If you're doing an interview with Nardwuar the Human Serviette, you're probably not going to talk much about Nardwuar the Human Serviette. You're going to talk about the time Quiet Riot threatened to beat him up. About the time Skid Row's Sebastian Bach stole his most cherished toque. About the time he was kicked out of an international press conference for asking Mikhail Gorbachev which world leader wears the biggest pants. About dodging speeding cars helmed by middle-finger-flashing members of Canadian superstar outfit Loverboy. And in between all the eyeball-popping stories of celebrity mayhem, you'll try to piece together the legend of what may possibly be the most endearingly obnoxious man in rock & roll.
"I have not always been Nardwuar the Human Serviette," Nardwuar explains, only seconds before swerving into a story about trying to leap into the back of Bryan Adams' fleeing pickup truck. But further details are sketchy. Now he's one of Canada's most important cultural exports, a self-made sort-of-celebrity radio host and singer for the terminally catchy garage-pop band the Evaporators. He flits around the fringe of fame, and he's got a story about everybody, but he keeps his past murky. Once, a long time ago in a suburb far away, Nardwuar used to be the president of his high school's student council. And in a way, that's how it all started.
"If you're the president of student council, you have to organize dances," he says. "So you get bands to play dances, and in the end, you get your own band to play dances. And you get out of high school, and you want to play more gigs, so you need a name. So I took Nardwuar the Human Serviette. Before, it was just a dumb name to yell at old people: 'NARDWUAR! NARDWUAR!' Then it all came out."
Fifteen years later, he's still yelling at old people—it's just become a career. Whether backed by the Evaporators or the University of British Columbia's radio transmitter, Nardwuar serves as the voice of Everygeek. Each week on the air—and at any handy, local-media event—Nardwuar trains his trusty microphone, his encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture and celebrity trash, his razor wit and his stubborn determination on targets ranging from Jerry Mathers to Jello Biafra to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrtien. Part Barbara Walters, part Abbie Hoffman, he asks the questions no one else dares to ask.
He asked Iggy Pop if he really did show his penis to Gilligan's Island's Tina Louise. He asked Jane Wiedlin if she ever got Darby Crash's sweat all over her when she went to Germs shows. He asked Ron Jeremy how to break into porn. He asked Gerald Ford why anyone should care about Canada since it's a nation full of nothing but clam chowder and ice. ("I was stupid," he says. "I could have asked him about the Warren Commission.") If he weren't so damn lovable, he'd probably be suffocating under a mound of restraining orders. Instead, he's got legions of fans worldwide—maybe more than he knows.
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"I'm pretty much an unknown factor," he protests demurely. "Most people on the street don't know who I am." But the Canadian media apparatus recognized him when he showed up at a Yeltsin/Clinton summit, removing him before he could ask any more sensitive, pants-related questions. And security at a Def Leppard concert had him hauled out before he could ask about the fabled "dicklicker" pass purportedly distributed to willing groupies by the band during more debauched epochs of its career. "Maybe it was justice," he says. "I mean, what the hell was I doing at a Def Leppard concert anyway?" And when a brain hemorrhage toppled him in 1999, he got piles of get-well-soon cards from worried fans and rock & rollers, including many former interviewees. As soon as the doctors relented, he was back behind the mic.
Much to the chagrin of bitter former heavy metallers and press-conference security personnel, he has so far proved unstoppable—and now he's hitting the road with the Evaporators. His irrepressible radio personality translates intact to the more intimate punk rock setting (besides playing songs, the Evaporators have been known to present especially entertaining Nardwuar interview video clips and mutate onstage into ska, pop and even Goth bands, all in the space of 45 minutes), and things just keep getting better: this time when the Evaporators set out on tour, the traveling puppet show will have to open for them. "We're moving up in the world!" he says.
"I don't think I've done enough to have a cult following," he says, right before explaining how Bachman-Turner Overdrive may have been the world's first straightedge band, since their Mormon principles prohibited them from "indulging in crazy spirits." But he's modest: he might have been on the air for more than a decade and interviewed more bizarre people than anyone this side of Jerry Springer, but he doesn't let it get to him. So we still couldn't tell you his real name. It doesn't matter. Whoever Nardwuar the Human Serviette is, he's the nicest guy you'd ever hope to kick out of a press conference.
Nardwuar and the Evaporators peform with Thee Goblins, One Man Show Live, and Rock & Roll Adventure Kids at Koo's Art Cafe, 1505 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 648-0937; www.koos.org. Mon., 7:30 p.m. $5. All ages.