As It Happens

Nardwuar the Human Serviette gets his own star on B.C.'s Walk of Fame

Nardwuar the Human Serviette says he's honoured that Canadians will walk all over him now that he has a star on Vancouver's Walk of Fame.

'If I can do it, anybody can,' the legendary interviewer says of his star-studded career

A guy in a tartan hat with a microphone
Nardwuar the Human Serviette has been inducted into the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame. (James Goulden Photography/Getty Images for SXSW)

This story was originally published on June 11, 2019.

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Nardwuar the Human Serviette says he's honoured that Canadians will walk all over him now that he has a star on Vancouver's Walk of Fame.

The legendary TV and radio personality, whose real name is John Ruskin, has been inducted into the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame for his three decades of interviewing some of the world's most famous musicians, actors and politicians.

His bizarre, meticulously researched interviews — combined with his unique style and signature Scottish Tam — have made him a Canadian classic. 

He spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about his 30-year career. Here is part of their conversation. 

So does this mean that your name is going to be embedded in a star on a sidewalk and people are going to walk all over you now?

On Granville Street in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada — my hometown!

And you're going to be in great company, aren't you? You've got Michael J Fox and Brian Adams and Diana Krall — and you.

Nardwuar the Human Serviette from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Amazing! Thank you. I am honoured. I am so honoured.

OK, which brings me to a very important question for those people in the country who don't know you, or maybe people even who do ... The Nardwuar the Human Serviette name, where does that come from?

Nardwuar is like a dumb, stupid name like Sting or Sinbad. Human is from The Cramps song Human Fly. And serviette —  in the U.S., they don't have serviettes. They have napkins.

Serviette is also to serve the youth. And that's why being walked over in Vancouver, B.C., will be perfect for me.

And then there's the image, right?  I mean, people actually dress up for Halloween like you, right?

Again, I'm so honoured that people care. I guess people kind of think, "If Nardwuar can do it, so can I." And I've been doing a radio show since 1987 on CiTR in Vancouver, Canada, inspiring people.

Kind of like you, Carol, getting involved in the London Gazette.

Oh yes, I see you do your research, don't you?

Maybe you could tell the people about you getting involved with the London Gazette.

Nice try, but it's not about me, this interview.

But you stumbled upon the London Gazette, and I stumbled upon CiTR radio, and the rest is history.

OK, but the reason why I can't dress up as you is because I have no idea where you get a Tam O'Shanter to wear on my head. So what is that? Do you ever take that off?

I got that actually on a trip my mom made to Scotland and she brought it back for me. And the reason I wear a Tam O'Shanter is Canadian heavy metal legend Sebastian Bach from Skid Row stole my tuque. And because he stole my tuque, my skullcap, I wear that Tam O'Shanter.

Nardwuar says he got his famous hat from his mom. (William R. Jans/Canadian Press)

You've got to tell us what your secret is for getting people to agree to interviews because, I mean, I don't think anybody has interviewed everyone from Pierre Elliot Trudeau to Snoop Dogg. I mean, how do you do it?

A lot of waiting by the stage door for the person to come out and running up to them.

But I bet you they don't know that you haven't just come to ask him some fan questions. You actually do some pretty heavy-duty research.

It's funny. Anybody can spend time doing research, but they can't be bothered to. Like, who else except me, Nardwuar the Human Serviette, would spend a week researching Snoop Doggy Dogg?

A lot of interviews also were set up through CIPR radio. They would get me into the press conference with Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Mikhail Gorbachev or John Chrétien.

But a lot is waiting by the stage door. And, yeah, if I can do it, anybody can. But most people can't be bothered.

When you got Jean Chrétien to mock, make fun of pepper spraying protesters at the APEC conference ... that is one of the most surprising and shocking things that I've heard get out of Jean Chrétien. So you know how to stick the pins in, don't you?

I was really scared when I asked that question. In fact, I went in disguise. I looked like an actual cub reporter and I thought the media would actually complain about me and trying to get me kicked out of future events.

But in the end, I ended up doing the job for them and they ended up quoting me.

But I was totally scared. In fact, even talking to you now Carol, I'm scared. I'm always scared. And the minute I'm not scared is the minute I should quit.

OK, so I'm scared of talking to you. Are we equal now?

 Yes! I've inspired Carol Off? That's amazing!

Rapper Pharrell Williams in 2008 ... said that your research was second to none ... What did you give to Pharrell Williams that shocked him so much?

One of the first recordings called Rump Shaker, where he was a co-writer. It was a Teddy Riley recording, but he was a co-writer, and he was kind of saying, "Who would bring this recording, this record, all the way to a hotel room that I co-wrote in my very early stages of my career?" So that's what he was freaked out by.

And do you do that often? Do you bring things to people?

It's like, why not? Why not spend the extra time? Anybody could do it. I'm there to inspire.

I guess I just love Vancouver. I love Canada. I just love the world. I love life. I just love doing it.

How are you doing physically? Because I know four years ago, people were very concerned, we were very concerned, because you were in the hospital with the stroke.

Thank you very much for the support.

It happened once before where I had, actually, a brain aneurysm in '99. So when it happened again in 2015, I thought, "Here we go again."

But the only difference was in '99 I kind of recoiled into a corner, but in 2015 I was like, "Music cures, so like get out there and do it."

So I kind of just used the therapy of just doing interviews to help me along and get out there and do stuff.

And also, all the support is like — because [when] people like yourself and people across the country sent me get well wishes, I forgot that I was in trouble

So thank you, world. Thank you, Canada.

Nardwuar recovering from a stroke in 2015. (John Ruskin/Twitter)

Listen, we're going to have to end this because it is a 90-minute show and we're filling it up.

We're coming to the end, Carol, of As It Happens — my debut on As It Happens! And it makes me think, well Carol Off, thanks for speaking to me, Nardwuar the Human Serviette.

Keep on rockin' in the free world, and Carol — doot doota loot doo ...

Doo Doot.

Written by Sheena Goodyear and Sarah Jackson. Produced by Sarah Jackson. Q&A has been edited and condensed.