Saturday, March 8, 2008

Let's Give It Up for Nate Dern

Take the sketch comedy of Kids in the Hall, the do-it-yourselfedness of Andy Samberg, Mike Myers' ability to spin characters out of thin air, the absolute randomness of Andy Milonakis, the standup talents of Eddie Izzard, and Steve Martin's determination to not let comedy totally define his persona and you've got Nate Dern.

Okay, now I've built him up way to much, especially for a guy most people haven't heard of, and who frankly is still not sure he wants to do comedy for a living. Nate, a '07 graduate of Harvard in Social Anthropology, appeared in Season 3 of Beauty and the Geek, a reality show that paired girls who think they can get by on looks alone with guys who think they can get by with encyclopedic knowledge and no social skills. When it first came out, I had no interest--it looked like producer Ashton Kutcher was going to punk a bunch of bimbos and nerds. However, an article from Salon got me to start watching.

In each episode, each partner is challenged to stretch out of their comfort zone. In one challenge, the beauties had to read Freakonomics , then stage an interview it's co-author Stephen Dubner. The geeks, on the other hand, had to perform a set at a comedy club, and Nate's standup routine on allergies, well, stood out. It takes a special genius to do comedy and I think he's got it. Nate's not a geek in the traditional sense --it seems he was recruited to star on the show by casting agents at Harvard merely because he was sporting glasses, a beard, and plaid pants. He likes Star Wars, but rather than buying action figures, he wrote songs about Stormtroopers for his tribute band So Long Princess.

He and his partner were strong contenders for the $250,000 prize until the twist ending--rather than competing in a quiz show to win the finale, the winning team would be selected by the eliminated contestants. Had the team been judged solely by Nate, he almost certainly would have won, as he was well-liked by his castmates. Unfortunately, his partner Cecille Gahr, a Hawaiian Tropics model, was catty to the girls and manipulative of the guys throughout the season. In case anyone was even tempted to vote for him in spite of Cecille, Nate petitioned his fellow contestants not to vote for his team, but in losing the prize money, won the hearts of millions of viewers.

After the standup episode aired last year, I Googled him. He had started posting bits of standup he was doing in dorms, as well as odd little shorts of himself. For some reason I Googled him again last week. It seems last summer he interned at the Daily Show (look for the bearded dude playing Jenga) and last fall he decided to go to Cambridge to get a Masters in Screen Media and Cultures and is still trying to decide between teaching and comedy. His video log, which is not necessarily comedic, is terrific--not only is he funny, he's got a photographer's eye and a gift for storytelling. He's so prolific in his posting, I almost feel like I could write a dissertation on him, or at least another post.

But let's get back to the comedy. If he does decide to teach, lucky kids, but unlucky us, because I think he's hilarious. Comedy is hard work, but he's got the raw talent and if he keeps at it, I think he could make it. Although he seems to like improv and standup, he excels at creating characters and doing sketch, with other actors, in monologue, and with himself playing all the roles. Here's a sampling below:

Nat the Poet reads his Kitchen Poem

Sven Major has Super Powers

Drug Awareness (mature language and content)

Super Scrabble (starring Nate, Nate, and Nate)

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