unorthodox methods of collecting fingerprints.

14. Helio Coffee and Espresso Bar: You probably saw this one in the news: A distant cousin to Nathan for You’s legendary petting-zoo viral-video gambit, Nathan’s attempt to boost a struggling coffee shop’s profits of “parody law” by flipping the store into a “Dumb Starbucks” bypassed the owner’s skepticism (and a nearly violent altercation with a lawyer) into big-time viral fame — again. It didn’t help the coffee shop much, but it was great publicity — and really, isn’t publicity important to any business?

13. G&Y Auto Repair: Hooking up auto-shop guy Greg Boodaghian to a polygraph while giving his customers quotes on car repairs actually worked out pretty well for all parties — all despite the persistent distraction of Nathan’s dispute with the polygraph operators over whether he’s ever “pleasured himself” to pornography.

12. Los Feliz Car Wash: Car wash owner Amir Lankarani is certainly enthusiastic — maybe a little too enthusiastic — about Nathan’s plan to place chickens in nearby trees to poop on passing cars, thereby driving business (pun intended) to the car wash. And it worked (kind of), with Nathan winning Los Feliz Car Wash’s Employee of the Month award.

11. Greg Dolan, Caricature Artist: Nathan encouraging this caricature artist to venture into the realm of insult comedy actually pays off pretty well for the artist in question, as he largely satisfies customers with profane portraits. Nathan for You has always provided some unexpected insights into its subjects’ moral character, and the curious racial prejudices revealed in encouraging Dolan to get nasty with his caricatures are so wrongheaded that his comfort in revealing them to a television audience becomes part of the joke itself (albeit unintentionally).

10. Pomona Hilltop Suites Hotel: Nathan for You is often at its best when finding participants who are willing to go along with ideas so terrible and questionably humane that they skirt the very nature of legality. In this segment, he finds a near-perfect foil in fame-hungry parents Marie and Jurgen, who offer up their aspiring-actor child Bradley to test a “sex box” as part of Nathan’s Pomona Hilltop Suites Hotel. It’s both not as bad and even worse than it sounds — trust us.

9. The Help Maid Service: Can 40 cleaning-service workers clean a house in under six minutes? Well, not quite — but they did get the job done sufficiently for homeowner Jim, so the business plan was technically a success. (As for finding Jim a new girlfriend: Better luck next time, perhaps.)

8. Sevan Gas: What begins as a convoluted rebate scheme for this gas station turns into an overnight camping trip and bonding experience, as well as one of the most shocking (and surprisingly heartwarming) episodes of television in recent memory. Stick around for the episode’s conclusion, too, when Sevan Gas owner Daniel Ashikian reveals an extremely gross homeopathic remedy that will have you crying with laughter.

7. Oak Glen Petting Zoo: Perhaps the most mesmerizingly successful scheme ever featured on Nathan for You, in which Nathan stages a viral video of a pig rescuing a baby goat from drowning at this struggling petting zoo. The video’s extremely complicated making-of is almost as astounding as the real-life success of the video itself. In keeping with the show’s mean-spirited conceit, Nathan makes sure the petting zoo never receives initial credit for the video — but still, watching the show’s explanation of how the video takes off is so bewildering, it might just give you chills.

6. Smokers Allowed: Brilliant, on almost every level: In an attempt to skirt indoor smoking laws, Nathan stages a re-creation of a typical day at a local bar to an audience of exactly two people. This alone is one of the finest scenes the show has ever aired.

5. The Movement: Nathan’s plan to give a struggling moving company free labor by turning the act of moving into an exercise fad gets away from him — naturally. Similar to Summit Ice, the resulting tome written to espouse faux-spokesperson Jack Garbarino’s “The Movement” is a real-deal thing you can actually buy right now, and it’s all thanks to ghostwriter Austin Bowers (who makes a similarly memorable appearance in Nathan for You’s final season).

4. The Anecdote: A bit stagy, this one, even by Nathan’s standards: Our intrepid host goes to great lengths to craft a verifiable and pitch-perfect anecdote for late-night TV appearances. The execution is funny enough, but it’s the research behind this episode-long stunt that makes it work — revealing just how rote and predictable so much of the supposedly personal elements of celebrity culture really are.

3. Nathan for You: A Celebration: Tucked away inside this special episode, in which Nathan catches up with a few of the small-business owners that previously appeared on the show, is a meta-project essentially exposing aspiring TV host Anthony Napoli as an even bigger creep than how he came across as on “The Hunk.” The scene in which Napoli essentially questions how many people died in the Holocaust is literally mesmerizing in how awkward it is.

2. Summit Ice: Jumping off of apparel company Taiga’s praising of a Holocaust denier, Nathan creates an apparel company dedicated to remembering the Holocaust and encouraging education on the horrific chapter in world history. As it often happened with Nathan for You bits, Summit Ice eventually had a real-world impact: As of 2017, more than $500,000 of Summit Ice apparel was sold, and that year Fielder also donated $150,000 to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre while opening a pop-up store in the Canadian city. (They’re still on sale, too. Even John Mayer has one.)

1. Finding Frances: Undoubtedly the most ambitious, sweeping, strange, beautiful, and fourth-wall-breaking project Nathan for You attempted throughout its entire four-season run. The movie-length “Finding Frances” is so singular and finite that it’s no surprise Fielder decided it would stand as the show’s last episode; amid his multi-month attempt to help William Heath find his supposed long-lost love Frances, Nathan discovers essential truths about persona, presentation, and love — complete with an open-ended conclusion that leaves viewers wondering what’s fact and what’s fiction. Even Errol Morris loved this one, and that guy is a master of investigating the space between a truth and a lie. Essential viewing, even if you’ve never seen a single Nathan for You episode.


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