Nardwuar the Human Serviette

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Nardwuar the Human Serviette
Nardwuar1-photo-rgb NR.jpg
Nardwuar in 2005
Background information
Birth name John Ruskin
Born (1968-07-05) July 5, 1968 (age 46)
Origin Vancouver, British Columbia
Genres Garage rock
Occupation(s) Media personality, interviewer, musician, singer-songwriter
Instruments Vocals, keyboards
Years active 1986-present
Labels Nardwuar, Alternative Tentacles
Associated acts The Evaporators, Thee Goblins

Nardwuar the Human Serviette (born John Ruskin, July 5, 1968) is a Canadian celebrity interviewer and musician from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.[1] 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”.[2][3][4]

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.[5]

Early life[edit]

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.[6][7]

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.[7] While studying history at UBC, Nardwuar wrote papers on Vancouver's Lions Gate Bridge and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.[8] He graduated in 1990.[8]


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[9] (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.[10]

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.[citation needed]

A somewhat common reply has been "Fuck you!".[11] 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),[12] "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 of Skid Row, (who stole Nardwuar's tam o' shanter), the band Quiet Riot, (who chased Nardwuar and crew down the street), Sonic Youth and Dave Rowntree of Blur. Alice Cooper, Henry Rollins, Travis Barker, Lydia Lunch, Harlan Ellison, Beck, Nas, and others have hung up on him or been verbally combative in interviews.[13] Chris Fehn of Slipknot and Kid Cudi have both left midway through an interview.

Dave Rowntree of Blur apologized to Nardwuar in 2011 for his behavior during a 2003 interview,[14] calling it "one of the things I'm ashamed of" and classified his actions as "bullying". Nardwuar accepted the apology via twitter.[15][16]

Nardwuar's unorthodox approach often ends up in bizarre scenarios.[citation needed][original research?] 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."[17] 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.[12] 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[citation needed]. Jello Biafra was impressed with his guerrilla interview style, but became noticeably angered in a 2000 interview when Nardwuar began to cajole Biafra about former Dead Kennedys bandmates' lawsuit against Biafra.[18]

Nardwuar does extensive research on the interviewee to confuse, scare or impress them, often bringing up minutiae about band members' pasts that they have a hard time recalling until he coaches them along[citation needed][original research?]. 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[citation needed][original research?]. 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.[19] 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." Pharrell would later go on in the same interview to say, "Your research is second-to-none. Second-to-none."[20] 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".[21] 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".[citation needed][original research?] In an interview with Ludacris, Nardwuar mentions a high-school friend, Vanesha to which Ludacris replies, "You're crazy, you know that?" followed by, "How the hell did you find that out? What the hell is going on?" showing that Nardwuar does highly extensive research on people he is to interview.[22]

Interviews with non-musicians[edit]

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,[23] and Crispin Glover whether he owns a coffin full of tar.[13] 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."[24]

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 spraying of protesters outside. Chrétien responded with a line that has become well known in Canada: "For me, pepper, I put it on my plate."[25][26]

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.[27] 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[28] 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 Nardwuar's 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.[29]

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.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Doug Ward, "Trudeau rolled by Human Serviette", Vancouver Sun, November 17, 1993. p. A1
  2. ^ "Being Nardwuar". Ryerson Review of Journalism. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  3. ^ "Hypebeast vs. Nardwuar Interview". Hypebeast. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  4. ^ "Nardwuar vs. N.E.R.D - The Extended Version". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-03-02. 
  5. ^ "Duncan M. McHugh, "To Nardwuar, Hang in there. Sincerely, David Lee Roth's manager," The Ubyssey, August 3, 1999. p. 8" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-03-02. 
  6. ^ Fontana, Kaitlin (March 2011). "The Man in the Plaid Tam: Nardwuar the Human Serviette could be the last great music journalist". The Walrus. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Barclay, Michael (December 2007). "Nardwuar the Human Serviette: Almost Famous". Exclaim!. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Booker, Courtney. "Nardwuar vs. Courtney Booker or Why Should I Consider Majoring in History?". Department of History. University of British Columbia. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  9. ^ CITR schedule grid[dead link]
  10. ^ "I pretty much will interview anyone but here's who i have talked to" - Nardwuar
  11. ^ "'Another Nardwuar-ticle', The Peak, Jan 2008". Retrieved 2011-03-02. 
  12. ^ a b "NARDWUAR vs. Courtney Love". Retrieved 2012-09-18. 
  13. ^ a b Chris Dafoe, "It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a punk-rock attack" The Globe and Mail, April 23, 1998, p. C1
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ "'Nardwuar vs. Henry Rollins (1998) '". Retrieved 2012-07-01. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Nardwuar vs. Skrillex". Retrieved 2012-08-09. 
  20. ^ "Nardwuar vs. N.E.R.D - The Extended Version". Retrieved 2011-03-02. 
  21. ^ "Nardwuar vs. Drake". Retrieved 2010-07-28. 
  22. ^ "Nardwuar vs. Ludacris". Retrieved 2014-12-19. 
  23. ^ "Nardwear vs. Mikhail Gorbachev". Retrieved 2011-03-02. 
  24. ^ "Nardwuar vs. Ernest Angley". Retrieved 2011-03-02. 
  25. ^ Kerry Gold, "Who is Nardwuar: He's obnoxious, persistent, clever & curious", Vancouver Sun, Apr 23, 1998, p. C1
  26. ^ Nardwuar's upload of his question to Chretien w/ his response on YouTube
  27. ^ Nardwuar vs. Paul Martin 2004
  28. ^ Nardwuar vs. World Leaders 2006
  29. ^ Brother Ali "Nardwuar" at XXL; published January 19, 2013; retrieved December 2, 2013
  30. ^ Nardwuar -- Pop Culture's Historian, at Ion Magazine; by Bryce Dunn; published August 30, 2013; retrieved October 27, 2013; "Snoop Dogg put me in a Korn video for the song “Twisted Transistor”. Even though I’m not actually in the video, Snoop and some other hip-hop stars (like T-Pain and Xzibit) play members of Korn, and in one part of the video they are being interviewed by a guy in a tartan hat and he gets punched! When I asked Snoop about that he said, “We were thinking about you when we put that guy in the video”. Thank you Snoop Dogg!"

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