Comedy Central's Nathan Fielder set a high bar during the first season of Nathan For You when his video of a pig saving a drowning goat went viral and made the rounds on news shows such as Good Morning America and Anderson Live. But in the fifth episode of season two, Fielder's latest business scheme turns him into an international celebrity.
The episode starts with Fielder pitching a bizarre marketing idea to Elias Zacklin, the owner of a struggling coffee shop in East Hollywood, California called Helio Cafe.
"You don't have a brand that people recognize, but maybe there's a shortcut to having brand recognition using a little something called parody law," Fielder says. Used by Saturday Night Live and artists such as "Weird Al" Yankovic, parody law allows for the use of trademarks as long as the copyrighted material is being parodied.
The plan, Fielder explains, involves rebranding Helio Cafe as Dumb Starbucks, the world's first parody of the national coffee chain. Zacklin agrees to the idea, but ultimately backs out, leaving Fielder to start his parody coffee shop from the ground up. He finds an empty storefront in Los Feliz, California, and builds an exact replica of a Starbucks coffee shop.
After hiring two employees named Jeremiah and Amber--and conducting a brief employee orientation in which he explains the strict company policy regarding romantic relationships in the workplace--Fielder opens Dumb Starbucks and begins serving Dumb Espressos and Dumb Lattes in sizes such as Dumb Grande and Dumb Venti.
When customers ask whether the store has the required license to sell food and beverages, Fielder explains that, legally speaking, Dumb Starbucks is categorized as an art gallery.
"We don't want any of our customers to get sick, but if they do, technically that's part of the artistic experience," he says.
While the initial reaction from customers is tepid at best, Dumb Starbucks quickly turns into something of a media sensation. When this stunt occurred, TV crews appeared and lines went around the block. Rumors started flying that anonymous street artist Banksy was behind the "art installation." Fielder even lands a guest appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live and announces plans for an additional Dumb Starbucks to open in (naturally!) Brooklyn.
Unfortunately, Fielder runs into trouble when the health inspector forces him to close due to the fact that Dumb Starbucks lacks the proper permits. Rather than fight the local health department, Fielder decides to cut his losses and close Dumb Starbucks for good.
Although exploiting the legal loophole surrounding parody law technically allowed Fielder to accomplish his goal of building brand awareness fast, as usual, his marketing stunt has a short shelf life. The genius of Dumb Starbucks, it seems, may have only been good for 15 minutes of fame.
But in these days of iPhones sprouting from every other hand and widespread Web-enabled attention-deficit disorder, 15 minutes of fame can seem like a lifetime. Or at least it seems that way while it lasts.
Stay tuned for more recaps every week.