John Ruskin (born July 5, 1968), better known as Nardwuar the Human Serviette, or simply Nardwuar, is a Canadian interviewer and musician from Vancouver, British Columbia. He is the lead singer and keyboardist for The Evaporators.
Nardwuar in 2005
|Birth name||John Ruskin|
|Born||July 5, 1968|
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
|Occupation(s)||Media personality, interviewer, musician, singer-songwriter|
|Labels||Nardwuar, Alternative Tentacles|
|Associated acts||The Evaporators|
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 since October 1987. The program features a mix of eclectic music, along with interviews and commentary. 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. 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.
A typical 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 doota loot 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. When asked to explain his name, Nardwuar has said it is "a dumb, stupid name like Sting or Sinbad;" and that "Human" came from the song "Human Fly" by The Cramps; and "Serviette" came from the fact that "in the U.S.A. they don't have serviettes, they have napkins".
Nardwuar was born John Ruskin in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in 1968. His father Vernon was an engineer and 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 with a bachelor's degree in history.
Nardwuar does extensive research on the interviewee to confuse, scare or impress them. In 'Nardwuar Vs Skrillex', he produced the first CD Skrillex was ever featured on as Sonny Moore. Skrillex then questioned his manager and then-girlfriend, Ellie Goulding, during the interview who revealed she 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 say, "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." 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". 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?"
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 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. Chris Fehn of Slipknot, Kid Cudi and Lil Uzi Vert have left midway through an interview. 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 discuss former Dead Kennedys bandmates' lawsuit against Biafra. 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.
Nardwuar's unorthodox approach often ends up in bizarre scenarios.[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, Steel Panther, Mudhoney, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Lil B and Eric Andre. 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.
Interviews with non-musiciansEdit
Nardwuar has also been known to be a "guerrilla journalist," often sneaking into 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 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."
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. The 22nd Prime Minister Stephen Harper 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 general 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.
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.
On October 12, 2012 a video was posted on YouTube in which now deceased rapper Sean Price parodied Nardwuar's distinctive style in an interview with Duck Down labelmate Pharaohe Monch. In the video the rapper dressed and conducted the interview similarly to Nardwuar, entitled "Seanwuar."
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.
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. On December 6, 2015, he suffered a stroke and was released from hospital six days later. On January 25, 2016, he successfully underwent heart surgery to repair a patent foramen ovale, the likely cause of the stroke.
- Doug Ward, "Trudeau rolled by Human Serviette", Vancouver Sun, November 17, 1993. p. A1
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- 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
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- Vic Mensa (September 30, 2013). "Vic Mensa - Tweakin Lyrics". genius.com. Retrieved 2015-11-02.
- Watch SNL’s Kyle Mooney Parody Nardwuar Interviewing Ducktails, by James Rettig, at Stereogum; published January 15, 2016; retrieved May 14, 2016
- The Lemon Twigs. "The Lemon Twigs - Night Song Lyrics". genius.com. Retrieved 2018-06-25.
- "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.
- "Nardwuar The Human Serviette Hospitalized - 11 July, 1999". Nardwuar.com. Retrieved 2016-07-15.
- Nardwuar the Human Serviette gets love, support on social media after stroke, by Tamara Baluja; at CBC.ca; published December 10, 2015; retrieved December 11, 2015
- "Nardwuar tweets he's been discharged from Vancouver hospital after stroke - Arts & Entertainment - CBC News". Cbc.ca. 2015-12-13. Retrieved 2016-07-15.
- Nardwuar Undergoes Heart Surgery, by Gregory Adams; at Exclaim.ca; published January 25, 2016; retrieved January 27, 2016