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The complexities of Nathan Fielder’s “The Rehearsal”

By Kevin Lake, Staff Writer

Nathan Fielder is a Canadian born comedian and performance artist. He’s been making a name for himself with surreal and anti humor based comedy since 2006. However, it was his Comedy Central series “Nathan for You,” which ran from 2013 to 2017, that put him on the map with comedy fans.

Viewers of the show identify the originality of “Nathan for You” as the major factor that made them fans of Fielder.

 “There aren’t many shows that really make you laugh, Nathan for You really found that niche and stuck to it,” said super fan and local man Tim Riordan. 

The comedian’s new show, “The Rehearsal”, on HBO MAX, feels like a natural expansion of his previous work. The premise is that he and his staff “help”” people with their problems by making them rehearse whatever life event  is the most anxiety inducing for them. The main narrative arc, for example, involves a woman fake aising a fake child and this takes up many of the episodes.

  Watching the show, it’s not just the host Fielder we observe, the guests he has on are incredibly absorbing. Seeing a small window into these eccentric individuals is fascinating as the audience quietly judge their lives.

The term “Un-reality TV” has been thrown around to describe this program and others such as “Borat”. Despite the unscripted nature of the show, much of the humor comes from pushing boundaries to create an uncomfortable reaction. This can make the show hard to watch at points but it also invites speculation by blurring the lines between what is planned by Fielderand what is completely unprompted. Watching the bleed in between Nathan Fielder, the TV persona and Nathan Fielder the human can keep viewers invested. 

There are a few moments where you can see him on the edge of breaking character, scenes of vulnerability where he is uncomfortable or even scared. The socially awkward Fielder is occasionally injected with more directed sarcastic and blunt humor, this brings into question his intentions, is he really in for the benefit of others or his own selfish desires? 

Fans of the show speculated on Fielder’s motives while viewing the show: questioning whether or not he had good intentions or was manipulating the participants.

“I fully respect the hypothesis that Nathan is the Devil. There’s just so much that he does throughout the show that supports the theory. He looks so unassuming and so kind, but reins chaos everywhere he goes in the most subtle and passively aggressive way,” Riodrian stated.

There are many candid moments spread out, wacky conversations, and violent arguments are caught on tape here, even moments of genuine tenderness unfold on screen. 

Despite helping others with their problems, Fielder is someone who is shown to suffer from his own self doubt and has to rehearse many scenes before he enacts them. The joke is not just on the people Nathan brings in, the joke is also on the audience. There are many bizarre and surreal scenes without authentic people where the viewer is left with the uncomfortableness.

Not everyone is a fan of this genre bending work however, Christine Lake who enjoyed Nathan For You had issues with the Rehearsal’s approach. 

“The first episode, I was totally on board, it was self aware and inventive […] After that, they manipulated it a little too much, almost too manufactured,” Lake stated. 

While the program is certainly unique, it’s certainly not for everyone, with many bizarre and uncomfortable moments. Some viewers find it hard to fully immerse themselves in it.

   “I didn’t get it in some ways,” Lake said. 

But in the end, the value of the show is determined by each viewer and something as offbeat as this comes around so rarely that it is worth checking out with an open mind. 

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