If you’re Canadian, you might know who Nardwuar the Human Serviette is. If you’re from Vancouver, you definitely know who Nardwuar the Human Serviette is. If you have no freaking clue just who Nardwuar the Human Serviette is, you’re in for a treat. Or if you find the prospect of a squeaky-voiced, tam wearing eccentric bombarding celebrities with obscure questions and refusing to end the interview until they answer his shave-and-a-haircut-like “Doot doola doot doo” with a “Doot doo,” then this massive, five and a half hour DVD collection probably isn’t for you.
A Vancouver institution for nearly two decades, Nardwuar (no, it’s not his real name) has become quite the renaissance man on the West Coast. He’s a concert promoter, a radio host on the local radio station CITR, frontman for the bands Thee Goblins and the immensely likeable Evaporators, head of his own eponymous record label, contributor to Canadian music monthly Chart magazine, and best of all, gonzo video journalist extraordinaire. After a long period of interviewing everyone from Bob Denver to Kurt Cobain to Mikhail Gorbechev for a small Vancouver television station, Toronto’s Much Music finally caught on to the guy’s insane genius, and his presence on that channel in recent years has made him somewhat of a minor celebrity in Canada. Thanks to Alternative Tentacles, American label of the aforementioned Evaporators, we now have an exhaustive two-disc collection that culls some of Nardwuar’s finest moments caught on videotape.
His interviews might resemble performance art, and often generate big laughs (even Slayer can’t keep a straight face), not to mention the odd uncomfortable moment, but underneath the questions about whether Henry Rollins’s “cock resembles a soup can”, or what world leader, in Gorbachev’s opinion, wears the biggest pants, is an astonishing attention to detail and a vast knowledge of music history that, more often than not, winds up captivating his subjects. In the case of musicians especially, whether or not they comprehend just how smart Nardwuar is ultimately proves to be the most revealing aspect of the whole process. His interviews always start the same (a startlingly unironic, “Who are you?”), his questions often taking off on bizarre tangents before ingeniously creeping up on the interviewee and often blindsiding them, and by the time the interview’s over, the simple act of refusing to reply, “Doot doo,” unbeknownst to them, they’ve become exposed as being so full of shit, that it’s impossible for viewers to take them seriously anymore. As a result, on this DVD, you find that people like Snoop Dogg, Kelly Rowland, Ashanti, Franz Ferdinand, The White Stripes, Josh Homme, Michael Moore, and former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, are actually pretty damn cool, while Marilyn Manson, Blur’s Dave Rowntree, Henry Rollins, and Canada’s new conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, aren’t.
One disc is devoted mainly to Nard Wars and Nard Wars II, two specials that aired on Much Music in 2003. The first Nard Wars, hosted by Sloan’s Chris Murphy (who admits to having walked out on a Nardwuar interview in 1992) is devoted specifically to the man’s most memorable moments on television, and is packed with far too many hilarious clips to mention, but perhaps Nardwuar’s most inspired moment is during an interview with Gene Simmons of Kiss: talking to Simmons about his predilection towards the fairer sex, he has Canadian metal singer Thor interrupt the interview to tell Simmons he slept with his wife in the 1980s by proudly declaring, “My wife was number 2,001 it’s a tremendous honor!” By the time Nardwuar has the muscle-bound Thor bending a steel bar between his teeth, Simmons, the great motormouth, is rendered utterly speechless.
The set’s second disc goes into even greater detail, with three hours of interviews. He completely befuddles Dan Quayle, matches wits with Jello Biafra, meets his match in the late Wesley Willis, and in a fantastic interview with Henry Rollins, he has the former Black Flag singer going from wanting to punch him in the face to admiring his tenacity as an interviewer (before emailing Nardwuar a few days later, asking him to never speak to him again). Nardwuar’s January, 1994 confrontation with Nirvana and Courtney Love is probably his most famous (and is sadly not on this DVD), but without a doubt his best interviews are his three with Snoop Dogg, in which the pair display impeccable timing with one another, Snoop matching Nard step for step. Even the ultra-cool Snoop can’t keep himself from laughing when Nardwuar tells him quite possibly the stupidest joke ever conceived (“How does Snoop Doggy Dogg keep his whitest clothes the whitest? He uses lots of blee-ATCH!”).
The musical footage featuring Thee Goblins and The Evaporators is great fun, highlighted by a surreal live clip from Olympia, Washington, where Nardwuar and his buddy Thor transform a theater full of indie kids into a fist-pumping mass of metalheads. Most of the footage on both discs contains chaotic, but often very funny commentary by Nardwuar and his friends (including Thor and the acid-tongued Grant Lawrence, of Smugglers and CBC Radio 3 notoriety), and the DVD comes with a 16 page booklet packed to the gills with notes, press articles, and even more interview transcripts.
As eternally optimistic as Ed Grimley (even when shown in hospital recovering from a brain hemmorage in 1999), it’s not all shtick when it comes to Nardwuar. Here’s someone who, whether he’s interviewing, singing, or championing the smallest, most obscure bands, does so with contagious energy, not to mention tenacity. If he has to buy a room at the swanky Four Seasons hotel and wait seven hours to do a ten minute interview with Snoop Dogg (as documented on Nard Wars II), then he’ll do that. If he has to win over some curious Kamloops, British Columbia kids by recreating a scene from Planet of the Apes involving his bandmates and a mini-bike at an outdoor gig, he’ll do it. It’s Nardwuar’s undeniable passion for everything he does that makes him so darn likeable, and what makes this DVD so much fun. You keep on rockin’ in the free world, Nardwuar the Human Serviette, and doot doola doot doo