All this week, join us for a delightfully unwell celebration of our Internet Boyfriends. They’re sweet, beautiful men we’ve never met, and we can’t wait to share the fully formed relationships we have with each of them.
In the world of musical artist interviews, there’s only one heartthrob you have to know: Nardwuar the Human Serviette.
There’s truly nobody like Nardwuar, aka John Ruskin. For the last three decades, Nardwuar has proven that he’s perhaps the most recognizable, obsessive and thoroughly entertaining interviewer to ever go toe-to-toe with the likes of musicians as disparate as Snoop Dogg, Lady Gaga and Iggy Pop. And although he started his craft as an eccentric college kid nobody knew how to react to, his work has blossomed into a Hall-of-Fame level career, in which the artists seem as excited to be in the same room as him.
A part of it is his aesthetic: His comically exaggerated grin and bespectacled face belie the deep seriousness with which he conducts research and interview prep. So do his signature tam o’ shanter cap, tartan pants and Technicolor tops, all of which give him the appearance of a punk-rock schoolkid who magically aged 40 years overnight.
But the real truth of Nardwuar’s excellence lies in his inimitable personality, which colors every interview with a surreal, almost hypnotic quality. It’s not an act so much as his actual self turned up to 11; you can see the same joy and energy in stage performances with his old band. But the best of Nardwuar comes out in the liminal space of backstage interviews, in which he’s able to pry open the minds and lives of artists through a mix of brilliant research, disarming charisma and an unrelenting nose for fun.
That’s a big reason why Nardwuar comes off like the King of Genuine Flattery — each interview demonstrates just how much he cares about the artist at hand, digging into their histories and lives in order to pull something remarkable out of a scenario that 99 percent of celebrity interviewers blunder or waste.
Consider Pharrell being blown away and giving Nardwuar effusive praise while practically blushing over the effort the Canadian interviewer brought. “This is one of the most impressive interviews I’ve ever experienced in my life. Seriously,” he remarked.
Or the fact that Tyler the Creator, a challenging interview because of his own unpredictable energy, seems to be nursing quite the mutual crush on Nardwuar after several meetings over the years. Tyler is someone who famously hates doing boring interviews and loves sowing chaos, yet you can watch him practically glow with happiness that he’s met his match in both an intellectual and spiritual sense. (Elsewhere, the sheer might of Nardwuar’s work is enough to make grown men cower. “I’m glad I’m a good guy because if I was being investigated, I’d be scared right now,” deadpanned Lil Uzi Vert.)
Naturally, every great Internet Boyfriend has their own coterie of groupies, and the love online is palpable in every single video he posts. So much so that anyone who is unwise enough to attack Nardwuar is immediately threatening their own legitimacy and likeability. Sonic Youth look like a pack of bullying assholes in their early meeting with the Human Serviette, enough to the point that some Sonic Youth fans claim they can no longer listen to the band’s music. Then there’s Dave Rowntree of Blur, who was bizarrely aggressive both physically and verbally in a hotel-room interview, getting in Nardwuar’s face and more or less embarrassing himself and the band on camera.
It’s not unusual for celebrities to turn on their interviewers for petty reasons, but what was unusual was Rowntree’s deep regret over what happened; he apologized publicly for the incident and said it inspired him to kick his cocaine addiction, adding that he keeps a clip of the interview on his phone as a reminder to stay sober.
And it’s hilarious to watch annoyed celebs slowly realize that they’re reckoning with a truly glorious force of nature, as with punk legend Henry Rollins, who is visibly overwhelmed and antagonistic in a 1998 interview until he recognizes just how genius (and well-prepared) Nardwuar is. (Unsurprisingly, after 13 years, Rollins’ admiration for Nardwuar seems to have only grown.)
Such is the power of Nardwuar: You just can’t shake his passion, effort and dogged commitment to the bit. It’s why he’s been name-checked in songs by Vic Mensa, parodied by Korn, lovingly imitated by Pharrell and sampled by none other than Lil Uzi himself, among many other callouts.
Thanks to the archival powers of the internet, we can see a whole picture of Nardwuar’s career and how his love of artistry has, in turn, made him beloved by the people he interviews. It’s a triumphant journey for a man who claims he was once shy and anxious — and just another reason why music fanatics are crushing so hard on a 53-year-old Canadian who wears a lot of tartan.