There’s a lineup snaking around the block to get into Toronto’s Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Hundreds of young people are huddled together; some have been waiting outside for hours despite the cold and rainy mid-November weather. No, it’s not TIFF. Comedian Nathan Fielder is in town for back-to-back, sold-out shows.
Fielder is the Canadian mastermind behind the Comedy Central program Nathan For You (Comedy Network in Canada). During each half-hour episode, he comes up with absurd marketing strategies for ailing Los Angeles-area companies. He is behind viral sensations such as Dumb Starbucks.
While his now three seasons of work usually provoke deep belly laughs, one of his latest stunts isn’t quite as comedic. That’s because it involves the Holocaust.
Fielder, formerly a correspondent on This Hour Has 20 Minutes, recently found out his favourite outerwear company, Taiga, featured Holocaust denier Doug Collins in one of its winter catalogues. Fielder says he had been wearing Taiga jackets for around 10 years.
“As a Jew, I was like, ‘oh crap,’” says the 32-year-old Vancouver native while on Conan, Conan O’Brien’s late night show. “In searching for a replacement, I couldn’t be sure that any other jacket companies weren’t hiding dark secrets as well.”
So, he decided to create his own windbreaker brand, one that would also promote Holocaust awareness.
He calls his new venture Summit Ice and currently sells jackets, toques and t-shirts online. Best of all, 100 per cent of the profits will go directly to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC).
Nina Krieger, executive director of the VHEC, didn’t hear about Fielder until someone forwarded her the Conan clip.
“There’s a certain absurdity of a clothing company expressing sympathies for Holocaust denial that, based on what I’ve seen, has been reframed by Nathan as this opportunity for promoting Holocaust education,” she says.
“And the VHEC would hope, further learning about the events and lessons of the Holocaust.”
Krieger hasn’t seen the Nathan For You episode that introduced Summit Ice. It aired on Oct. 22 and followed Fielder as he tried to get his brand into a Los Angeles-area store.
He employed a local rabbi to ensure that he was making an impact on the Holocaust education front. Yet, this veered into unsettling territory as his retail display included swastikas and a gas chamber.
Krieger notes that anything that belittles the events of the Holocaust is troubling.
“The VHEC, like other organizations dedicated to Holocaust education and remembrance, is sensitive to the trivialization of the Holocaust and anything that minimizes the suffering of the victims and survivors,” she says.
At first glance, Fielder’s episode appears rather tasteless. As does his website, which includes photos of celebrities in Summit Ice jackets with captions such as, “Actor Rob Lowe looking cool and Holocaust conscious in one of our fleece-lined softshell jackets.”
And, “Knocked Up star Seth Rogen agrees that the systematic extermination of Jews in Europe was ‘superbad.’”
Yet, after hearing from Krieger, Fielder’s mission becomes clearer: he’s using comedy to show how ridiculous it is for any consumer brand to associate itself with controversial figures and emotionally charged events.
“I think that he may have created something potent and provocative with the Summit Ice apparel venture,” says Krieger. And, he’s encouraging his audience to learn more about the Shoah.
Krieger notes that the VHEC’s web traffic has increased since the Summit Ice episode and as of Nov. 10, Fielder has racked up more than $110,000 in sales, confirms his manager Dan McManus.
Fielder doesn’t bring up his new company while in Toronto on Nov. 10, but there is a Summit Ice jacket on stage. And his thousands of fans know exactly what that seemingly innocuous windbreaker means.