Tyler Fischer is a troublemaker. You might recognize this New Haven native from his subway sign parodies, or the recently-gone-viral “hidden camera” video in which Fischer pretends to be a Swedish couples’ therapist at the Red Hook IKEA, asking customers to assess the print art as though it were Rorschach blots and cutting deals on his rates in swedish meatball units. He jokes with one shopping couple, “A relationship is like IKEA: it takes forever to build, and then it falls apart in nine weeks.”
We’re all in favor of a good joke. And we’re especially fond of people who take jokes to their most absurd extremes, because life is one big joke anyway, so you may as well take the humor in it seriously. So we caught up with Fischer to ask him about his penchant for mischief, his quirky sense of humor and how he’s eked out a life as the kind of parody artist that Nathan For You’s host Nathan Fielder so desperately endeavored to be.
“I was definitely the class clown,” said Fischer, 28, who now lives in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. “I hated school, I hated rules, and I hated authority. I’ve always been pulling pranks, imitating people, and going to extreme lengths for a laugh.”
Fischer told us that his “extreme” comedy began in the womb — literally.
“I entered the world in a hilarious way: I was born on my kitchen floor. Perhaps my first ‘prank?’ My mom didn’t have time to make it out of the house, I slipped out in minutes and was then wrapped in tin foil to keep insulated. The comedy was built-in.”
Now, Fischer actually makes a living (!) as a professional comedian and actor, rotating from stand-up gigs on cruise ships to TV commercials to films to series, and occasionally even getting paid to make hidden camera videos for companies looking to do a little viral marketing.
IKEA, on the other hand, was one of Fischer’s passion projects.
“It’s hilarious to me watching couples shop together. It can be tragic, even. It’s an anxiety attack waiting to happen. It makes me happy to be single, knowing I can buy whatever I want without a 20-minute debate over what color tea candles to buy. So I had this idea for a while, and it’s my favorite video thus far.”
But what does it take to get away with real-life punchlines like this one? Without a sizable investment backing shows like Comedy Central’s Nathan For You and truTV’s Impractical Jokers, pranks on the public are more likely to warrant arrest than attention. Fischer explained that he often has to get creative when filming, as in the case of the IKEA video:
“I had a few buddies help pull it off. One filming, one recording sound on my hidden mic, and one on the look out to signal if any actually staff were on to us. Less is more on these videos, to keep attention to a minimum.”
The result, as you can see above, is satisfyingly lo-fi. You can tell the customers are buying Fischer’s character, but his antics don’t seem to be drawing any ire from store employees.
“If you act like you belong somewhere, people rarely question you,” Fischer said. “I tried to blend in and look like I actually worked there so that nobody would question me — the clipboard, glasses and blazer helped me look like an authority figure. I also added the accent, because people are just nicer to you if you have one.”
Fischer is also the photoshop wiz behind Signs of New York, a popular satire series that skews pictures of MTA subway signs and storefronts to reflect what they really represent. His favorite version of the series is where he pokes fun at the lackluster performance of public transit in New York City.
“Being a comedian means hours every day on the subway. And not the good hours; the late ones, where you truly don’t know if your train will arrive by sunrise. To keep myself occupied and sane, I would start rewriting the signs so they were more honest.”
To anyone out there who regularly feels beaten down by the city, Fischer’s story can read two ways: on the one hand, a comedian’s job is just to reach his or her audiences by creating an alternate narrative to quotidian life; by taking things that seem serious and revealing the humor in them, so that every future moment in a similar situation can feel a little lighter. (For example, you’ll probably think of Fischer’s video the next time you shop with your s/o at IKEA.)
And in another way, it’s a call to arms for the “practical” application of practical jokes. Fischer, for example, plans to pitch his Signs of New York subway jokes to the MTA as a tongue-in-cheek “honesty” campaign, that they might use to allay straphanger frustration. As it goes with Nathan Fielder, whose absurd theories and eccentric businesses solutions on Nathan For You are at their heart still an act of goodwill, the best comedy is one that has social impact. And it’s pretty astounding that we live in a place and a time where people are willing to take things like “Dumb Starbucks” seriously.
“Now, I’m able to make a living from this stuff, which is pretty mind blowing to me,” Fischer shared with us. “I didn’t have to make a big shift [in my life], I just basically added a camera and microphone to everything. I would be doing these things for fun even if I didn’t end up being a comedian.”
Well, there you have it, folks: the Brooklyn man so dedicated to joke-making that he’d do it for free. And since it’s a viable possibility that notwithstanding his success, Fischer gets arrested for something one of these days, we asked him whether he’d be willing to go to jail for his jokes.
“If I knew it would skyrocket my career, I would,” he said. “As long as it was only for a few days. And if there was a guarantee that I wouldn’t be man handled. Then, yes.”
Follow Tyler on Twitter for more practical jokes at @TytheFisch
Want to read more stories about the hustle? Catch them on Sam’s Twitter at @ahoysamantha