A Totally Normal Conversation With Nathan Fielder
Nathan Fielder’s hallucinatory HBO series The Rehearsal begins from an ostensibly reasonable premise: wouldn’t life be easier if you knew what was coming? Of course, given that Fielder is the deadpan genius last seen performing his very special consulting for small business owners on Nathan For You, things were never going to be quite that simple.
When the show debuted this summer, its opening moments revealed the extreme lengths to which Fielder was prepared to go when it came to getting things right: intercut with Fielder’s attempt to convince a mild-mannered teacher named Kor Skeete to join the show and let Fielder put him through his own set of rehearsals was footage of Fielder spending weeks rehearsing that very interaction. All the preparation paid off, and Skeete quickly found himself inside a cross between Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Truman Show, and the Stanford Prison Experiment. And as the season progressed, it became increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction: what was real? What was staged? And why, exactly, was Fielder so invested in these rehearsals in the first place?
We figured the best person to ask Fielder was Skeete himself, who had answered a Craigslist ad seeking people with secrets only to find himself a star on one of the strangest, most compelling TV shows we’ve ever seen. It turns out that no amount of careful planning can prevent odd, unforeseen, occasionally troubling, and frequently hilarious things from happening.
But when we tried to reunite them for a conversation over Zoom, we were immediately reminded that at least some parts of life are made easier when you can rehearse them a few dozen times.
Nathan Fielder logs onto Zoom. He has Kor Skeete on the phone, and is attempting to walk him through signing into the video call.
Nathan Fielder: Kor? Are you there, Kor? Hold on a sec, I just want to… Kor? Hello?
Kor Skeete: I need to have my credit card.
NF: You shouldn’t have to have your credit card, Kor, for Zoom. It should let you sign on for free if you just have a link.
KS: Well, on my end it says credit card, unless there’s another way.
NF: Do you want to just try pressing the link, Kor? If you have the app, you can just press the link. Right? And then, what happens then? Hello? Kor? Kor? I’m going to try sending you a phone number. Can you hear me, Kor? Do you want to try this? Can you hear me, Kor?
KS: I’m at 20%, going up to 100.
NF: 20% what?
KS: To put it into play.
NF: 20% download, Kor? Is that what it is?
KS: Yeah. 20% download.
KS: I am…connecting.
[Kor joins the Zoom, blurry and silent.]
NF: Oh, there. There we go. Okay, okay. We got him? There we go. Oh, I can’t hear him. Oh, audio. There we go. Connecting to audio. He did not connect to audio. You need to allow your audio. I can’t hear you. Are you on wifi, Kor? Are you on wifi? Kor? I can’t hear you, Kor.
KS: Can you hear me?
NF: Yeah, we can hear you.
NF: Kor, where are you right now?
KS: It’s not a good visual, huh?
KS: You can barely make me out, right?
KS: These lights are awful here. Yeah.
NF: Kor, where are you right now?
KS: I’m just a visual blur, but here I am.
NF: There’s a lot of music where you are.
KS: Yeah. Yeah. Maybe I need to move away from the music.
NF: Kor, do you want to just do a conference call? Kor, I’m just going to call you.
[Nathan leaves the Zoom and calls Kor on the phone.]
NF: Hello? Hello, can you hear me, Kor? Kor? Kor, are you there? Kor? Kor?
NF: Hey, Kor, are you there?
NF: Hello? Your reception’s kind of bad.
KS: Let’s see. Okay, wait a second here. I’m moving to the area where there’s less noise. All right. Noise. Oh shit. Better reception?
NF: Are you outdoors?
KS: No, no. I’m still indoors.
NF: Would it be better reception outside? Because—
KS: There’s no wifi outside.
NF: You need wifi for just a normal call? We’re on a normal call now.
KS: Oh, okay. All right. That’s true. Okay. Can you hear the music in the background?
NF: It’s really tough. Is there a place where you can sort of get good audio?
KS: I have my speaker on at this point. Let’s see. This is about as high as it gets.
NF: Do you want to try not using speaker? Just using normal.
[Kor turns off speakerphone.]
NF: That’s a lot better. That’s a lot better.
KS: All right. Finally. Geez, this investigative journalism stuff is taxing.
