Nathan for You, Canadian comedian Nathan Fielder’s quasi-reality-show-cum-absurdist-comedy on Comedy Central, is 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 features 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 third season of Nathan for You premiering tonight, 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 haven’t been watching this underappreciated show thus far, now’s a great time to catch up.
29. 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.”
28. 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.
27. 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.
26. 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.
25. 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.
24. 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.
23. 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.
22. 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.
21. 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.
20. 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.
19. 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.
18. 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.
17. 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.
16. 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.
15. 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.
14. 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.
13. 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.
12. 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.
11. 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!
10. 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.
9. 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.
8. 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.
7. 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?
6. 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.
5. 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.
4. 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).
3. 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.)
2. 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.
1. 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.