Nardwuar vs. TV Tropes
John Ruskin (b. July 5, 1968), better known as Nardwuar the Human Serviettenote — usually just Nardwuar for short (rhymes with "card bar") — is a media personality and musician from Vancouver, Canada most well-known for his unique celebrity interviews.
When it comes to Nardwuar, viewers and interviewees alike may only see his bizarre fashion sense, high-pitched voice and overcaffeinated, childlike personality upon first glance. However, that eccentric exterior is complemented by an incomparable dedication to his craft, as he routinely showers his subjects with gifts and obscure factoids relating to their own lives and careers (especially ones that specifically relate to Canada or Vancouver), more often than not leaving them completely baffled/flattered/humbled (and maybe a little disturbed) that he's gone to such effort.
As seen in the page image, Nardwuar has a particularly eccentric Iconic Outfit. For one, he is almost always seen wearing a tam o' shanter (sort of like a tartan-patterned Scottish beret, with a pom-pom on top). In his early days, he often wore a toque (the Canadian term for what Americans call a "beanie") until his was stolen by an angry Sebastian Bach. He doesn't normally wear a hat while playing live in concert, however, because it tends to fall off. The hat is generally accompanied by matching plaid pants and a suit jacket. Rarely does he deviate from this look, but he'll dress more conventionally if the circumstances call for it. One such instance is November 1997, where he snuck into the audience at an APEC conference to ask a now-infamous question about mace to former Prime Minister Jean Cretien.
Nardwuar also sings lead and plays the electric organ with the bands The Evaporators and Thee Goblins, runs a record label, and has hosted a weekly radio show on Vancouver community radio since 1987. He's released two DVD compilations so far of his interviews: Doot Doola Doot Doo... Doot Doo! (2006) and Welcome to My Castle (2007), the latter being a compilation of two low-budget specials he made in 1993 for local TV.
And it's important to note: Nardwuar isn't a character that John Ruskin plays. As anyone who knows him personally can attest, though he does become more animated and enthusiastic when he's on the mic, his personality is not an act.
He is not to be confused with John Ruskin, the Victorian English writer and polymath of the same name.
"This is TV Tropes! We have to know!"
- Alter-Ego Acting: Invoked with Thee Goblins (aka Thee Skablins, Thee Dublins or Thee Disgoblins), an Evaporators side project consisting mainly of a drummer ("The Goblin") with Nard ("Thee Goblin") playing quirky tunes on an electric organ. Their stage attire consist of white sheets with eyeholes and ill-fitting marching band sweaters Nardwuar found in a thrift store in Bellingham, Washington.
- Averted with his main persona; many people assume Nardwuar is a character, but he actually just has a very unique personality.
- Bourgeois Bohemian: He grew up in the affluent suburb of West Vancouver and his net worth has been estimated to be in the millions.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: He's a very eccentric guy whose personality and behavior can be naturally confusing or uncomfortable for the subjects he interviews, but he doesn't have a reputation as being one of the most well-researched and thorough interviewers out there for nothing. One could easily make the case that this unconventional approach is precisely how he gets such dynamic and interesting conversations out of his interviewees.
- Canada, Eh?: He's absolutely obsessed with Canadian history and imagery, and is often seen wearing Canadian flag-themed clothing and costumes, the epitome being a "Captain Canada" bodysuit.
- Each interview usually starts with him asking his subject "Who are you?"; following them giving their name, he often responds with "[Subject name], welcome to [location of interview]."
- He has a number of phrases that he uses to end each interview listed under Signing-Off Catchphrase below.
- He almost always refers to his hometown as "Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada".
- He shouts "Ba-BOOM!" when an interviewee has just made a good dig or zinger.
- A case bordering on Running Gag. Many interviewees are thrown off by questions prompted by extremely obscure trivia about them, usually resulting in them asking Nardwuar, "How did you know that?" Nardwuar's response is almost always phrased as "You're [interviewee name], we have to know!" — and it almost never gets questioned.
- Cloudcuckoolander: And HOW!
- Conspiracy Theorist: If the Evaporators' song "Crispy Space Bacon" is to be taken at face value, he apparently believes that astronauts flying to the moon should have been fried by space radiation (he's made reference to this in at least one interview as well).
- He also wrote papers about the JFK assassination in university, though it's unknown if they subscribe to any conspiracy theories.
- Coordinated Clothes: The Evaporators always wear matching outfits in their videos and live shows.
- Cover Version: The Evaporators have an extensive repertoire of cover songs, most of them quite obscure due to Nardwuar's esoteric tastes; they've even covered at least one song that was never released publicly by the original artists: "All the Bad Girls" by Vancouver power pop band The Pointed Sticks.
- His 2012 record Busy Doing Nothing features several prominent indie rockers covering songs by Vancouver punk and indie bands of years past, including Faud & The Feztones covering The Evaporators themselves!
