comics talk to comics

Kyle Mooney Talks to Nathan Fielder About Nathan for You, Kitchen Nightmares, and Magic

Photo: Vulture

Nathan for You’s Nathan Fielder and Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney are kindred spirits in many ways. Both are deadpan, awkward comedians who enjoy messing with strangers in an ultimately very kind, unobtrusive way. Of course, Mooney was a writer on Nathan for You season one. So, with Nathan for You’s third season premiering on Comedy Central tonight, Vulture had Mooney interview Fielder on the phone earlier this week. The two talked about talking to strangers, kids who have vlogs, and magic. Enjoy!

Kyle MooneyI wrote down some questions, but I don’t know how you wanna get into it.
Nathan Fielder: How are you doing? I want to start with that.

I’m well. Sunday’s my day off. I met up with some friends and partied a little.
You partied last night?

Well, that’s a bad word. 

It’s more like I tend to have fun on Sundays because it is the only day that I get to hang out. 
Aren’t you burnt out on Saturday night?

Most people are. Most people tend to sleep in until like 5 or 6 p.m., but because I have the opportunity to make a day of it in New York City, I tend to try to do that. I don’t get a ton of time to explore New York otherwise. 
Are there things you haven’t seen that you want to see in New York? 

A lot of it is food that I want to eat. Like, I haven’t had a cool Italian meal in the Bronx, or something like that.
That seems like something that would be worthwhile doing.  

But let’s focus on you. I saw that you’re gonna be on Jimmy Kimmel Live. You got any pranks prepared?
I don’t. I don’t, Kyle.

What type of pranks are you gonna pull on Jimmy and the audience?
I already said I don’t have any prepared.

Well, I’ll make sure to DVR that. 
Yeah, DVR it.

I’ll go into a few written questions. Is there anything that makes season three of Nathan for You different from previous seasons?
This season half of our episodes are actually full stories, where in previous seasons most episodes have two or three segments in them.

Did you plan to do that? Or is that just something that happened in the writing and preparing process?
Generally, I like doing those, but as the seasons go on, we’re better at figuring out ways to keep people involved and keep stories going longer, and keep picking up on things that happen in our real-world scenarios and being like, “Oh, we could expand this or do more.”

Have you guys kind of trashed any complete things you’ve tried to film?
Yeah, yeah. Every year we’ve thrown out probably two episodes’ worth of stuff just because it didn’t work out for some reason. There’s just a big X-factor all of the time when you’re dealing with these unpredictable situations. Sometimes an idea will seem good, but then the person won’t work out or you won’t get the right personality, and it just falls flat.

Because you’re interacting with real people, I’m curious, from a performing standpoint, do you get nervous or anxious when dealing with strangers?
I’m more comfortable with it, but it wasn’t really my first choice when I was doing this stuff. I was working in Canada, and doing a show out there called This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and they hired me to do these interviews with real people. Before that time I had never done anything like that, and I was very, very nervous about it. You don’t see a lot of man-on-the-street stuff in the show. I don’t go up to people who are just, like, walking. That’s harder for me than something where the person knows we’re gonna come and shoot. I do feel like I’m comfortable in a lot of ways doing that. But usually, if people are willing participants already, it’s a little bit easier. What about you?

Yeah, I get nervous. You never really know who you’re gonna be interacting with in the stuff that I do. You can’t prepare too much. It’s site-specific and person-specific. I shoot the interviews with Dave McCary, and sometimes he’ll push me into situations I feel uncomfortable in. Like, “Why don’t you go stand on that stage?” Or, “Go interrupt that news reporter as they’re doing their segment.” Certain things that aren’t morally wrong, but they feel like I’m causing trouble. I get nervous when I do stuff like that, for sure. 
Yeah, but you’re never very aggressive when you do it. People seem to just be concerned about you. What’s your favorite type of moment in the shorts you do when you go to the conventions or sports games?

One of my favorite things is when I present a piece of information that is absolutely false or incorrect, and they just totally agree with and are onboard with [it]. 
Yeah, it’s just the easiest way out of the conversation for them. 

Yeah, I think so. People just generally want to be nice and agreeable.
Yeah, yeah. I agree.

And sometimes there’s also that element of a video camera being pointed at you, and wanting to come off as a nice person. I feel like I’ve asked you this before, but is there a situation where all the Comedy Central shows hang out? Like the Workaholics guys, Key and Peele — is there like a party or anything? 
Um, no. We don’t all hang out. Do you hang out with all the NBC people?

