Nathan Fielder’s ’The Rehearsal’ Hit Like A Ton Of Bricks Over The Head

Here’s the weird thing: I’ve never seen one episode of Nathan For You, even though almost everyone I know who knows my tastes has told me I would enjoy Nathan For You. What’s weirder is, when people explain the concept of Nathan For You, or give a detailed synopsis of episodes they’d think I’d like, I always find myself thinking, “Yes, I would like this.” Adding to the frustrations of people who want me to watch Nathan For You is my love for How To with John Wilson – in a very, “Wait, you are watching How To but you still won’t watch Nathan For You?,” kind of way.

I finally relented after a friend pleaded with me to watch the first episode of Nathan Fielder’s new show, The Rehearsal. Perhaps I relented easily this time because it was only one episode in, but, to cut to the chase, I watched it and very much enjoyed the first episode of The Rehearsal. There were moments I laughed out loud. But the underlying truth is, which I tried to ignore at first, is I had a strange reaction to The Rehearsal. In that it kind of revealed to me, in a way, I’ve been kind of living my social life recently in the ways the show explores. And it also kind of reaffirmed that there’s not much I’m going to do to try to change that.

Look, I’m very awkward socially. That’s always been a thing. People who meet me and tell me they read me regularly — there are at least four, though one might have been sarcasm — are almost always disappointed when they meet me for the first time because I am awkward and shy, at least before the booze kicks in. But I could always cope. Things have changed as we re-enter the world in whatever stage of the pandemic we are calling it now. Let me back up a bit…

When the pandemic first kicked in in full force here in New York City, I, my live-in girlfriend, and a friend who lives close to us formed a bubble. In that bubble, we started having movie nights. You can read about it here, but basically, our friend had never seen any action movie or comedy between 1980 and 2000, and our mission was to rectify that. So every weekend (for the first few months it was every Friday and Saturday) we’d buy some 12-packs, sit back and watch two highly entertaining movies a night.

We found this experience so fun (and, frankly, inexpensive), we’ve continued to do it once a week even though it’s no longer by default because there’s nothing else to do. (We are so far into this now, Punchline was a recent movie.) And we have brought other friends into the fold. I really like these nights and have found them to be the most satisfying of my social interactions. It is guaranteed fun. After watching the first episode of The Rehearsal, it hit me like a ton of bricks: Oh, it’s because I’ve now rehearsed this night hundreds of times.

In the first episode of The Rehearsal, Nathan Fielder explores what it would be like to rehearse all potential social interactions before they happen. Fielder likes to break his awkwardness with jokes, but, as he says, every time he tries one it’s a gamble. So in his rehearsals, he hires actors and tries them out to see how they go over. I, too, try this technique. And yes, over the course of a social event, you can’t win every gamble. In The Rehearsal, a benign joke about a plunger and a toilet, meant to be self-deprecating, was taken in another, negative, context.

I remember the first time I went “out” for “fun” after the pandemic started. I had a terrible time, but not for pandemic reasons. It was just that things didn’t go the way I expected. I had no control over the situation. My entire social life for months had been these very structured movie nights. Then, all of a sudden, I’m out spending money and there’s not even a guarantee I’m going to have fun because things outside my control might spoil the event. Yes, this is the way it’s always been, but now this seemed (and still seems) abnormal.

The rule about movie night is it has to be a canon movie that the visitor has never seen. But 95 percent of the time it is a movie I’ve seen. The person visiting will send a list of movies they want to see, then I will pick two from the list I think will work together. (As an aside, here’s something I’ve learned about planning a movie night doubleheader: It’s a mistake for the movies to be similar. If you pick two high-octane action movies, by the middle of movie two, people are checking out. It’s too much. Two comedies? Same thing, people just can’t laugh for four hours straight. What I’ve found is to start with an action movie, or a steamy thriller, then follow it up with a comedy. The difference between the two movies keeps it fresh.) So, since I’ve seen the movie, I have a pretty good idea of how it will play out. Or, I know when to say no since I know it won’t play well with “a crowd.” (A friend wanted to watch The Horse Whisperer. Nothing against The Horse Whisperer, but I had to veto that because I played it out in my head and it was a disaster.)

In a way, I’ve rehearsed every single one of these and it’s gotten to a point where this is how I am most comfortable. And there’s only been a couple of times, out of hundreds, where the movies have misfired. To the point where our friend wanted to watch 10. I hadn’t seen 10 since I was a little kid and remember nothing about it. I literally watched it by myself to make sure it would be an appropriate movie for movie night and played it out in my head about how it would go over. (For the record: it very much is.) I literally rehearsed movie night before movie night happened.

When I now go to a social event that is not movie night (or trivia night, which is also very structured, and is also funny because trivia night is a big part of the first episode of The Rehearsal), the next day I obsessively run through every single interaction I had, to the point I convince myself everyone hates me and I get depressed for about 24 hours. This happens so often, I’m now able to tell myself, “I know you feel depressed right now, but by tomorrow it will go away.” Which, strangely, has helped. So, yes, the idea of being able to rehearse every social interaction before they happen? I find that appealing. I didn’t watch The Rehearsal and think, oh, this is bizarre. I watched it and wished I could actually do this on a regular basis. And that’s about the time it hit me, oh, right, I already have been.

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