Nathan for You and Cable's Contested Masculinities

Curator's Note

Although the representational politics of Inside Amy Schumer, Broad City, and Key & Peele have earned much of the attention in Comedy Central’s recent run of standout sketch(y) shows, Nathan For You offers a different pleasure than its bawdier brethren on the network. The program, alongside newer Comedy Central fare like Kroll Show and Review, revels in the contested masculinities made possible by contemporary cable’s hyper-competitive targeting of young male audiences. This environment has seen not only formerly fact-based networks like History and National Geographic turning to more entertainment programming, but also comedy rebrands from entertainment networks like IFC and TBS designed to court young men. "Focus Group" subtly skewers contemporary cable’s ambivalent address to men, lampooning white male heternormativity at the same time that it targets marginalized cultural identities as objects of derision. In the first half of the sketch, Fielder seeks feedback about why his personality as a business-makeover host rubs would-be clients the wrong way. He gathers female, black, Asian, Hispanic, and “old” panelists, demographics nominally outside of Comedy Central’s targeted audience, but ones the network has recently been making attempts to court. The panelists speak into Fielder’s earpiece while he’s shooting a segment, urging him to smile or acknowledge the camera more. The bit builds to Fielder getting a makeover to resemble reality hosts like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives’ Guy Fieri or Property Brothers’ Scott twins, complete with hair gel, trendy clothing, and exaggerated displays of masculinity. In the sketch’s second part, however, Nathan tests his new look with a former client who chastises his facile attempt at being more manly. On one level, the sketch satirizes televisual politics of representation, but on another, it critiques the industrial discourses of cable that construct rigidly defined demographic boundaries. Comedy Central’s recent efforts to expand the boundaries of its young male niche have thus sought to balance transgressive programming with promotional and branding materials redirecting those transgressions to profitable ends.

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