As a fan of female LA based rapper Doja Cat, I came across her Instagram post in which she was plugging a recent interview with Nardwuar the Human Serviette. Now I don’t know if this is because I’ve been living under a rock or I come from the 5 second Vine generation, but I was completely unaware of who the heck Nardwuar was and subsequently fell into a Youtube black hole for a whole afternoon, binge watching interview after interview. Quite frankly, I was surprised I hadn’t heard more of him sooner. This guy has been doing interviews since the late 80s and in the age of digital media, has racked over an impressive 1 million subscribers on YouTube (although he would probably have more if YouTube was around when he started out).
Nardwuar has interviewed pretty much everyone important in music, from Kurt Cobain all the way to Snoop Dogg. Throughout his extensive career, he’s created many iconic interview moments, from Snoop Dogg rolling a joint and microwaving it during the interview, to:
Pharrell Williams revealing that “this is one of the most impressive interviews I’ve ever experienced in my life”.
Nardwuar has become famous for his quirky interview style, but what makes his interviews special is the incredible insight into the musician’s psychology through his CIA levels of research. Assuming he learned these skills through his History degree and growing up with a journalist for a mother, Nardwuar has the power to completely frazzle and disorientate his interviewees through such detail. In a 2019 interview with Billie Eilish, he tells Billie about her friend Ruby when she was 9 years old who took her to her first Green Day concert. Freaked out by how he obtained this information, her first reaction is a “ewww, how do you know that?” followed by a face of confusion and disgust.
Not only does Nardwuar aim to impress and shock his interviewees, but he tries to make each and every interview like a real conversation by offering his interviewers gifts that are incredibly rare and unique to the individual. This could be argued as an attempt to superficially buy their affections, but in most cases it works. In an interview with Post Malone, Nardwuar gifts a Johnny Cash 7 inch ‘Girl in Saskatoon’ vinyl and original tour program from 1969 after finding out Post Malone has a deep love for Johnny Cash. Malone is incredibly humbled and grateful to receive such thoughtful presents and this allows him to open up when Nardwuar proceeds to list all the childhood friends from Malone’s inner circle.
Everything about this eccentric character (whether or not he’s even that much of a character is a bit of a mystery) is incredibly captivating. From his screechy, high pitched tone of voice, to his tartan beret and outlandish wardrobe, every interview will leave you wanting to know more about the man behind Nardwuar. But that’s the very beauty of it – a quick Google search will tell you that the man behind Nardwar is John Ruskin, he studied history at university and is in a band called the Evaporators, but all the information we have on him very surface level (unless we go into Nardwuar levels of research). We don’t really know the real John Ruskin or the real Nardwuar which is what makes every interview just as interesting as the last.
Ruskin knows that the beauty of Nardwuar is his mystery, and the moment that illusion is broken then our interest will be too. Just take a look at Ali G. Before we had any idea who Sacha Baron Cohen was, Ali G, Borat and even Bruno to an extent was incredibly hilarious and unexpected. If you look at Ali G’s most recent appearance at the 2016 Oscars, Baron Cohen is doing nothing more than beating a dead horse. Sacha Baron Cohen has made a name for himself outside his characters, so we know exactly how he looks and what he sounds like (and now we know just how bad his accent is). When Ali G first graced our screens back in 1998, Sacha Baron Cohen’s name was not even on the map so he could make his character as mad as possible. This is a clear example of how Sacha Baron Cohen has become a victim of his own success.
So having been around for the same time as Ali G if not longer, Nardwuar seems to have continued his wave of popularity way beyond Ali G. This is not only because he has maintained the illusion for so many years, but because he seems to have cracked a winning formula and not let go since then. Nardwuar’s unthreatening, ‘geek’ aesthetic bodes well with the stereotypical rapper’s hard exterior. This, combined with his level of detail and ‘gifts’ to his interviewees means that any rapper he interviews instantly shows a more human side to them, and that’s what the interview is all about. We, as the viewer want to know more about the person behind the art. The artist is bored of the same questions, and someone like Nardwuar would be bored of asking them. Bringing these high profile individuals down to a human level is what I believe has allowed Nardwuar’s interviews to continue for so many years.
However, one can’t simply gloss over the level of enthusiasm and sheer passion for music that Nardwuar exudes. Not only does he know that each interview needs to be special, but this is someone who genuinely enjoys what they’re doing. You can tell he’s not doing it because he was told to by his manager and he really hates interviews – this is someone who lives to dig deeper. I wrote this article because I found that most people from my generation have no idea who Nardwuar is. But they should know. This is someone who goes above and beyond not for tabloid press, not for putting the artist on a pedestal, but to connect on a human level with the individual and find out what makes them human. I think that’s what everyone is looking for when they look at an interview of their favourite musician.
Nardwuar seems to be incredibly popular yet obscure at the same time; everyone in the music industry knows who he is but I bet you if I was to grab a couple of people off the street (as you do), they would have no idea who this guy is. He’s somehow managed to achieve incredible levels of popularity and developed genuine relationships with some of the biggest artists in the world, but somehow he’s not as in the mainstream as he should be.
Whether that’s intentional or not, we’ll never know. 👻