Chuck Jones, one of the quick and brilliant minds behind the “Looney Tunes,” is quoted as saying that comedy is a combination of logic and human behavior.
There’s an elegant simplicity to the set-up, punchline structure of a classic “Road Runner” cartoon, but a closer inspection of Wile E. Coyote’s comic struggle against the meep-meeping bird would reveal an understanding of human behavior so inherent as to become nearly invisible.
Like Wile E. Coyote, Nathan Fielder of Comedy Central’s “Nathan For You” acts on pure, reptile-brain instinct to achieve a singular goal, which is to help struggling businesses generate more revenue.
He introduces his strategies to real, unwitting business owners a la “The Ali G Show.”
And just like the classic cartoon, no scheme is too elaborate when there’s business to be done.
Nathan Fielder is weird. Weird in a way that brings out the weirdest in his subjects. He doesn’t just dupe them. He pulls them into a bizarro world where professionalism and normal human emotions seem constantly to intrude on one another.
His ideas are carefully constructed in a way that just barely seems to make sense in the early going but flies apart at the slightest scrutiny.
In the latest episode, Nathan visits an antique shop whose owner complains of a lack of sales.
When faced with a struggling business in need of money, Nathan is an “ends justify the means” type who pursues his objective with ruthless tunnel vision and zero awareness of the lengths he takes to get there.
Here, taking advantage of the store’s “you break it, you buy it” policy, he begins his elaborate scheme by opening the store 24 hours a day to entice drunken, late-night partygoers to wander in with their hindered motor skills and hopefully smash something valuable.
But Nathan needs to make extra sure this idea works. So, he dives into an undercover mission to personally lure a bar patron into the shop.
By the time he reaches this point, he has utilized a gizmo that replaces his alcohol with apple juice using a suction apparatus connected to a circuit of plastic tubing (to prevent getting drunk himself), convinced the victim he was going to a costume party in order to deck him out in a sumo wrestler outfit, pushed together the shelves of the shop to form nightmarishly narrow corridors and positioned fragile products teetering over the edge.
He goads his victim into attempting to navigate the maze to reach a box of free pizza.
What makes “Nathan For You” so funny is how Nathan takes his participants through an outlandish chain of events, but manages to pervade the episodes with logic.
To quote another monumental comedy artist, Jim Downey, a veteran “Saturday Night Live” writer, said one of the best ways to solve a problem is to make it more complicated.
Nathan’s schemes spiral into the boondocks so quickly it becomes easy to forget what brought you there in the first place.