How much is a great laugh worth? Like, if the gag was really, really funny?
Six months in jail?
Good, because that’s what Nathan Fielder might be facing after pulling his headline-making “Dumb Starbucks” gag in California over the weekend in a bit for the upcoming second season of his Comedy Central series, “Nathan For You”.
“We have to deal with the health board right now, we had to meet with them today,” Fielder told Jimmy Kimmel on Tuesday night. “I really just found this out that the penalty is up to six months in jail — so we are trying to be very nice to them.”
You see, the health department — which showed up on Monday to shut him down for selling coffee without a health permit just as he was shooting a press conference revealing his concept behind the store — didn’t get the joke. Fielder’s explanation for why he doesn’t think hard time is appropriate is a fascinating one.
“What they don’t understand is that legally, we are an art gallery and the coffee we are selling is considered the art, and galleries don’t need health permits,” he told Kimmel. “Also, by not having the health permits and saving those fees, we are able to pass on those savings to the customer.”
The dead-pan comedian, who brought Kimmel some of his fake store’s goodies, seems undeterred, saying he’s eager to open a second outlet in Brooklyn at some point. Fielder did reveal the secret of his success: pastries from the Vons grocery store and whatever coffee beans were on sale at the Ralphs supermarket chain.
And, just like the Los Angeles outlet, Fielder said the prices at the potential New York store would also be the same as the legit Starbucks, because he believes his brand is “just as solid” as the real thing.
“I have a business background. I have always wanted to open my own business,” he said. “On my show, I usually help people think out of the box and open their own business, and this one was kind of so good that I wanted a piece of the action myself.” Of course, the real Starbucks wasn’t that pleased about the stunt, which Fielder said was “100 percent” legal under U.S. parody law.
Lawyers for his show’s home network, Comedy Central, (which, like MTV, is owned by Viacom Inc.) also believe his bit was “protected free expression” and not trademark infringement, even though the cups of terrible coffee people waited up to four hours for had a logo that mimicked the real Starbucks mermaid.
When asked by Kimmel if he might do a sequel like a Dumb Dunkin’ Donuts, Fielder said anything is possible. “The reason why this was so popular because … a lot of Americans maybe lost hope that innovation in business was gone. People saw, ’wow, there’s a whole new way of doing things now,’ ” he said. “It kind of allowed people to dream again in a way.”