Phone connection established, Kor gets down to the task at hand. His first meeting with Fielder, it turned out, was the moment seen during the first episode of The Rehearsal, when Nathan—having rehearsed the experience a number of times—makes a joke about the warren of doors at the entrance to Kor’s apartment. In that first episode, Nathan helped Kor rehearse for a difficult task: explaining to his bar trivia teammates that he didn’t have a master’s degree, as he’d previously shared. The episode ends with “Pure Imagination,” the haunting song from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, plays—a musical cue that, it turns out, Kor had a hand in.
KS: Well, I was going to start the interview by saying that this is a man that needs no introduction.
NF: Oh, thank you. Wow.
KS: But I particularly understand this because I lived this experience of not being introduced to you, literally until we opened the “house of doors,” which some people likened it to a chapter in a Lewis Carroll novel.
NF: That’s what I felt like you were very good at. Throughout the shoot, you would constantly be saying… Like I remember when I first showed you the bar, you gave a metaphor that it looks like an alligator and you’re going to be going into the alligator. And you made other references to other movies throughout. You made a Willy Wonka reference that I think a lot of people really latched onto to explain your experience. And that was very…I’m not very articulate, I don’t pull out metaphors like that. I found those moments to be actually very insightful and useful when we were putting it together.
KS: Well, I was very flabbergasted, if my witticisms and wits least inspired the Willy Wonka thing. It seemed to encapsulate a part of what you were trying to put out there, especially with the song, “Pure Imagination,” at the end. I believe Anthony Newley and another gentleman wrote the song. It came out in 1971, and I was wondering—the estate of the family, I hope they were quite okay with the use of this iconic song. I assume you had to get the rights for that.
NF: Yeah, we had to get the rights. And on the song, I guess the licensing of that song in particular, Gene Wilder’s estate needs to sign off on the use of the song. And we’re lucky that they did. But that was something that we only had to license that song. It was very expensive actually.
KS: From all the people that answered the infamous Craigslist ad, were there any other people that mentioned that they were trivia aficionados at all?
NF: No, I think you might have been the only trivia person.
NF: I think I asked you at times, when we were filming, what was your interest in being a part of this show? What do you feel is the reason?
KS: I’ve been asked this question often, and I couldn’t really give an answer encompassing everything because it’s a combination of maybe helping myself, maybe helping others, looking at it as a psychological experiment, just put on film. I wasn’t necessarily seeking fame or fortune or notoriety.
NF: I remember you did have kind of a glimmer of hope for fame in your eyes at the start of it. You asked, I believe, on our first day of shooting—if this was a successful project, you were curious about doing talk shows, like the Tonight Show and stuff.
KS: Yeah. So I still harbor those moments. Not necessarily being a superstar, but just having those small moments. People ask me the best thing about being a notable person. I would say the benefit now is I’m guaranteed a beautiful obituary. There’ll be no way if something happens to me in the future, God forbid, that I won’t get a writeup in the New York Times.
NF: Why do you care about the obituary when you’ll already be dead when it comes out?
KS: Just the idea that someone will print one and my loved ones will be able to read and say, “Oh, he made his mark in the world. And it wasn’t necessarily a bad mark.” I don’t have children. And I’ve always felt in my mind that the Skeete family has had generations of…well, we’ll say questionable family ties. And I’m the last of seven generations and I don’t have any brothers with the last name or anything else like that, or cousins with the last name. So it ends with me. I mean, I chose not to have children. There was always something about me that I wondered, “Well, if I left the earth, would I have left a positive legacy that people would talk about me kindly?” So I’ll be dead, but at least I know that I’m not going to die anonymous.
As The Rehearsal aired last summer, discussion centered on whether or not Fielder was in on the joke—whether, as he came to play a larger and larger role in the story, say, of a woman rehearsing for motherhood, he was growing attached to the process, or was playing a character. The line, with Nathan, can often be hard to find.
NF: Do you feel like I was different during the filming as opposed to after?
KS: You’re about the same except for small nuances. And I think that’s why it works as well as it does. Because with Dick Clark, God rest his soul, what you saw with him is what you got.
NF: What does that have to do with me?
KS: Well, Dick Clark is one of those people that you feel you kind of know him, you knew him, no matter what venue he was in, whether it was a game show, whether it was the New Year’s Eve events, he seemed so much himself. And the persona worked. You, you have a persona that works because of the mysteriousness behind it. And people are more intrigued by that than anything else.
NF: I’m kind of similar personality-wise to Dick Clark. Don’t you think?
KS: There are moments of Dick Clark.
NF: You think so?
KS: Yeah, I suppose you have some elements of that.
