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'Nathan for You' recap: The origin story of Dumb Starbucks

Season 2 | Episode 5 | “Dumb Starbucks” | Aired July 29, 2014

At long last, the questions about the viral news sensation of Dumb Starbucks is revealed. We already knew that there had to be an intense backstory on it, but this episode was almost a game-changer for the whole show. As I mentioned earlier, the show started to fall into a familiar pattern of Nathan coming up with a radical idea, only to have to do some damage control. This week, Nathan continues to learn life lessons, but at the expense of a Faustian bargain.

The idea of opening a “Dumb Starbucks” comes to fruition when Nathan attempts to help hole-in-the-wall, hipper-than-thou coffee shop Helio (“They don’t even have a menu!”) gain more customers. Why not capture the customer base of a Starbucks by fooling people into thinking they are actually in a Starbucks?

But can they parody Starbucks legally? Nathan’s lawyer says yes, as long as Nathan is known to be a parody artist. Good thing Nathan indicated in his lawyer’s release that the lawyer would be responsible for all legal action. Here’s where things change: Usually Nathan’s antics don’t necessarily upset anyone, which is why I can relax and enjoy it. His lawyer is genuinely annoyed, especially when Nathan aggressively tries to get the release back from him. Things get awkward quickly. And not in the way we are used to.

The lawyer starts to get angry, and Nathan keeps pushing it. I continue to get uncomfortable, because this is genuinely what I hate about other “prank” shows. And an aggressive Nathan is not as funny as an awkward one.


Nathan sets out to be a parody artist, first going to open mics with his parody songs, which, for some reason, all seem to be using hits from the late ’90s. Next, he rents a gallery to put on an art show parodying brands and well-known artifacts from pop culture.


The problem? Elias, the owner of Helio, doesn’t seem to be into it. Nathan friend-breaks up with him, with the help of his lawyer, who I guess has forgiven Nathan, so Nathan sets out to open Dumb Starbucks on his own. This is the first time we’ve seen Nathan pursue a business for his own reasons.

The rest of the story we already know: It becomes news throughout the world. Nathan is genuinely happy about the attention until, predictably, the Dumb Starbucks is shut down by the health department for not having a restaurant license. Nathan learns his lesson, and at the expense of some hubris.


I’ve always been curious about how much of the show is Nathan showing his true self, and how much is the persona he is putting on for the show. I believe he was being truthful about this: The news blitz genuinely excited him, not because of fame, but because “he just wants to make people happy.” As with any other episode, he leaves with a lesson learned, but still no friends. At least he makes it up to Elias in the end:


Here are some of the standout quotes that tickled me the most:

“Maybe we can skewer them for being old.” —Nathan, on writing a parody of a Rolling Stones song

“Do you think people will get it?”  Elias, owner of Helio, questioning Nathan’s idea for Dumb Starbucks
“Do you think people are getting what you do now? You’re not that popular.” Nathan

“Don’t let the checks run dry/Royalties” Nathan, singing a parody of Bush’s “Glycerin”

2014-07-29_2321“Sexual tension is very distracting in the workplace.” Nathan, attempting to hit on one of the employees he hires for Dumb Starbucks

“Dumb Nora Jones duets.”  A CD on sale at Dumb Starbucks

“There’s a rumor it might be Banksy!” —A spectator at Dumb Starbucks

“First time in my life, people wanted to be around me.”  Nathan commenting on his newfound fame.

“They say the devil is an artist, and maybe I was his greatest piece yet.”  Nathan on realizing how the fame got to him

With this very public stunt, it’s going to be challenging for Nathan to continue to create these brilliant performance-art pieces for his show without people starting to recognize him or quickly realizing he is behind it. I am sure he’ll think of something, because there’s good news for the show:

And if you want to own a piece of the short-lived parody art gallery, Comedy Central is auctioning some of the pieces. Anyone want to pool some cash to get me the “Jamba Jews” cups?

Nathan for You airs Tuesdays at 10:30/9:30C on Comedy Central.


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