From Lil Uzi Vert to Sonic Youth: Meet Nardwuar, the internet’s favourite interviewer

By Mason Berlinka

Published May 7, 2023 at 09:15 AM

Reading time: 5 minutes

If you’re even remotely interested in music, there’s no doubt you will have come across Nardwuar the Human Serviette by now. The Vancouver-born interviewer has been trolling and astounding musical guests with his knowledge since the 90s, and thanks to the internet, he’s found tremendous success today interviewing all of gen Z’s favourites, from rap superstars like Tyler, the Creator, to Britpop legends Blur.

Be it his perplexing knowledge of a rapper’s childhood or his commitment to the bit like freezing in place with an over the top smile once an interview ends—more often than not, leaving his guests confused and feeling extremely awkward—Nardwuar is an internet icon. Remember: always judge a musician by how they treated the eccentric reporter. We’re looking at you, Sonic Youth.

So, how did the Canadian personality get so big, and how does he always find out so much about the celebrities he interviews? Well, it’s Nardwuar, he has to know! And now, here’s everything you need to know about the radio personality. You know, just in case you find yourself interviewing him one day.

Who is Nardwuar?

John Ruskin, aka everyone’s favourite tam-wearing Canadian, is best known for his interview persona, Nardwuar the Human Serviette—a character famed for his bizarre and obscure knowledge into the lives of the people behind the microphone. During a 2017 interview, rapper Lil Uzi Vert famously proclaimed that “bro [Nardwuar] knows too much.”

Ruskin employs an in your face style of interviewing that is filled with recurring gags and motifs. For  example, insisting everyone is introduced properly at the start of an interview, the tedious back and forths, as well as presenting the rappers and singers he meets with rare and mysterious gifts. The gifts often pair up with the strange facts he’s learnt about the musicians, the entire process makes up a core part of his shtick.

Nardwuar’s interviews always end in the same way, with a plea for whoever is behind the mic to “keep on rockin’ in the free world, and doot doot da loot doot!’” At this point in the interview, Ruskin waits for the recipient to finish his jingle with a resounding “Doot do!” Naturally most of his early 90s interviews left people absolutely stumped as to how to react to Ruskin’s cryptic sign off and most of the time the few last seconds of the video depicts what looked to be seriously cringe-inducing stand offs.

Once the jingle is complete, or at least some sort of attempt has been made to sign off the video, Nardwuar will then freeze on the spot with a huge grin on his face. This often leads to some lighthearted tom-foolery from guests who either freeze for an awkwardly long time with Nardwuar at the fake photo opportunity, or mess about with the fossilised interviewer. The late rapper and Singer Mac Miller is known for having lifted Nardwuar off the ground after their interview.

Notable presents from Nardwuar include gifts like a poster of famed hardcore punk rocker GG Allin for Lil Uzi Vert back in 2018. This interview proved so shocking to Uzi, he told the radio DJ: “You know too much. I can’t do this” and then proceeded to run away, cutting the interview short.

The legendary producer, rapper, song-writer and fashion designer, Pharrell Williams has also been on the receiving end of gifts from Narduar. In 2008, Pharrell was presented with a record with one of his earliest songwriting credits, ‘Rump Shaker’ by Wreckx-n-Effect, a fact that is far from universally known. This prompted the stunned artist to proclaim:“this is one of the most impressive interviews i’ve ever experienced in my life.”

Do Nardwuar’s guests get to keep the gifts?

Naturally the internet has long speculated on how Nardwuar can afford to give out as many gifts as he does. Rumours began to spread in 2021 that the interviewer actually took back the gifts he doled out—a claim that Ruskin feverishly denied and has since proven false.

In January 2021 Violent J of Insane Clown Posse (ICP) fame told Jackass stuntman Steve-O on the Wild Ride! podcast that Nardwuar took everything back—“everything!” after their interview in 2017. This led netizens to question the authenticity of Ruskin’s character, and the spectacle of his famous gift giving.

The presenter sought to clear his name as quickly as possible, and promptly made a video that same month debunking the claims. Violent J was mistaken between records that Nardwuar had brought to show the ICP, and gifts he’d brought for them to keep. J’s claims that everything was taken back was then firmly proven wrong by supporting ICP member Shaggy 2 Dope on an episode of his own podcast, The Palcast, where he showed proof that he still had a Sir Mix-a-Lot keychain that was bestowed upon them by Nardwuar.

Billie Eilish’s brother Finneas is another notable example of a celebrity seen sporting one of the Canadians’ gifts. The producer and guitarist was given a Beatles guitar strap in 2019 by the eccentric radio host, and has since been seen wearing it while on stage.

How does Nardwuar know so much about his interviewees?

The internet has long wondered how Nardwuar is in possession of all this information, with comments all over YouTube claiming that Nardwuar “knows everything” and that he may be in possession of esoteric relics that afford him his famous insight—could he even be a member of the illuminati…?

The answer to Nardwuar’s extensive knowledge is far less exciting than you might have hoped. The personality told Nylon in 2017 that he does about “one week of researching.” He went on to tell the magazine, “It’s not that hard to do it.” Explaining:“Most people are too busy to delve into a subject or too lazy. But it’s right there, It’s not that difficult for people to find.”

It all comes down to extensive, dedicated research, and as Reddit speculates, it is likely that Nardwuar will reach out to artists’ families and friends, as well as listening to their full discographies, and combing other past interviews to ensure that no stone has been left unturned.

One thing for certain, Nardwuar is the last person you’d want to see take the witness stand at your upcoming trial.

Sonic Youth and Nardwuar: Artists who didn’t treat Nardwuar with respect

Nardwuar’s abrasive style of journalism isn’t for everyone, but there’s one thing the internet can agree on: you don’t fuck with Nardwuar. The wholesome interviewer is always doing his best to bridge the gap to musical celebrities for audiences, and his unique style makes him truly one of a kind.

Sadly a lot of stars have mistreated the Canadian sweetheart, especially back in the early 90s and 00s, when a lack of widespread internet access meant most musicians had very little prior awareness of Nardwuar’s style of interviewing.

American alt rock band Sonic Youth had their infamous run in with Ruskin in 1991 outside the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the too cool for school band responded to all of Nardwuar’s questions with jeering and mockery. The two part interview ended with one of the bands guitarist, Lee Ronaldo breaking a rare record that Nardwuar had brought to show the band. This is one of the rare occasions you’ll actually see Ruskin burst into an expletive-filled rage, and I don’t blame him.

The self-appointed human serviette was also severely mistreated by Brit Pop group Blur’s own drummer, Dave Rowntree back in their interview from 2003. The band is certainly confused at Nardwuar’s big personality in the video, but it is Rowntree who takes things too far, acting like a playground bully as he shoves and taunts the Canadian.

The video is a painful watch, and as soon as Rowntree leaves the room, the interview becomes considerably more bearable. The drummer has since come out and apologised about his behaviour in the video, citing a coke addiction being behind his unjust behaviour. Thankfully Nardwuar was more than happy to accept the apology—water under the bridge.

Ruskin’s famous character has long divided netizens, with some finding the interviewers’ annoying persona weirdly endearing, while others can’t help but to keep scrolling. However, no matter whether you’re a hardcore fan or intense advocate, one thing is for sure: If you have a secret you’d rather keep hidden, don’t take an interview with Nardwuar.

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