NF: You think I could be kind of a big radio personality or TV host like that?
KS: Yes, you could. Yes, you could. Yes, you could.
NF: But do you feel like my personality appeals to a mainstream audience?
KS: I think now it does.
NF: Oh, now.
NF: Yeah, I just kind of want to follow Dick Clark’s career, I guess. That’s what I’m trying to do.
KS: Well, you’re going to have to knock off Ryan Seacrest to get to that point.
NF: I’m similar to Ryan Seacrest a little. You think I could host a New Year’s Eve event, like on CNN or something?
KS: Well, Nathan, I think if you hosted a New Year’s Eve event, that would be a pay-per-view moment.
NF: Oh, thanks.
KS: People would pay—
NF: Kor, this is really sweet. Okay, I’m going to stop asking these questions.
KS: Well, here’s the thing. It’s been suggested—I was suggesting myself—that since the show got renewed for season two, you could actually sell tickets if you got Andy Cohen involved. Since Andy Cohen’s famous for those reunion shows for the Mob Wives and Housewives of every city. You can host a reunion of the doppelgangers or the Oregon residents and me, the New Yorker resident. I mean that would also be a big sell.
NF: Thank you, Kor. This is a great idea and I will look into this at a future date and see if I can arrange this.
Eventually, talk turns to fashion. Kor’s leather jacket was the subject of some Internet buzz, and while Nathan isn’t much of a fashion plate, he did, during an episode of Nathan for You, launch Summit Ice: “a not-for-profit company dedicated to producing quality outdoor apparel and raising awareness of the Holocaust.”
NF: Since it’s GQ, I wonder, should we be talking about fashion a little bit? You’re a very fashionable guy. What fashion brands do you love the most?
KS: Well, the key thing of my fashion is that I’m not a brand person whatsoever. I know how to tailor well.
NF: But how do you put together a good outfit? I struggle with that. I don’t know how to put together a good outfit.
KS: Women tend to like your hoodies. That’s been discussed in my face-to-face meetings with people. So I think you’re doing well with what you have.
NF: In face-to-face meetings, people say, “I like Nathan’s hoodies?”
KS: “I like Nathan’s hoodies.” Yes.
NF: I do have a clothing brand. I don’t know if you know of it, Kor.
KS: Oh. Oh wow. Did not know this.
NF: It’s called Summit Ice. You can look it up. We sell hoodies and stuff like that.
KS: Oh, that’s great.
After nearly 90 minutes, Nathan and Kor get to the center of the Tootsie Pop: how, at the end of the day, Kor felt about The Rehearsal.
NF: Remember when we first met? You didn’t know Nathan for You, and you pride yourself on being an expert in television trivia.
KS: Oh, I got a lot of stuff for that.
NF: I hope that wasn’t embarrassing, but you—
KS: It was.
NF: —made such point of saying you were an expert in that.
KS: Well, I can explain it.
NF: It’s okay. It’s okay. I know it wasn’t a super popular show. Maybe not in your circle.
KS: No, no, no. It was popular enough and everything. I hate to say it wasn’t my type of show.
NF: Yeah, okay. You said you watched it since and then you hated it.
KS: I don’t like shows that make people look a little foolish, so maybe I have some bias with that, I suppose. But you really worked hard with your writers to make a memorable statement, and I think that takes a great deal of talent. So you’re not just your typical prankster. You kind of took it to a different level than America’s Funniest Home Videos ever did, or even the late Allen Funt from Candid Camera. You took it to level 10 for your show.
NF: Wow, thank you, Kor. This is quite a compliment. For someone that didn’t really like the show, it’s a great compliment. Did you like The Rehearsal as a show?
KS: I’m getting used to it. I mean, hopefully you get a shot at the Emmy nomination in 2023, because it’s too much of a cultural touchstone not to be nominated.
NF: You’re saying it’s a touchstone, but you also didn’t really like it, you’re saying?
KS: No, no, no, no, no. I was trying to…
NF: Like seven out of 10?
KS: Oh, I would give it eight out of 10.
NF: Eight out 10, that’s not bad.
KS: It kept me riveted. As much as mine made me reasonably notable, I’m still conflicted about certain things, about the episode, the idea—
NF: Eight out of 10?
Photographs by Asger Carlsen
Styled by Sean Knight
Grooming by Hee Soo Kwon using Balmain Hair Couture
Tailoring by K.K. Cheng
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