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Nardwuar in 2005
Nardwuar in 2005
Background information
Birth nameJohn Ruskin
Born (1968-07-05) July 5, 1968 (age 54)
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
GenresGarage rock, punk rock
Occupation(s)Media personality, interviewer, musician, singer-songwriter
Instrument(s)Vocals, keyboards
Years active1985–present

John Ruskin (born July 5, 1968), better known as Nardwuar, or Nardwuar the Human Serviette, is a Canadian interviewer and musician from Vancouver, British Columbia.[1] He is the lead singer and keyboardist for The Evaporators.[2]

Nardwuar got his start in media at the University of British Columbia radio station CITR 101.9 FM in Vancouver.[3] His show has been running every Friday afternoon[4] since October 1987. The program features a mix of eclectic music, along with interviews and commentary. Nardwuar's interviews have frequently been 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.[5] 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 which ran from 2009 to 2013.[6]

Noted for his excitable persona, a typical Nardwuar interview will begin with "Who are you?", followed by "From?" if the subject doesn't volunteer their affiliations. Each interview ends 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. Interviews also often end with Nardwuar asking the interviewee "Why should people care about [interviewee's name]?". When asked to explain his name, Nardwuar has said it is "a dumb, stupid name like Sting or Sinbad"; that "Human" came from the song "Human Fly" by The Cramps; and that "Serviette" came from the fact that "in the U.S.A. they don't have serviettes, they have napkins".[7][8]

Early life[edit]

Nardwuar was born John Ruskin in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1968. His father, Vernon, was an engineer[9] and his mother Olga Ruskin (née Bruchovsky)[10] 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 him to local history by bringing him to historical society meetups. In elementary school, Nardwuar won a public speaking competition and was a long distance runner.[11][12]

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.[12] While studying history at UBC, Nardwuar wrote papers on Vancouver's Lions Gate Bridge and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.[13] He graduated in 1990[13] with a bachelor's degree in history.


Interviews with musicians[edit]

Nardwuar does extensive research on the interviewee. In an interview with Skrillex, he presented the artist's first-ever CD featured as Sonny Moore. Skrillex then questioned his manager as well as his then-girlfriend Ellie Goulding, who revealed that they did not know that era of Skrillex's past.[14] 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 say, "This is... this is... This is one of the most impressive interviews I've ever experienced in my life. Seriously." Later in the same interview, Pharrell said, "Your research is second-to-none. Second-to-none."[15] 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".[16] In an interview with Ludacris, Nardwuar mentioned a high-school friend, Vanesha, to which Ludacris replied, "You're crazy, you know that?" followed by, "How the hell did you find that out? What the hell is going on?".[17]

Due to his absurd 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 favorite toque),[18] the band Quiet Riot (who chased Nardwuar and crew down the street), Sonic Youth[19][20] and Dave Rowntree of Blur.[21] 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.[22] Chris Fehn of Slipknot,[23] Kid Cudi[24] and Lil Uzi Vert[25] (lightheartedly) have left midway through an interview. More often the experience confuses the celebrities. Members of GWAR tried not to laugh while in character.[26] Jello Biafra was impressed with his guerrilla interview style, but became noticeably angered in a 2000 interview when Nardwuar began to discuss former Dead Kennedys bandmates' lawsuit against Biafra.[27] Dave Rowntree of Blur apologized to Nardwuar in 2011 for his behavior during a 2003 interview, calling it "one of the things I'm ashamed of" and classified his actions as "bullying". Nardwuar accepted the apology via Twitter.[28][29]

Some of his subjects recognize Nardwuar's eccentric style and manage to reverse the scenario on him, especially Iggy Pop,[30] David Cross,[31] Steel Panther,[32] Mudhoney,[33] "Weird Al" Yankovic,[34][35] Lil B[36] and Eric Andre.[37] Some interpret his hijinks as intentionally disrespectful, including Nas[38] 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."[39] 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.[40] 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.[41][42][43]

Interviews with non-musicians[edit]

