Before March 2020, Nat’s What I Reckon’s YouTube videos, renowned for laughing at masculine Australian culture, peaked at 284,000 views. Then, spurred on by pandemic panic shopping, Nat uploaded a recipe for making pasta sauce from scratch.

To date, “How to Make Quarantine Sauce” has had 795,000 views (“End of Days Bolognese”, uploaded the following month, has been viewed more than 1.4 million times). The “Fuck Jar Sauce” movement was born and Nat’s life changed irrevocably.

“It was obviously quite exciting, seeing such huge growth on the channel, and it’s something I’ve been pushing for so long,” he says.

“[But] it’s also quite confronting thinking, like, ‘Oh, wow, now it’s become a cooking channel’, [and] all the work that I’ve done before this no one was saying anything about.”

Photo: Julia Gee

Nat’s content pivoted when the pandemic trend of baking sourdough and banana bread was at its height, and there were shortages of jarred and packaged food. Given the timing, the instructional videos focussed on fresh ingredients that are simple to cook found an instant audience.

He went on to release two books – his cookbook (Death to Jar Sauce) and self-help book (Un-cook Yourself: A Ratbag’s Rules for Life) have seen him win Booktopia’s Favourite Australian Book Award two years running – an extensive line of merchandise and a board game (Yeah Nah). He also scored a 2021 AACTA (Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts) Award nomination.

Nat believes people responded to his no-nonsense, swear-filled videos because they allow viewers to “get a bit pissed off about what’s going on”, but rather than targeting anyone in particular the anger is directed at a jar of sauce: “I think there were a lot of people quite frustrated and looking for a bit of an outlet. I think I am very lucky that I’ve had so many people on board with it.”

The instant explosion of popularity put pressure on Nat, who is also a mental health advocate and speaks openly about his “quite chronic anxiety”. He admits he sometimes has to “actively disengage” from the comments section on his videos.

“But I also have to engage with it quite a lot because it’s my job and I really love… our gang here. [The majority of] people are encouraging and positive and lovely, but it’s a big space, the internet. It’s tough to manage, but I’m getting better at it.”

Nat built a suite of COVID-related food clips, such as “Chili Con Can’t Go Outside”, “Macorona n’ Cheese” and “Self Pie-solation”. But Nat’s What I Reckon also looks to explore gender and politics through food. In “Meatball Revenge”, his partner, Jules, destroys a frozen “man-sized” meal of spaghetti and meatballs before Nat guides viewers through making a genderless and (he claims) better-tasting version.

“I think us blokes are a pretty ridiculous lot and take up a lot of space, so I like to take the piss out of that because I think it’s important to. It makes you think, I hope,” he says, adding that he likes to be able to have a chat about politics that are important to him. “To take it out on a box of frozen meatballs is a pretty harmless way of getting the point across.”

After two years of interrupted gigs and touring, Nat is excited to come to Adelaide for the 2022 Fringe with his multi-media show Nat’s What I Reckon: Uncooked. Despite his large online audience, he admits “sharing a laugh together in the same room is the best thing”.

So what can his new followers expect on stage?

“A really good time, a good laugh and probably some mask-wearing.”

Nat promises to bring his microwave and to share some in-character skits and videos. “Just taking the piss out of things and having a laugh, [while] hopefully lightening the load in your head for an hour at a time.”

Nat’s What I Reckon: Uncooked (M15+) is at the Royalty Theatre from February 24 to 26 as part of Adelaide Fringe, which opens on February 18. He will then embark on a national tour that begins with a show on March 2 at the Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre in Mt Gambier.

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