Nardwuar the Human Serviette (born John Ruskin, July 5, 1968) is a Canadian celebrity interviewer and musician from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He is the lead singer and keyboardist for The Evaporators and plays in Thee Goblins.
He legally changed his name in 1986. When asked to explain his name, Nardwuar quips, “Nardwuar the Human Serviette” the name “Nardwuar” is, he says, just “a dumb, stupid name like Sting or Sinbad;” “Human” came from a Cramps song called “Human Fly”; and “Serviette” came from the fact that “in the U.S.A. they don’t have serviettes, they have napkins”.
He has a bachelor's degree in history from the University of British Columbia. In July 1999, Nardwuar suffered a cerebral hemorrhage (aborting his planned ambush interview of Courtney Love), but recovered after surgery.
Nardwuar was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in 1968. His mother, Olga Ruskin, was a local journalist, high school history teacher and historian. She published a history of Vancouver historical figure "Gassy Jack" John Deighton. His mother exposed her son to local history by bringing him to historical society meetups. Nardwuar won a public speaking competition while in elementary school, where he was also a long-distance runner.
Nardwuar attended Hillside Secondary School in West Vancouver, where he was a member of the student council. It was through the student council that he began booking bands for school events, and conducted his first interview, with Art Bergmann of Poisoned. He was accepted into the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 1986, the same year he changed his name to Nardwuar. He began volunteering at the campus radio station, CITR. While studying history at UBC, Nardwuar wrote papers on Vancouver's Lions Gate Bridge and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He graduated in 1990.
Nardwuar got his start in media at the University of British Columbia radio station CITR 101.9 FM in Vancouver. His show has been running every Friday afternoon (3:30-5:00 p.m. Pacific) since October 1987. The program features a mix of eclectic music, along with interviews and commentary.
He also sometimes appears as a guest host and interviewer on CBC Radio 3 and started his own weekly program on freeform radio station WFMU in 2009.
Nardwuar's interviews are frequently shown on MuchMusic's Going Coastal, or printed in Chart. Although Nardwuar's favourite targets are music artists, he has stated that he will interview any celebrity.
His interview style can be grating and confusing to those who have had no prior experience with him. A typical interview will begin with "Who are you?", followed by "From?" if the subject doesn't volunteer his or her affiliations. The interview will always end with "Keep on rockin' in the free world", and the "doot doola doot doo..." of "Shave and a Haircut", to which the interviewee is expected to reply with the final "doot doo!" before Nardwuar freezes with a wide smile until the camera cuts off.
A somewhat common reply has been "Fuck you!". Other notable replies have been "Help Me" (Tom Morello), "You're nuts" (Glenn Danzig), "You're bizarre" (Jeff Hanneman of Slayer), "Radio free fucking Europe" (Courtney Love of Hole), "Thank you?" (Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth), "Ka-Boom" (Jello Biafra), "Quack-quack" (Jello Biafra with The Melvins), "Mmm-hmm" (Jack White), "Massive Death" (King Coffey of the Butthole Surfers), "Um bye" (Faris Badwan of The Horrors), "Bang-Bang" (Ice-T), "Funk You" (Afrika Bambaataa), "Will do!" (Marc Maron), "Katmandu" (Daniel Johnston), "Keep taking the pills" (Peter Murphy), "Fuck the free world!" (Tyler the Creator of OFWGKTA), "Bukkake" (Hodgy Beats of OFWGKTA), "Goodbye!" (Pusha T), "Thank you, pleasure" (Dani Filth), "Thank you" (Henry Rollins), and "Lace up!" (Machine Gun Kelly).
Due to his upfront and eccentric style, he has been attacked verbally, physically threatened, and intimidated by people such as Sebastian Bach ofSkid Row (who stole Nardwuar's tuque); the band Quiet Riot (who chased Nardwuar and crew down the street); and Dave Rowntree of Blur. Alice Cooper, Travis Barker, Lydia Lunch, Harlan Ellison, Alina Hussain, Beck, Nas, and others have hung up on him or been verbally combative in interviews. Chris Fehn of Slipknot and Kid Cudi have both left midway through an interview.