Nardwuar has also been known to be a "guerrilla journalist," often sneaking into press conferences under the guise of an orthodox reporter to confront political leaders or other non-musical celebrities with surreal or confusing questions. His non-Canadian political targets have included President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, former U.S. President Gerald Ford and former U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle.[44] Nardwuar has also targeted actor Crispin Glover[22] and faith healer Ernest Angley, asking the latter 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."[45]

Interviews with Canadian politicians[edit]

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, apparently unaware of the incident and not knowing what the English terms "mace" and "pepper spray" referred to, responded with a line that has become well known in Canada: "For me, pepper, I put it on my plate."[46][47]

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.[48] 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. The 22nd Prime Minister Stephen Harper[49] is the only major candidate from the 2004 election who has never performed a successful "Hip Flip" with Nardwuar. Nardwuar was escorted out by Harper's security while trying to initiate the game. In the 2015 Canadian federal election, the first federal leader to complete the Hip Flip game was Justin Trudeau, who did so on September 10 after a press conference in Vancouver.[50]

Premier Christy Clark (Liberal), Premier John Horgan (NDP) and Andrew Weaver (Green) all did the Hip Flip during the 2017 British Columbia general election.[51]

During the 2019 Canadian federal election, New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh was the only head of a political party to attempt the Hip Flip.[52]

In the 2021 Canadian federal election campaign, both New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh[53] and Green Party of Canada leader Annamie Paul completed the Hip Flip.[54]


The music video for the 2005 Korn song "Twisted Transistor" is a mockumentary that includes a fictional documentary filmmaker named "Rob Piner", whose behavior and appearance are based on Nardwuar.[55]

In an October 2012 video posted to YouTube titled 'Seanwuar', rapper Sean Price appears dressed similarly to Nardwuar, interviewing fellow Duck Down Records labelmate Pharoahe Monch, parodying Nardwuar's distinctive style and conducts the interview in a similar fashion, using many of Nardwuar's signature features, such as use of his gift-giving and finishing the interview with a vocal transaction from Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti' instead of the one from 'Shave and a Haircut'.[56]

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 that Nardwuar gave Ali as a gift.[57]

At the 2013 South by Southwest Festival film director Brent Hodge and producer Chris Kelly did a retrospective of Nardwuar's career for Time.

During South by Southwest 2013, Pharrell Williams playfully turned the tables and interviewed Nardwuar immediately after his own interview, attempting to imitate Nardwuar's signature interview style.

In his 2013 mixtape Innanetape, Vic Mensa referenced Nardwuar in the song "Tweakin' (feat. Chance the Rapper)" with the lyric "Thumbs up to the camera like Nardwuar."[58]

While Nardwuar was recovering from heart surgery, Kyle Mooney produced a mock Nardwuar interview with Matt Mondanile.[59]

On his 2016 album Top of the Line, in the song of the same name, Rittz references Nardwuar with the lyric "shit I can't recall the last 15 years wishing I could do an interview with Nardwuar".

The track "Night Song" from the 2017 EP Brothers of Destruction by The Lemon Twigs has the line "we saw the highway patrol taking selfies with Nardwuar."[60]

September 29, 2019, was declared "Nardwuar Day" in Vancouver by Kennedy Stewart, the Mayor of Vancouver.[61]

In 2019, Nardwuar was inducted into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame and included in their starwalk on Granville Street in Downtown Vancouver.[62]

Lil Uzi Vert sampled his 2018 interview with Nardwuar for his song "Futsal Shuffle 2020".[63]

The track "Merlin's Staff" off the 2021 mixtape, Sin City The Mixtape, by Ski Mask the Slump God has the line "They all about ya, know about ya, no Nardwuar".[64]

Logic's 2022 album, Vinyl Days, features a track called "Nardwuar" in which an audio from Nardwuar himself is sampled.[65]

Personal life[edit]

On July 10, 1999, Nardwuar suffered seizures and temporary paralysis resulting from a cerebral hemorrhage (aborting his planned ambush interview of Courtney Love), but quickly recovered.[66][67] On December 6, 2015, he suffered a stroke[68] and was released from hospital six days later.[69] On January 25, 2016, Nardwuar underwent surgical repair of a patent foramen ovale, a hole between two chambers of the heart, which was the likely cause of his stroke.[70][71]


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