Awesome Men Throughout History: Nardwuar
Trying to explain Nardwuar the Human Serviette to your average sports-watching, beer-drinking person can be difficult, especially if that person doesn’t have the tolerance for odd behavior that comes from listening to punk rock or watching public access television. I mean, look at him: the toque, the hideous suits, the overcaffeinated grin, it all says “neither my fans nor I spend much time getting laid.” He’s like both members of They Might Be Giants condensed into a single Canadian man.
Oh, right, and Nardwuar is also from Vancouver. That’s another strike against him for most people.
But Nardwuar is an Awesome Man, oh yes. He’s been interviewing celebrities, musicians, and other public figures, sometimes by ambushing them, for a variety of radio programs since the mid-1980s, and he’s absolutely fearless. His on-the-spot interviews with political leaders are his most daring, as he’s been known to sneak into press conferences disguised like a normal human being so he can ask them ridiculous questions. Mikhail Gorbachev, for example, was asked which world leader had the biggest pants, while Crispin Glover was asked whether he owned a coffin full of tar.
Sometimes these stunts reveal a lot about their subject’s personality. When Nardwuar kept asking faith healer Ernest Angley if he could cure the Summertime Blues (referencing a song by Eddie Cochran), Angley freaked out and told him that “you’re lucky God don’t strike you dead.” Nice. Nardwuar’s brief conversation with Jean Chrétien at a 2007 APEC conference was equally enlightening; when asked if he supported protesters getting abused and pepper sprayed outside the conference, Chrétien’s reply was “For me, pepper, I put it on my plate.”
Nardwuar’s interviews of musicians are just as fun. He tends to fastball questions at his subjects so they don’t have time to give him bullshit responses, and he does insane amounts of research beforehand, sometimes knowing more about (and possessing more artifacts from) the subject’s early life and career than his subjects themselves. He also tries as hard as he can to make connections between his subject and Canada.
It’s been said that how you react to Nardwuar determines whether or not you’re a good person, and that’s mostly true; cool people (Jello Biafra, Patricia Day, the Donnas, Weird Al Yankovic, Andrew WK, Iggy Pop) all seem to like the guy, whereas douchebags (Blur, Quiet Riot, Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach, Beck) are hostile to his annoying-but-endearing style. A few fall through the cracks—Henry
Rollins didn’t care much for Nardwuar, Vanilla Ice loved him—but generally it’s true that Nardwuar is something of a litmus test for whether or not someone is a jerk.
And really, for all his hyperactivity and reams of seemingly unrelated questions and screechy voice, Nardwuar is a refreshing subversion of how slick and PR-savvy and consequently boring most celebrity interviews are. Because of who he is and how much research he does, Nardwuar is able to coax actual human moments out of people willing to play along, and I’ve learned a lot about some of my favorite musicians, and even some I wasn’t as familiar with, by listening to his work. He might be a weirdo manchild, but he’s a journalist first.
I’ll leave you with this video of him interviewing Lady Gaga from 2008 or so, back when people still thought she was a dude. She’s a good sport, is what she is.
About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.