Into the Unhinged Social Media Fandom of ‘Nathan for You’
Nathan Fielder is a completely singular presence in the bizarro deconstructionist comedy sphere that has attracted a massive and ever-growing contingency of extremely online comedy fans. Fielder’s experimental meta humor and chaotic approach to creating comedy have made him an icon for swaths of Facebook and Reddit users who are fascinated by, and deeply invested in, Fielder’s unending quest to test the limits of reality through humor.
After the success of his surreal, business-themed reality show, Nathan for You, Fielder has continued to blur the lines between performance and reality through projects like The Rehearsal, a high-budget HBO docu-comedy series that lets him explore just how much he can manipulate and recreate the world around him. His fanbase, however, has been testing the limits of their own involvement in the avante-garde social experiment that is the Fielder-verse, and online forums such as the “Nathan for You Businessposting” Facebook group and the subreddit /r/nathanforyou blur the lines between spectator and participant.
The insane, voyeuristic allure of Fielder’s shows comes from the outlandish and colorful cast of real-life characters whom Fielder manages to rope into his bizarre and unpredictable schemes. These subjects enter Fielder’s world blindly, with the intention behind his actions deliberately obfuscated to draw out the most authentic reactions.
Fielder explained this complicated dynamic between himself and his unwitting co-stars in a Reddit AMA from 2015, when he stated, “In general, there seems to be an understanding that when participating in a reality show you’re not going to get full information about what will happen so that authentic moments can be captured on camera. The people that appear comfortable with this are usually the ones we end up involving in the show — those that seem open to an experience or adventure that's different from their day-to-day life.”
One such adventurous individual is Robbin Stone, an aspiring athlete whose fiercely held beliefs regarding numerology made him a fan favorite during his short stint on The Rehearsal. The fascination regarding Stone’s life, his beliefs and the time he crashed a Scion TC at 100 mph have made him the subject of speculation and investigation long past his exit from the series. Both the Facebook group and the subreddit have kept abreast of Stone’s situation, occasionally receiving a response from the man himself, like in the above post when a sarcastic tweet in the voice of controversial conspiracy theorist and occasional NBA player Kyrie Irving revealed Robbin’s affinity for the player.
Another fan favorite from the Fielder-verse, semi-professional Bill Gates impersonator Bill Heath, has made regular appearances on the subreddit long since the release of the Nathan for You finale, titled “Finding Frances,” which focused on Fielder’s attempts to help Heath find a long-lost love five decades after he lost contact. Some of the top posts on the subreddit are pictures of various users standing next to a smiling Heath, with a title along the lines of “Finally Met Bill Gates Today!”
But the dark side of such community involvement in the lives of these real people who unwittingly became comedy icons rears its ugly head when posts showing pictures of Heath taken from inside his Arkansas assisted-living facility make it to the front page. All celebrities will inevitably have pictures of themselves shared without their knowledge or permission, but these communities have fostered a level of invasiveness that feels inappropriate, especially when considering the fact that none of these “characters” were ever told exactly what they were getting themselves into when they stepped foot into Fielder’s world.
Some of these Fielder fans’ obsession with the individuals featured in Fielder’s various projects extend well beyond a quirky fascination with quirky characters. One prominently featured “cast member” of The Rehearsal, Angela, has been the target of backlash and harassment after her questionable comments on Judaism and her affinity for Mel Gibson drew a negative reaction from the fanbase. The back-and-forth between Angela and her critics has been made extremely public on both Facebook and Reddit, with users tracking down Angela’s social media accounts and contact information to lodge their complaints about her behavior.
An overly-involved fanbase isn’t rare for cult obsessions like Nathan for You and The Rehearsal, but the boundary-breaking nature of the shows and the intentional unwittingness of the chosen participants make the fixations of fans in the Facebook and Reddit communities on the personal lives of these people feel especially intrusive. While most of the fandom prefers sharing memes or art projects made in reverence of the Fielder series, a few of these fanatics make us think that anyone who agrees to go on camera with Nathan Fielder needs “Daddy’s Watching.”