- Determinator: Nardwuar is known for having an unshakable commitment to his interviews and being immune to whatever degree his subjects go to to try and veer things off-course. Look no further than his Eric André interview, where Andre tries everything he can think of to derail the interview (including spouting Non Sequiturs such as "Take off those fake glasses and kiss me") only to discover that Nardwuar is steadfast in his interviewing style. It's the journalism version of the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: Though he's mainly known for interviews with celebrities nowadays, in the late 80s and early 90s he had a penchant for ambushing public figures with bizarre questions and conducting guerilla-style "investigative journalism" (like filming himself trying to track down young Vancouverites who wrote fanmail to a rock fanzine in the 60s, or trick-or-treating at the home of local millionaire Jim Pattison). Many of these can be seen on his DVD Welcome To My Castle, a compilation of low-budget specials he made for local public access TV.
- In terms of his music, earlier records by The Evaporators were much more dissonant and chaotic than later ones.
- Every Episode Ending: He ends each interview with a series of Signing-off Catchphrases (see below) after which he enters a freeze-frame pose with a wide smile on his face until the camera cuts off. He'll continue to hold the pose even if his subject expresses confusion about what he's doing or physically interacts with him, whether by taking his hat, twerking on him, or picking him up and carrying him out of the room. He has only broken the freeze on rare occasions.
- Hidden Depths: He has a degree in history from the University of British Columbia and wrote papers about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
- His mother was the local historian and TV host Olga Ruskin, who fostered in him a fascination with local history. Many Evaporators songs are about British Columbian historical incidents and figures, and he's quick to emphasize even the most tenuous and obscure connections to Vancouver and Canada that his interviewees may have.
- "Woof Woof, I'm a Goof" is unusually personal for an Evaporators song; it tells how Nardwuar was bullied as a kid and even gives his bullies' names.
- Hypocritical Humor: Steel Panther employs this on themselves when Nardwuar asks them to comment on a quote from Paul Dean of Loverboy comparing keyboards to condoms:
- Michael Starr: Keyboards are for bands that are gay, dude.Stix Zadinia: We have keyboards on some of our songs.Michael: Like I said...
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The titles of all of his interviews are formatted as "Nardwuar vs. [subject name]".
- The Juggernaut: He suffered a brain hemorrhage at the age of 29 and a stroke at the age of 47; his recoveries from both incidents were unusually quick, and he was back at work within a few weeks.
- Long Runner: He's hosted a weekly radio show on the University of British Columbia's community radio station since 1987.
- Loony Fan: Undoubtedly comes across as this to many of his interviewees.
- Man Hug: Both ways. In his interview with Machine Gun Kelly, he gives him an autographed Anti-Flag record, which moves Kelly so much that he actually hugs him. Kelly then returns the favor and reveals that he and his friends made an Evaporators T-shirt for Nardwuar, who returns the Man Hug!
- Motor Mouth: No kidding.
- My Nayme Is: For some reason, Nardwuar writes his catchphrase as "doot doola doot doo" but pronounces it as "doot doodle-oot doo".
- Not Bad: Nardwuar's first interview with Henry Rollins in 1998 began looking like it would go wrong, with Rollins quickly getting annoyed by Nardwuar's personality and bluntly requesting him to get through the questions as fast as possible so they could be done. Nardwuar takes this as a challenge and quickly lists off all his planned questions, which manages to impress Rollins so much that he decides to give him the proper time to answer them.
- Not So Stoic: Nardwuar has gotten a reputation in recent years for catching tough-guy rappers off guard with his exhaustive research and intricate knowledge of their past. Their faces are usually pretty amazing when this happens.
- Nardwuar dug up a copy of Snoop Dogg's Smokefest Vol. 1 VHS, which even Snoop himself couldn't find a copy of anymore. Snoop - Snoop - almost sounded like he was getting choked up reminiscing about it.
- In his interview with Ugly God, Nardwuar starts the interview by asking if he was indeed born at 1:23pm. Ugly God's absolute astonishment only grows from there.
- You can watch a compilation of these moments here (and that's just part one).
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Considering his reputation of having an impenetrably upbeat persona and a very high patience level, instances of him showing pretty much any other emotions are truly few and far between.
- When he interviewed Sonic Youth in 1991, they were especially mean to him, making fun of him like schoolyard bullies and deliberately breaking a rare record he gifted to them. In one of the few times he's been genuinely angry on camera, Nardwuar shouted at one of them, "You fucking piece of shit!"
- When Dave Rowntree of Blur began physically intimidating Nardwuar in his interview with the band, Nardwuar kept his cool but seemed genuinely frightened. (Fortunately, Dave apologized privately the following day and issued a more formal public apology years later, which Nardwuar graciously accepted.)
- In a more positive instance, at the end of his interview with the late Daniel Johnston, he doesn't hold his freeze-frame pose at the end nearly as long as he usually does, and fans noticed that he's not quite as aggressive in this interview in general. Given Johnston's well-documented history of mental health struggles, it's easy to see why Nardwuar would go a little easier on him.