Nardwuar's unorthodox approach often ends up in bizarre scenarios. Some of his subjects recognize Nardwuar's eccentric style and successfully manage to reverse the scenario on him, especially Iggy Pop, David Cross, Mudhoney, "Weird Al" Yankovic and Lil B. Some interpret his hijinks as intentionally disrespectful, including Nas and pornographer Al Goldstein. Henry Rollins found Nardwuar to be disingenuous, saying "I like the character that you're playing. I like that you can turn it on and off. That's cute." Nardwuar made several attempts at contacting Courtney Love, first in 1991 over the telephone, talking about Danelectro guitars and asking her about her P.O. box before she ended the conversation. He later was able to get full interviews out of her after sneaking backstage into a dressing room at a 1993 Hole show in Vancouver, B.C., and again in November 1994 backstage at the Commodore Ballroom. Love was also present during Nardwuar's interview with Nirvana in January 1994 at the backstage of the Vancouver Forum.
More often the experience confuses the celebrities. Members of GWAR tried not to laugh while in character. Jello Biafra was impressed with his guerrilla interview style, but became noticeably angered in a 2000 interview when Nardwuar began to cajole Biafra about Biafra's lawsuit against former Dead Kennedys band mates.
Nardwuar does extensive research on the interviewee to confuse, scare or impress them; often bringing up minutia about band members' pasts that they have a hard time recalling, until he coaches them along. Frequently, he will also attempt to make connections, no matter how obscure, between the person or subject at question and Canada. A tribute to his research skills, while interviewing Josh Homme, he produced a grade school class photo of Homme mid-interview, who remained blasé yet clearly impressed. In 'Nardwuar Vs Skrillex', he produced the first CD Skrillex was ever featured on as Sonny Moore, Skrillex's then questioned his manager and then-girlfriend, Ellie Goulding, during the interview who revealed they did not know that era of Skrillex's past. During an interview with Pharrell Williams from N.E.R.D., Nardwuar pulled out a vinyl record featuring the very first recorded track by Pharrell, causing him to pause and state "This is one of the most impressive interviews I've ever experienced in my life. Seriously." During a 2010 interview with rapper Drake and his producer 40, Drake described Nardwuar's interview as the "best that I've ever done in my entire life". Similarly, following an interview with Nardwuar on October 4, 2012 before his show at The Queen Elizabeth Theater in Vancouver, BC, Canada, Ed Sheeran walked back into his dressing room and told the next interviewers that he had just had "the best interview in my life".
Interviews with non-musicians
Nardwuar has also been known to be a "guerrilla journalist," often sneaking in to press conferences under the guise of a more normal reporter, to confront political leaders or other non-musical celebrities with surreal questions. He has asked Mikhail Gorbachev which world leader had the biggest pants, and Crispin Glover whether he owns a coffin full of tar. On another occasion, Nardwuar persistently asked faith healer Ernest Angley if there was a cure for "the Summertime Blues", to which Angley angrily replied, "Oh I wish you would shut up, man. You know you're not even funny. You're lucky God don't strike you dead."
In November 1997, he cut off all his hair and was able to sneak into an APEC conference to ask Jean Chrétien if he supported the pepper sprayingof protesters outside. Chrétien responded with a line that has become well known in Canada: "For me, pepper, I put it on my plate."
In June 2004, Nardwuar convinced an amused Paul Martin, former Prime Minister of Canada, to play a quick game of the Hasbro game "Hip Flip" while he was on the campaign trail. After Martin won the election, Nardwuar commented on the great predictive power of the "Hip Flip," because neither of the other two candidates had performed the act. On a campaign trip to Vancouver in December 2005, Nardwuar concluded an interview with the late New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton—who, in their first encounter, had taken the instructions to the game and said he would practice for their next encounter—with a successful, coordinated, swinging of their hips. Current Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the only major candidate from the 2004 election who has never performed a successful "Hip Flip" with Nardwuar.
At the 2013 South by Southwest Festival film director Brent Hodge and producer Chris Kelly did a retrospective of his career for Time magazine.
In January 2013, Brother Ali released a song called "Nardwuar", to commemorate his interview with Nardwuar; the song features a beat taken from one of the records which Nardwuar gave Ali as a gift.
The music video for the Korn song "Twisted Transistor" is a mockumentary which includes a (fictional) documentary filmmaker named "Rob Piner", whose behavior and appearance are based on Nardwuar.