Nardwuar, the Human Serviette is a journalist famous for his interviews with all your favorite artists, but you’ve probably never heard of him. If you have, you know that he’s hands-down the best interviewer in music journalism today and you know that’s not an exaggeration. Born John Ruskin, the 46-year-old radio DJ is from Vancouver, Canada — which he reps every chance he gets.
Nardwuar got his start in radio. He stills runs a show on the public radio station CiTR-FM, where he’s worked since the mid-’80s.
He’s also in a punk band of his own, The Evaporators.
His schtick can be a lot to take in at first encounter.
He’s loud and shrill, he speaks very fast and excitedly, and he dresses like a Scottish bagpipe player or a PGA golfer. But all of this seems to function to both stun and ease whomever he’s interviewing.
These days he’s best known for his interviews with rappers, though he’s interviewed all kinds of musicians in his career — from Ludacris to Kurt Cobain to Lady Gaga.
His earnestness, clear passion for music, and respect for his interview subjects, as evidenced through his rigorous and unmatched research about them, make people open up like they rarely would otherwise. He presents his subjects with gifts pertaining to significant but little-known moments from their lives or their influences — ranging from rare vinyl records to collectible figurines and puppets to posters.
And Nardwuar’s research is second to none. Check out some of his most memorable interviews below:
1. Nardwuar x N.E.R.D.
Nardwuar’s reputation among rap circles was largely established after his interview with N.E.R.D. in 2008. “Your research is second to none. Second to none,” Pharrell said during their interview, uncharacteristically thrown off-guard and impressed. “And I can only imagine you probably do the same kind of research with every band that you interview, so that’s pretty impressive, man.”
It really is.
2:35: Nardwuar presents Pharrell with a record from The Cosmos and asks him about Carl Sagan, leaving the producer/rapper/singer nearly speechless.
6:55: Nardwuar asks them about Mount Trashmore, and Pharrell is so astounded he has to pause and give him props. “But I gotta say, it’s pretty scary. You’re either psychic or, like, I dunno, you have some kind of remote viewing talent or something. Seriously. It’s amazing. I’m a fan.”
2. Nardwuar x Mikhail Gorbachev (1993)
Nardwuar actually got his start by interviewing politicians, which is kind of insane to think about now. But here he is in 1993, sneaking in a a question or two during a press conference.
Of the encounter, Nardwuar told Spin last year:
For this encounter I attempted, in Russian, to tell Mikhail Gorbachev to ‘Keep on rockin’ in the free world’ and also to ask him (in English), ‘Of all the world leaders you have encountered, who has the biggest pants?’ Before Gorbachev could really answer, the organizers of the news conference cut off his microphone. However, as I was getting kicked out I could hear the translator say, ‘Sorry, I did not understand your Russian.’ I also spotted a smile on Gorbachev’s face.
3. Nardwuar x Blur (2003)
Some of Nardwuar’s interviews, including his ones with Blur and Sonic Youth, show how artists aren’t always nice to the people who interview them.
Blur’s drummer David Rowntree ended up breaking Nardwuar’s glasses during their 2003 interview, then apologized eight years later, blaming his behavior on cocaine.
4. Nardwuar x Odd Future (2011)
1:50: Nardwuar surprises Tyler with the knowledge that his mother is half Canadian, getting even the hyperactive rapper to pause in total amazement.
10:22: One of the more epic endings to a Nardwuar interview.
5. Nardwuar x Nirvana (1994)
3:34: Nardwuar asks Kurt Cobain if it’s true that his friend Jesse Reid’s dad played in a surf band. Off camera, Courtney Love chimes in: “Isn’t it weird that he knows that? How do you know that?!”
6. Nardwuar x Questlove (2013)
31:54: Nardwuar gifts Questlove a copy of a fanzine called Roctober, which includes an article about Soul Train. Questlove eyes bulge out of his head, as he’s writing a book about the show and has been unable to find any photos from that era. It’s a really touching moment, and The Roots drummer is speechless, nearly brought to tears.
7. Nardwuar x Drake (2010)
8:25: Nardwuar presents Drake with a special present, based off a lyric from his song “Over.”
8. Nardwuar x Lady Gaga (2008)
6:39: Nardwuar knows his interview subjects so well, he maybe knows more about their lives than they can even remember. Here, he has to jog Gaga’s memory to remind her that she does, in fact, know who Andrew W.K. is.
9. Nardwuar x Riff Raff (2012)
7:28: Riff Raff drops hundreds of bills to the floor.
Nardwuar: “What happened there?”
Riff Raff: “I made it rain.”
10. Nardwuar x Katy Perry (2009)
4:55: Nardwuar totally blows Katy’s mind by knowing that her first concert was a punk show of the Southern California band, The Mad Caddies.
11. Nardwaur x A$AP Rocky (2012)
4:16: Nardwaur asks A$AP Rocky about a woman named Desiree, who appeared in the rapper’s “Wassup” video. Watch for his friend A$AP Twelvy’s eyes widen in amazement as he stands behind Rocky — their reaction is priceless.
And finally, four classic interviews with Snoop Doog — with whom Nardwuar has a long and friendly history.
12. Nardwuar x Snoop (2002)
0:35: A flashback to their first interview in 2000, when Snoop stole the Red Fox doll that Nardwuar had presented to him.
3:10: Nard presents Snoop with Richard Pryor’s comedy record Supern***a, which Snoop promptly takes.
Snoop: “I got a character I’m making called Supern***a, I need to get this album. Thanks.”
Nardwuar: “No, not again, Snoop! You’re stealing my stuff!”
Snoop: “I ain’t stealing it, I’m taking it.”
13. Nardwuar x Snoop (2007)
2:20: Nardwuar shows Snoop a taped message from his idol Blowfly, chastising him for taking the Blowfly record from Nard during their last interview.
2:51: Snoop adorably geeking out over Blowfly, giggling and jumping up and down like an 8-year-old.
14. Nardwuar x Snoop (2010)
0:40: Snoop just rolling a blunt and sharing his tips: Microwave your blunt for 11 seconds, so you can “trap all the ingredients.” He then leaves to microwave the blunt.
15. Nardwuar x Snoop Lion (2013)
3:55: Snoop reads the description on the box of a Beyoncé blow-up doll that is kind of horrifying but oddly mesmerizing coming from him.