Nardwuar is a special man in the music world – a prolific interviewer known for his eccentric, extremely dedicated character who goes to incredible lengths to make his interviewee sound interesting. His interviews are backed by ridiculous amounts of effort and research, all in the pursuit of making his interviewee’s experience more substantive and the viewer’s experience more fun.
Nardwuar gave a TEDx in 2011 talking about his journey as a small journalist, and how he managed to snag big-name interviews with Jay Z and extract famous quotes from the Prime Minister of Canada. It’s by far the most interesting and entertaining TED Talk I’ve seen in my life, and also the most oddly inspiring. After having watched his conference, I am genuinely convinced that Nardwuar might just be the most goofily charismatic man ever.
The lessons that Nardwuar advocates aren’t entirely obvious, partially because of how his eccentricity usually takes center-stage in his stories, and partially because he doesn’t explicitly preach the benefits of his strange journalistic methods and allows the viewer to derive inspiration from his stories on his or her own.
The main theme of his talk, however, is clearly and consistently reiterated: to ASK. Nardwuar, incredibly, has managed to build his career up entirely from “doing it himself” – or, from ASKING others. Nardwuar, conventionally, shouldn’t be one of the most famous interviewers on the planet; he started out just as another random music enthusiast hosting a small radio station in Vancouver. Yet, he’s able to get big interviews with important people just simply by asking them, or by going through some roundabout method to contact them. Here, Nardwuar elucidates the power of putting in the backbone to truly try hard to get what you want, and how more often than not, people are willing to help you. This belief in others’ willingness to help is an optimism essential to the confidence needed to succeed, and the motivation that catalyzes both career and personal growth. Being able to believe in the openness of others, and applying genuine effort to show them why you deserve a chance, is an incredible life lesson that Nardwuar reinforces over and over in his stories to communicate why anyone with even seemingly improbable goals should at least proudly and confidently ask.
Closely tied with his lesson of asking is his willingness to look foolish. The “School of Life” Youtube channel advocates a similar piece of advice in one of their videos – “The fastest route to confidence is to stop being so attached to one’s dignity and seriousness; and plainly admit that one is – of course – an idiot. We all are.” Nardwuar takes this phrase to heart and dials it up to 11 – he’s a 50-year-old man who dresses in excessive plaid and bright yellow and red suits and gets important, high-ranking politicians to play the “hip-flip” game, a plastic children’s toy that involves flipping a cup over using your hip. Nardwuar’s interviewer character is a persona, but it’s one that involves endless confidence and the ability to make every interaction as entertaining and interesting as possible. It’s Nardwuar’s infectious enthusiasm and jauntiness that makes him so likable, and why interviewees are so consistently impressed and similarly willing to let their guard down for more personal questions.
Finally, Nardwuar’s ultimate career advice is excessive preparation. Having the gusto to ask is but the first step; excessive, almost absurd levels of preparation is how to more closely guarantee success. Nardwuar is renowned for his deep-dives into the lives of his interviewees, digging up old childhood secrets and facts from close personal friends that seem almost stalker-like in quality. Nardwuar’s excessive preparation earns him respect, because it defines the effort and hard work that he’s willing to go to to make his interviews truly interesting and worth watching. It’s this ridiculous level of preparation that means he ends the semester with an A+, an IA position, and a better appreciation for the subject, rather than stagnating to meet bare minimums. Excessiveness is the work-ethic quality of his that creates exceptional work and allows him to be one of the most interesting interviewers alive.
Nardwuar’s TEDx is absurd, hilarious, and just really weird as a whole, but there’s this amazingly infectious and inspirational quality to his work. He’s tirelessly optimistic and puts in endless effort to build his career. He’s a man utterly nonjudgmental, one who’s never afraid to ask, even at the risk of looking like a fool. In a time when social media enables narcissism and a too-serious demeanor on life, maybe we could all take a page from Nardwuar.