Midway through 2022, an unlikely sex symbol has appeared on the horizon: Nathan Fielder. Blazoned across the front cover of New York magazine’s recent TV issue, salt-and-pepper chest hair on show, Fielder stares down the viewer. It’s a dare, testing to see who breaks the gaze first—and it won’t be you. The longer you look into his eyes, beyond the abyss, the ironic image of this famously awkward comedian as a totemic sex god stops being so. It becomes real.
Walking that line between authenticity and deception is de rigueur for Fielder. On his cult-favorite Comedy Central show, Nathan For You, Fielder “helped” businesses to improve their standing with out-there, sometimes borderline-illegal ideas that rarely worked but always left audiences cringing—and laughing (and maybe a little horny). His deadpan delivery and parallel quest for friendship at once endeared him to viewers while putting a distance between them—again, it’s that unwavering stare. Part-Sacha Baron Cohen, part-Eric Andre, Fielder reinvented a genre by being so inflexibly weird and committed to the bit that you can’t help but keep watching, just to see what he says or does next.
With his new show The Rehearsal, which premieres on HBO July 15, Fielder again plays on that immovability and the difficulty connecting with other people that he, according to the New York profile, once used magic tricks to contend with. Just like on Nathan For You, the concept is simple, while the execution is unnecessarily complex: Fielder helps others to rehearse scenes from their own lives over and over again until they get it right. The Rehearsal is a study of human behavior whose ultimate conclusion for the viewer will likely be that the magic of human life cannot be rehearsed.
So: That is who Nathan Fielder is, broadly. But what about this innate sexiness? After the New York cover dropped, one person tweeted, “you ask your girl who they’d use their celebrity hall pass on expecting Michael B Jordan or Andrew Garfield or something and they always answer with like Nathan Fielder.” That tweet received 46,000 likes, and it in part exposed something deep in the psyche of people attracted to men—something the profile itself reckons with: “There are multiple streams of internet discourse devoted to identifying the source of his inexplicable attractiveness,” it reads. “Perhaps it’s not so inexplicable. Out in the world, he is witty, self-deprecating, and successful.”
Society has conditioned us somewhat to think that people (especially women) only find men desirable who look and act a certain way. These things are often boring, heteronormative and exclusionary: tall, muscular, successful, ideally not weird and awkward. Things are changing, and the recent thirst over Jeremy Allen White as Carmy in The Bear is a more obvious example. But Nathan Fielder cuts to the heart of an essential truth: There is something attractive about a person whose appeal is so raw, so innate, so against expectation, that we have to spend time figuring out what it is.
When I opened up my DMs to Fielder fans, both closeted and otherwise, I was greeted with suitably unhinged lines—like, “I would let him kill me as an ironic prank just so I could meet him IRL.” For Carly, 36, her crush is simple. He’s “tall, serious face, exacting, but when he starts laughing you feel like you’re winning,” she tells me. She also finds his “competence” sexy: “That man has spreadsheets, a meticulous inbox, a well maintained car and about four pairs of shoes. This is very beguiling to me
“I think people misunderstand what people who like fucking men actually melt for,” she adds, before listing, “nice hands, the way he looks when he is reversing the car, an interesting mouth, a very assured sense he could run a parody Starbucks.”
“I think his voice is a big part of it for me,” Sio, a twenty-something who describes Nathan as their “number-one crush,” tells me. “It’s so soothing. And there’s also something about the kind of confidence his heightened character in Nathan For You has—like, the premise is that he’s awkward and not confident, but the catch-22 is that being willing to make a fool of yourself and be visibly, unapologetically socially incompetent is actually really gutsy and sexy.”
Sio, who says they have been attracted to Fielder since the first episode of Nathan For You from back in 2015, describes his energy as “deeply sexually magnetic.” While his receding hairline and hairy chest form part of the draw, it’s that confusing confidence and unwavering calm that seals the deal for Sio, who otherwise is attracted to other cringe artists. They pick up on something else, too: While his Nathan For You character appears to be an exaggeration of his true personality, that sense of insecurity and discomfort does seem from something real within him.
Somehow, the place where his real and on-screen personalities collide is where that attraction lies.
I have seen Fielder “out in the world” once, on-stage at a comedy festival. He was confident, laughing with his friends (not out of frame), and carrying himself differently than he does on-screen. That shimmering under-surface weirdness is still present, but he is almost uncannily a real man. He was showing the audience some of his favorite YouTube videos, one of which was of a man who has acquired his great-grandmother’s corpse, which he plans to keep in his garden. In the video—eerily quiet, way too long—the man explains his choice and kisses his great-grandmother’s dead body. It’s way too drawn out, way too creepy, and it feels like an intrusion just to watch it. That’s where Fielder’s disarming stage presence came into play, as he watched us watch this video, filled with glee that he could pull this gag off and know we wouldn’t just leave. His secret is that whatever he’s doing is never quite cringe enough to get people to stop watching, and loving, him.
Yet love remains elusive for the Nathan Fielder character himself. On Nathan For You, an undercurrent of the action is Fielder’s search for not only friendship but affection. He tries to hang out with business owners, sets up a Bachelor-style contest, and engages in a quasi-relationship that is more awkward than any of his other interactions. There is a dichotomy at play, wherein a viewer with a crush on him thinks: “I will give you that love! Let me save you!”
But the real Fielder doesn’t need to be saved, to beg for love. The tide is turning and a chorus of voices sings that he could get it. It’s Nathan Fielder summer.