TORONTO – Nathan Fielder says he doesn’t actually think Starbucks is dumb.
The deadpan comedian behind the infamous Dumb Starbucks store in L.A. insists the stunt was simply a shrewd business plan, allowing him to use the coffee corporation’s logo while protected under parody law.
“A lot of people were critical or saying, ‘This isn’t a good parody. This isn’t a smart parody,’” he says in a recent interview. “What they didn’t understand was that my goal wasn’t to have a clever, smart parody. It was to use their corporate name to sell coffee. Why put in more effort than what’s the minimum required?”
The story behind Dumb Starbucks — in which Fielder opened a replica Starbucks store featuring identical lattes and jazz CDs all prefaced with the word “Dumb” — will be explored in an episode on season two of his reality comedy series “Nathan For You.”
The series returns to MuchMusic and Comedy Central on Tuesday and follows Fielder as he uses his real marketing degree and unusual ideas to help struggling businesses.
Dumb Starbucks set off a flurry of Internet and media speculation when it opened in February. In the end, Fielder says it was the health department, not the corporate coffee giant, which forced the store to shut down before it was ever able to turn a profit.
But it’s not the first time that Fielder’s marketing stunts have gone viral. In the first season of “Nathan For You,” he promoted a petting zoo by creating a fake video featuring a pig “saving” a baby goat.
Within hours of being posted on YouTube the video had been shared on Twitter by Time magazine and broadcast on NBC’s “Nightly News” with Brian Williams, ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and Fox News, among others. But Fielder says he never meant to dupe unsuspecting journalists and animal lovers.
“After we made it, I showed it to a couple people and they were kind of like, ‘I guess it kind of looks like that.’ No one really thought much of it. But we put it on YouTube and within 24 hours it went all over the place,” he says. “It exceeded our expectations.”
Fielder was born in Vancouver and holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Victoria. He began his comedy career as a cast member of “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” before writing for and appearing on Comedy Central’s “Important Things with Demetri Martin” and “Jon Benjamin Has a Van.”
On “Nathan For You,” businesspeople and passersby are often bewildered by Fielder’s marketing ideas. For example, he recommends a frozen yogurt shop start selling “poo” flavoured yogurt, or advertises for a pet store on a gravestone in a pet cemetery (“The place where people need new pets the most,” Fielder explains).
Asking whether he has ever been punched seems like a reasonable question. But Fielder replies he’s careful not to let situations escalate to that point.
“I think with reality TV in general, people expect they’re not going to be fully let in on what’s going to happen, because you want authentic reactions to happen on camera,” he says. “I think sometimes they leave a little bit confused and not sure what’s going on, but I do think overall people are happy.
“The goal is never to get people upset, because I don’t think that’s as funny as seeing people being kind and really not wanting to upset me … We have had a couple people who got upset during a shoot and we didn’t end up using their stuff, but it’s a very small percentage and it’s usually accidental.”