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Who is Nardwuar the Human Serviette? And—”Why Should People Care?”

Nardwuar the Human Serviette speaks onstage at 'Nardwuar's Video Vault'.

“Who are you?” You might have heard that question being passed around a lot in various videos on social media lately. In a somewhat high-pitched voice, a very excitable man asks the question and is met with various answers. Who are you? You’re Doja Cat, you’re Megan “the Motherfucking” Stallion, you’re Cardi B, you’re everyone at once.

But … who’s asking? Who is this man, whose audios are everywhere on TikTok? Everyone, it’s time to introduce one of my personal favorite journalists and media-men of all time: Nardwuar, the “Human Serviette.”

Who is this Tartan-Hat-Wearing Man?

“Nardy,” AKA John Ruskin, is a journalist and musician from Vancouver, British Columbia. He got his start in music journalism as early as high school, likely influenced by his mother, who was a local journalist and historian. Always talented with public speaking and outreach, it would seem that interviewing came naturally to him.

Ruskin began his professional journey during his college radio days, as all the hot girls did (and yes, I’m including myself here, hehe). As such, his primary focus was on music and musicians—and since even back then, that industry was so saturated and difficult to break into, Nardy had to lean into his quirks to make his voice heard.

Professionally, his quirks are incomparable. Nardwuar is arguably the most prepared interviewer out there, with all kinds of hidden tricks he utilizes to gain information about his subjects that surprise them constantly (without being invasive or illegal, which is impressive and admirable). We have entire compilations out there showcasing his sleuthing panache:

Narwuar really knows how to get in the nooks and crannies of people’s pasts, rooting out everything from the names of exes to old pet projects in their teens. And, depending on the person he’s interviewing, this might blend beautifully with his other quirk: being very in-your-face and enthusiastic!

The best artists are the ones who roll with Nardy’s energy and play along, because it’s not like the guy is deliberately obtuse and offensive. They’re the ones who see his passion and return it with equal respect and enthusiasm, and even if I don’t like their music, I always end up loving that artist more just for being a stand-up sort of person. For instance, Nardy recently interviewed Steve Lacy (whose last album blew up on social media) and the entire exchange was a delightful thing:

You can really see Lacy relax and drop his guardedness when he sees how genuine Nardy is! It’s fantastic!

Unfortunately, some people fancy themselves “too cool” to play, and then you get interviews that are patently uncomfortable to watch. Sonic Youth and Blur were pretty awful to Nardwuar, shoving him around and stealing his cap while saying derogatory things to him. And Henry Rollins very obviously was fed up with his style and got pretty smart with him. But most of these sorts of interviews were in the 90s and early 2000s, and the culture surrounding media has largely changed since then. Lots of these people who were jerks in the day have since come out and either apologized to Nardy, or they’ve reunited with him for another round:

But this brings us to our next question…

What is a … “Human Serviette?”

Well, a serviette is a napkin, and Nardy is a human. The obvious joke here would be that he’s allowing himself to be a human spitrag. He’s surprisingly tolerant of his interviewees’ abuses and, if anything, he seems to encourage these little abuses in order to get the most telling interview possible.

However, he does actually have reasons behind each half of the title: the “Human” half comes from the song “Human Fly,” by the Cramps; and “Serviette” comes from his amusement that Americans call the things “napkins.” As for the name “Nardwuar” itself, apparently it’s just an inside joke between friends.

Now, you might be wondering: does he actually gain anything from the human napkin approach, or is it just needless masochism? My friend, he gains literally everything from this approach! Nardy has a steel spine, he doesn’t care what these people think of him. What he cares about is their art, and who they are as people, and his approach has proved its efficiency over and over again.

Behold! Examples!

Where to start with Nardy

I’d highly recommend just looking up your favorite artist in conjunction with Nardwuar, but the guy has also interviewed celebrities and other people in media (including politicians, often employing his “guerilla” style, the utter stallion), so there’s really quite a substantial library of interviews to go down. I’ll share some of my favorites for you to get started.

His interview with Kali Uchis was so utterly delightful, they really played off each others’ energies in charming ways:

One of his recurring friends is Tyler, the Creator, who went from not taking these interviews seriously to seriously seeming to adore the guy:

And finally, though this one is a bit more niche and low-key, I feel like their discussions about various bands and making music really highlighted the intelligence that goes into these interviews:

(featured image: Nardwuar the Human Serviette)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer, dog mom, and casual insomniac. Her prior experiences with media have taken her down many different roads, from local history podcasts to music coverage & production. Niche interests include folk music, elves/wizards, and why horses are cool actually.