I knew you were gonna ask that. I mean, I feel like the only opportunity to is at Upfronts. I’d be down to, for sure. I’m certainly not against it. I don’t have anybody’s personal information, so I don’t know how to link up with them. 
I mean, if people called me and said, “Hey, we’re just all hanging out this weekend, all of the people on Comedy Central. Do you want to come?” I would go.

So you’re open to it?
Yeah, I’m open to it.

I think that would be very funny. 

I said, I think it would be very fun and funny. 
[Laughs.] Oh, yeah. It would be great. It would be great. It would be a good personal networking opportunity.

Nathan for You was my first time being in a writer’s room, really.
I had never really kind of been in charge of a writer’s room before that. Weirdly, I was really nervous.

You handled it well. I was intimidated because everyone in that room was somewhat established as a writer, and I was not. 
You were great in there because we could kind of improvise with each other a bit, and that helps me a lot of the time.

Yeah, that was fun. You would be you as yourself, and me as a potential character you would meet, but it would never come to fruition because we were just guessing interactions.
Yeah. That’s partially why we have only done eight episodes this season. So much of the writing process is just trying to think about the psychology of other people and what they might say or what they might do.  

Yeah, that makes sense. One of the aspects of the writer’s room I really liked is whenever you or someone would bring up like a YouTube clip or some television reference. I remember you showing me Kitchen Nightmares in the writer’s room, which I’d never seen before. I’ve since become, like, a big Gordon Ramsay fan.
Dude, he’s one of the best.

He’s really good. Did you watch MasterChef Jr. at all? 
No, I haven’t. But if you love Gordon Ramsay, that seems like the perfect intersection of some things you would like.

What, kids? 
Yeah, you love kids. You find some of the best YouTube clips that I’ve seen. I had a collection of ones that I thought were just interesting people that I’ve seen throughout the years. They don’t have a lot of views — just people in the deep trenches of YouTube. And then you had something that just blew everything I had out of the water. But a lot of them are like, kids talking to a camera in their bedroom.

I like kids who just talk directly to camera or have their own vlogs, because the audiences are always super-small. These things will have like 25 views, but the kids always talk as if they’re speaking to the entire internet. So it’s like, “Hey, guys! Sorry I haven’t made a video in a while.” Who are you apologizing to? 
Yeah, no one’s following you. With the characters you do a lot of times, do you pick up mannerisms that are inspired by the way kids act?

Definitely. I can think of a couple videos off the top of my head that have influenced me, for sure. My friends and I watch these videos together, and we can pick up on these nuances that are really funny to us. Beck Bennett, who’s on SNL, and he’s my friend, says in another era an actor would observe someone in a café or a bar or something like that. This is just another way to do that that didn’t exist 15 years ago or so.

I kind of got off track a little bit. I was gonna ask you about Gordon Ramsay. 

It’s a very specific style of reality television. Was there a genre influence on Nathan for You?
Early in the process Kitchen Nightmares was a show I did watch, but before that the show evolved very organically and gradually. I actually initially pitched it as me being more of a consumer advocate. There’s a show in Canada called Marketplace that is this kind of newsmagazine consumer advocacy, and I initially modeled the show after that. But then we changed the show to be more about helping businesses because I didn’t want to do something about bad-talking businesses, even if they were doing something wrong. So Marketplace in Canada was an early influence, but also small-town news clips were my initial inspiration. There’s a show called Live at Five that I would record every day, and they have a technology person talking about, “There’s a new thing called an mp3 player,” like ten years after it’s out. And it just made me realize, Oh, their audience must be the backend of the bell curve in terms of adopters of technology. So, starting with This Hour Has 22 Minutes, I would usually try to take very boring, small-town news topics as my way in.

Would you say there’s a role model or a person’s career that you would like to have or imagine having? 
I don’t know. I try not to have goals. I try to just really think about if I’m enjoying the thing I’m doing. And if the answer’s yes, then I’ll just keep doing it. And if it’s no, then I’ll just try to think of what’s missing from this, and that would figure out the next thing. Do you have that?

To a degree. There are definitely people’s careers that I admire.  

Like Steve Martin, or somebody like that, who wrote and acted in his movies and did a bunch of stuff.
Did you read Steve Martin’s book?

