Nathan Fielder is the mensch Canada needs

Nathan Fielder, with Rabbi Shalom Denbo, on 'Nathan for You' SCREENSHOT
Nathan Fielder, with Rabbi Shalom Denbo, on 'Nathan for You' SCREENSHOT

Canadian Jewish comic Nathan Fielder took to Conan O’Brien’s talk show on Oct. 21 to reveal his latest business venture: a line of outerwear that is soft, durable, breathable and completely open in its acknowledgment that the Holocaust did indeed happen.

Fielder, a Vancouver native, had been wearing a windbreaker made by Taiga, a B.C. brand, for much of his life. Then he learned that a 2001 Taiga shopping catalogue included an obituary for a known Holocaust denier.

“As a Jew, I’m like, ‘Oh, crap,’” Fielder told O’Brien on TV. “In searching for a replacement, I realized I couldn’t be sure that any of these other jacket companies weren’t hiding dark secrets as well.” To play it safe, he decided to start his own.

And so was born Summit Ice, the world’s first outdoor apparel company to openly promote Holocaust awareness. All proceeds have been going to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre – so far, that’s been more than $60,000 – promoted in part by celebrities wearing the jacket around Hollywood, including Seth Rogan, Ellie Kemper, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rob Lowe, John Mayer and Jack Black.

By any measure, Fielder is not just a solid businessman and hilarious comic – he’s also a mensch. Best of all, Canadians can be proud that he’s our mensch.

That Fielder is sending Summit Ice’s profits to a Vancouver Holocaust centre is a sigh of relief for Canadians sick of homegrown talent moving south and forgetting their roots. How can we still call Jim Carrey a Canadian when he’s entrenched in American debates over measles vaccination and gun-control laws? Why should we keep fawning over Lorne Michaels when New York gave him Saturday Night Live, while the only thing Toronto gave him was a brief writing gig at CBC Radio?

On the surface, Fielder isn’t any different. Like everyone else who outgrew this country, he moved on from a recurring domestic role – on This Hour Has 22 Minutes – to starring in his own Comedy Central show, Nathan For You.

The show follows Fielder around as he tries to help struggling businesses with plainly ridiculous ideas. It’s a perfect set-up: Fielder’s still so unknown and innocently straight-faced that his subtle improv echoes the genius of Stephen Colbert, Andy Kaufman and Sacha Baron Cohen.

But it wasn’t until his Dumb Starbucks gag – wherein he tried to boost the popularity of a small, independent Los Angeles café by transforming it into a Starbucks parody, merely by mimicking everything about the gargantuan chain but preceding it with the word “dumb” (e.g. dumb venti lattes, dumb Norah Jones CDs, etc.) – that two things became clear:

One was that he was now a comedy superstar, as Dumb Starbucks exploded into an international sensation.

The second thing was that he had clearly outgrown Canada. He could never have created a pseudo–art installation like Dumb Starbucks here; our copyright laws are too strict, and our national sense of humour not quite so brazen. We’re more reserved, much like Fielder’s own onscreen persona.

So it was all the more refreshing to hear that he was maintaining that connection to his home city – and his Judaism – with Summit Ice. Fielder’s still not as big a star as, say, Seth Rogen (the two were in the same high school improv class), so maybe that accounts for some lingering Canadian affinity. He’s big, but he isn’t so big that he’s forgotten us yet.

But it may also be because Fielder is himself a quiet, sentimental man. He’s notoriously secretive about his personal life, largely deemed a blank slate – a dead-eyed host who rarely smiles and keeps his show about his guests, not himself.

In a rare interview, he revealed that his TV character is an embellishment of his own nervous self, and his comedy derives from a very Canadian quality – people being too afraid to speak their minds.

But Fielder, onscreen, speaks his mind. He’s shed that overly polite Canadian stereotype, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots. The man, I say, is a true Canadian mensch.