- Recurring Character:
- Jello Biafra has been interviewed nine different times since 1989, including one interview in 2005 with the members of the Melvins.
- Nardwuar has also interviewed Snoop Dogg nine different times since the year 2000, the most recent being in 2019.
- Tyler, the Creator is on his way to this status, having been interviewed five times.
- Rummage Sale Reject: He has a penchant for wearing tacky and silly-looking clothes even in his everyday life.
- A recurring part of The Evaporators' live concert is him making a big presentation of putting on huge fur boots and a certain multicoloured shirt.
- Seriously Scruffy: He says bullies used to throw lit matches into his exceptionally greasy hair when he was a kid, and a few interview subjects have commented on his body odor and bad breath. (Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age in particular said his breath was like "the ass of an apple".)
- Separated by a Common Language: Nardwuar says the idea to call himself a "serviette" comes from an incident when he asked for one to wipe clam chowder off his chin during a trip to the States, forgetting that Americans always call the object in question a "napkin". note
- Shave And A Haircut: Invoked with his famous "Doot doola doot doo... doot doo!" catchphrase. It's even the title of his first DVD!
- Signing-Off Catchphrase: He ends his interviews with several.
- The final question he asks his interviewees is often "Anything you wanna add to the people out there at all?" and/or "Why should people care about [interviewee name]?"
- This is followed by "Thanks so much, [interviewee name], keep on rockin' in the free world, and doot doola doot doo..." to which the interviewee is meant to reply, "...doot doo!" (or something else duosyllabic). "Keep on rockin' in the free world" is a reference to the Neil Young hit of the same name from 1989.
- Most of his Twitter interactions end with a "doot doo!" as well.
- Once the interviewee has fulfilled the "doot doo", he then whispers "Yeah!" while entering his signature freeze-frame pose.
- Sound-Effect Bleep: The CD version of his compilation record Skookum Chief Powered Teenage Zit Rawk Angst!, to pad out the extra space on the disc, features an entire interview and live session with Nardwuar as part of Thee Goblins on a local Vancouver radio station in 1995. For some reason, the name of the radio station is bleeped out with an organ note every time it's said.
- Speech Impediment: He has a tendency to turn soft "th" sounds (like in "the") into "d" sounds. He sometimes also lapses into a lateral lisp if he's speaking quickly.
- Stage Name: There's conflicting reports as to whether "Nardwuar the Human Serviette" is now his legal name or not. Though his birth name John Ruskin isn't really a secret, pretty much no one calls him that; he's been quoted as saying, "Nobody calls Iggy Pop 'James Osterberg' anymore."
- Student Council President: He was this in high school, and used his position in the student council to book the local indie/punk band Poisoned (featuring Vancouver punk legend Art Bergmann of the Young Canadians) for a school dance; he took the opportunity to conduct his first interview.
- Swapped Roles: At the end of Nardwuar's second interview with Pharrell Williams, Pharrell turns the tables on Nardwuar and begins interviewing him and showering him with gifts.
- Take a Third Option: During his interview with Johnny Marr, he asks who is the biggest diva: Chrissie Hynde, Matt Johnson, Beck, or his former band mate Morrissey. Johnny takes a fifth option and instead chooses Bernard Sumner of New Order, though considering that they were friends and recorded music together as a duo, Johnny was most likely joking.
- They Just Dont Get It: Nardwuar sometimes has to go to great lengths to get the interviewee to respond "doot doo" to his "doot doola doot doo" because they don't understand what they're supposed to do.
- At the end of a phone interview with an already-baffled Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick, Nardwuar tries to get him to say "doot doo" for several minutes; a female listener even called in and demonstrated the "doot doo" response multiple times, and Tom still didn't get it.
- Trademark Favourite Food: He's a noted fan of the Skookum Chief, a massive hamburger sold at the Aboriginal-themed Tomahawk Barbeque in North Vancouver. In fact, he had to stop eating them so often after he suffered a brain hemmorhage. He filmed the video for the Evaporators song "Hot Dog High" in the restaurant, and they even have his picture up on the wall.
- He also seems to love clam chowder; he invokes it in both his infamous question to Gerald Ford and in the official description for his radio show. He also claims to have gotten the idea to call himself a "serviette" after going on a trip to the States in his youth and asked for one to wipe clam chowder off his chin.
- The opening song on The Evaporators album Ripple Rock is "Addicted to Cheese", detailing his love of a certain dairy product.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Though he interviews former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra seemingly every time he comes through Vancouver and has released records on Jello's label, Jello trolls him every chance he gets and sometimes seems genuinely irritated at him (though given Jello's famously abrasive persona it can be hard to tell how much of it is an act).
- When Nardwuar needled him with questions about his legal disputes with his former bandmates, Jello quite plainly stated that it was pissing him off.
- In their second interaction (in which Nardwuar ambushed Jello outside a film screening), he drew all over Nardwuar's face with a marker with mischevious glee. (Nardwuar has claimed that his attempt to wash off the ink later inspired him to write the Evaporators song "I Gotta Rash").