Born Standing Up
It’s interesting because he said that it got to the point where he was so famous that he would play these huge stadiums, and everyone would laugh at everything. The joy of performing went away.

I remember hearing that. 
I feel like a lot of people would be like, “Oh, that’s my dream. I’d love to play big stadiums and do that type of thing.” But then once everyone knows you, you maybe lose something. 

Yeah. On an incredibly smaller scale, in terms of, like, fandom, we’ll go out, and I’m still not noticed by a majority of people, but there will be people who are fans and who will be like, “Hey, Kyle!” or yell out a quote. And I can’t respond to them because I’m within this character, trying to get honest reactions with other people. It’s very nice to have people like what you do, and I like interacting with anyone, generally, but it is a hindrance on the actual filmmaking process. Do you want to talk about magic at all?
In what way? I always love talking about magic.

You’re into it. 
Yeah, I’m a big magic fan. There’s not a lot of good magic around. But when I see good magic, I love it.

What is good magic versus bad magic?
There’s a lot of magic that I find to be very outdated. I often see this thing in magic where the tricks are very impressive, but the magician has a repulsive personality. They can still carry on like that and put on a confident performance because people are impressed by the tricks. Maybe a lot of magicians don’t recognize how much who they are is a part of their performance. With comedy, if you go onstage and you’re not funny, you know, unless you’re very delusional. But with magic, you can go onstage and not be funny and not be interesting as a person, but just going through the motions of actually doing an illusion, you’ll still get an okay response.

The last time I was at [the L.A. nightclub for magicians and magic fans] Magic Castle was probably, like, three or four years ago. But one of the magicians called me out mid-show, like, “Are you not enjoying the show? Why aren’t you laughing?” I was like, “No.”
Yeah, that’s one of the big comedy crutches. I’m actually not a big fan of comedy magic because I feel like the jokes are just never great, and I prefer when someone puts on music and does something. Or if it’s more theatrical, and they’ve really thought about the story that they tell around the trick.

A lot of it’s been passed down. People use patter that seems to have come from 100 years ago. You do see a lot of racist jokes in magic just because it’s like part of the patter that’s in the book, or people just hear other magicians doing it. Most people don’t invent their own tricks — they’ll buy them in a store, or they’ll read them in a book — there’s a lot of copying in magic.

People are okay with that? It’s not like joke-stealing?
People are okay because people sell tricks. There are magic stores. You can go buy a trick, and anybody who goes to that store will be buying the same trick. So almost every joke feels stocked in a lot of places. Although there are magicians — there’s not a lot of them — but there are still magicians who seem to be doing interesting things and reinventing. A hundred years ago, when people saw a magician, they would probably view it thinking, like, “Oh, wow. This is actually real or science in some way,” and you would be interested in it in a different way. And now it’s just a trick, but there are still people where you actually aren’t sure what’s real and what’s not. That’s cool. There’s a guy named Darren Brown who I actually think is really amazing. He’s a British hypnotist guy. And then David Blaine. His last special I really like.

I’ve only seen clips of that one. Is Kanye West in that one?
There are a lot of celebrities in it. And there’s a local guy named Derek DelGaudio. He did a show at the Geffen Playhouse last year with another guy, Helder Guimarães. It felt very organic and different than most magic you see because they were really thinking about what they were doing and making the experience interesting to the audience. That was the first live magic show in a while where I was thinking, Whoa, okay, there’s some people that are trying to reinvent people’s perception of magic. People look at magic, and they think it’s terrible or really corny. And it is.

There’s this weird thing in magic where full-grown men will wear almost these teenage girls’ dance outfits when they perform. And I just I don’t get it. It’s so weird. It looks like a little girls’ dance shop made these fabric pants and shirt with sparkles. It just seems so weird. I do not understand.

That’s called puttin’ on a show, dude. 

It’s called putting on a show, dude. 
Kyle, there’s just no point in talking about magic with you because you won’t get it. We should go to the Castle. I’m a member.

Can we go?
We’ll go next time you’re here, yeah.

I’m here in the next, the next two weeks. 
There’s a dress code. Do you have suit?

Is a tux too formal?
It’s more formal than you need to be, but you’ll fit in.

Cause I go to Friar Tux shop sometimes and rent a tuxedo. 
Yeah, do that. You’ll be great.

Kyle Mooney Talks to Nathan Fielder