"These go to eleven."
There's "not so bright," and then there's Nigel Tufnel. "Sincere idiocy," the New York Times called it (source).
This guy thinks that human bones are green. He has a very difficult time understanding simple instructions with respect to the folding of deli meat. And no amount of explanation will ever get him to understand why it's pointless to have an amp go to eleven rather than ten.
But we still pull for him because, well, his idiocy is kind of endearing. It's not just regular stupidity, for one thing. It's hilariously worded stupidity, and you almost have to forgive someone for being brainless when they make you laugh as hard as Nigel does.
NIGEL: The sustain, listen to it.
MARTY: I don't hear anything.
NIGEL: Well, you would, though, if it were playing.
Secondly, making an audience feel as if they're substantially smarter than a character on screen can do wonders to build people up and enhance their feelings of superiority. Which explains so many of the questionable politicians who are elected to office.
It also doesn't hurt that his ignorance fits seamlessly with his character, making him all the more believable as an actual, drugged out rock star a few million brain cells short of a complete frontal lobe, who doesn't know his "sexist" from his "sexy."
Just like the Druids (according to Nigel), it's almost as if he doesn't know who he is or what he's doing.
And the Girls Went Wild
There's no denying it—you simply cannot separate sex from rock and roll. Even when a rocker isn't obviously attractive in the traditional sense, they seem to do all right in the…let's call it "dating" department. There's just something about the voice, the performance, the hair/makeup, the entire mystique, that causes audience members to swoon.
In Spinal Tap, it's Nigel who fills that role. We see him without his shirt on, and we're not particularly impressed. He's not unattractive in the face area, but he's certainly not the lost fourth Hemsworth brother. And as we've already mentioned, no one's going to be drawn to him for his mind.
And yet, his raw charisma and totally undeserved self-confidence make him irresistible to women. At least, that's how he sees it.
As with any musical sex symbol, Nigel has his "thing." For Elvis, it was those hips. For Adam Levine, it's the tats. For Enrique Iglesias, it was the mole. (Why did you have it removed, Enrique? Oh, why?!) For Nigel, it's that tongue. Like Chaim Witz. Oh, sorry—you know him as Gene Simmons.
He might claim the tongue only comes out to play when he's riffing extra hard, or "lost" in his music, but it's pretty clear that this is really just his vision of what sexy looks like. And, of course, he wouldn't mind any female fans out there drawing whatever body part comparisons might inspire them.
When it comes right down to it, Nigel probably recognizes that he's not the sharpest spoon in the drawer (an idiom we imagine Nigel probably uses). He likely figures that the best way for him to make up for what he lacks upstairs is to draw attention to the "armadillo in his trousers."
There's no one in the band more versatile than Nigel. He sings, he composes, he plays multiple instruments, and he apparently has some mad haberdasher skills.
Unlike the other members of the band, who seem a bit more one-dimensional (with the possible exception of David St. Hubbins, but even he seems to have his limitations), Nigel is all about stretching himself (artistically, not just his tongue).
At one point we get a glimpse at his sensitive side:
NIGEL: It's part of a trilogy, a musical trilogy I'm working on in D minor which is the saddest of all keys, I find. People weep instantly when they hear it, and I don't know why.
MARTY: It's very nice.
NIGEL: You know, just simple lines intertwining, you know, very much like - I'm really influenced by Mozart and Bach, and it's sort of in between those, really. It's like a Mach piece, really. It's sort of...
MARTY: What do you call this?
NIGEL: Well, this piece is called "Lick My Love Pump."
Oooh. So close.
What we learn most about Nigel here is not that he's multi-talented, or that he has a genuine appreciation for classical music. What we learn is that he is trying very, very hard to be something he isn't.
The only part of this entire exchange that feels typically "Nigel" to us is the title of the piece. Everything else is forced, as if he feels compelled to branch out and surprise or impress people, going out of his (narrow) comfort zone in an effort to carve out a legacy.
Sadly, we don't expect that "Lick My Love Pump" will be the signature musical departure he has in mind. But we hope he proves us wrong, and that even a bunch of cynics like us will "weep instantly" when we hear the finished project.
Be Our Guest
If Nigel looks familiar, it's probably not because you've run into him at your local bakery. (He hates the small bread they serve there anyway.)
The actor portraying Nigel is the brilliant and deadpan hilarious Christopher Guest, who pretty much owns the movie mockumentary medium. He's been the driving force between several other films shot and produced in the same style, including Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration.
It's also possible, however, that you've seen all those films and still haven't recognized him, since he vanishes into each and every role, no two of which are even remotely similar. So wait—he's the shirtless rocker and the effeminate director with a bowl cut from Guffman? Yup. One and the same.
He's also the six-fingered man in The Princess Bride, btw. And while he plays a convincing six-fingered man, he only has five fingers on each hand in real life. It's called ACTING.