Wow, this was longer than I expected.
"You’re Not Doing Anything Wrong: A love letter to The Best Show"
The first time I actually listened to a full episode, I had no idea what was going on. “Okay, he’s talking to a guy named ‘Spike’ who has a dungeon, and he loves doo-wop? Is this real?” An hour passes “Okay, he’s been talking about his beef with members of the Poster Children, and now he’s in a yelling match with one of them? Is THIS real?” another hour passes “okay, now he’s singing an Avril Lavigne song over a caller? What is even going on here?”
So, that first episode made zero sense to me. I think Wurster called in for maybe 3 minutes, so it was not like any of the cd’s I had heard of their usual material. It made zero sense but it at least compelled me enough to say “alright, I’m giving this another go” and within a two or three episodes, I’d get into the rhythm of it, while still feeling around in the dark. “Wait, did he actually get into a fight with a gang of tall bikers this weekend?”
I love that Scharpling paints a unique portrait of masculinity to me. In the talk-radio world, there’s this over-the-top, alpha dog quality to talk show hosts, and while he doesn’t go with a certain amount of his own self-aggrandizing, he’s very aware of his own personal privilege; he also shows vulnerability in discussing his own social anxieties (e.g. his inability to point out that the food he’s ordered is wrong because he’s afraid he’s going to be yelled at for example, or even his need to buy a book at the airport b/c if he doesn’t he’s convinced it’ll crash.) Awareness of privilege and addressing anxiety is something I don’t think I’d count on from someone like Mancow or Tom Leykis. Nor would I expect them to complain about too many white dudes calling in (he can get very pissy when women don’t call in, and when they do, he tones down his grumpy/bully behavior which I think is great), or too many white dudes ruining comedy/music/art/film, etc.
Jesse Thorn, stated it rather succinctly in this article “He’s taken the call-in radio show and flipped it around on its ear in a way that very few people have done, ever…He draws you in by trying to get you to guess what he’s sincere about and what he isn’t. And that is a really nifty deconstruction of call-in talk radio, which is a medium about inciting passion.” And that’s really, what getting into the show is at first. Scharpling has such a reverence and irreverence for things and sometimes the same thing gets thrown into both lights. It’s fascinating to hear. From a personal standpoint, I used to co-host a bingo night at a bar, and I could go up on stage, and have an idea as to how the night is going to go, and the second we’d welcome an audience member on stage, it could land in a totally different place than what I expected. The chaos element of opening up a stage, or a phone line to the public is always fascinating to me. I’m also sympathetic to the inner turmoil of the on-stage turf out. There’d be so many bad nights, where I’d just open up about my own personal failures because a night would just go south, that I fully sympathize/identify with his own aggrieved nature.
Lastly, I absolutely love that he and Jon created a world out of nothing. That they went against the grain, went against all the advice and said “this is making us laugh” and just pushed through and composed this fictional town that—over 13 years—is full of freaks, weirdos, perverts and dirtbags, that a bunch of misfits have engrained in their brain. In due time, you will see this shift in comedy that many will be able to attribute to their work.
So no, you’re not doing anything wrong…it takes a lot of time to devote oneself to. But, for a primer, I recommend the following.
"Best Show Gems" which is a “best of” podcast, featuring old bits and routines from Tom & Jon. The following are astounding examples
December 10, 2012: Author Steven Jennings Talks About His Bruce Springsteen Book (originally aired on November 30, 2010)
May 14, 2012: Philly Boy Roy Goes to Weirdowood (originally aired on July 3, 2007) or even..jesus, yes this one December 24, 2012: Philly Boy Roy Is Having a Reggae Christmas (originally aired on December 23, 2008)
January 24, 2011: Matthew Tompkins is Back on the Shout! Network (originally aired on January 15, 2008)
January 11, 2010: Listener Mac Calls in and Talks About Rock Music (originally aired on November 29, 2005 this is actually a masterpiece of head-fuckery. This annoying kid calls in to talk to Tom about rock music, and in a moment of inspiration, Wurster calls in as Jimmy Crespo, Joe Perry’s temporary replacement in Aerosmith. The kid almost catches Wurster in the lie, and asks “If you were really in Aerosmith, how many albums did you sell?” Wurster guesses (Scharpling told me last year ”he just pulled a number out of the air”) 62 million and he’s RIGHT, so now he has the kid on the ropes, and just dogs on him. You can hear Scharpling losing it off mic when he asks the kid “How many pull-ups can you do?”
After that, check out the scharpling & wurster spotify page…all of their albums are up there which are essentially the dank nuggs of the best show. Start with “Hippy Justice.”
I love that this show has evolved so much since I started listening to it, that I can’t even begin to explain what “Bad Company’ing” is, or why it’ll always straight kill me.
The Jimmy Crespo call is one of the greatest moments in radio history.
I didn’t like it the first time I listened to it either, but having an hour-long commute every day and nothing else to listen to on my Zune (shut up) kind of forced me to give it a chance after Ben Birdie and Matt Fraction kept talking about it. Then one day it clicked when, of all things, Tom played “Kids” from Bye Bye Birdie, in its entirety, three times in a row, to punish his listeners. That was when I got it, and now it’s my favorite thing ever.
I subscribe to Jason “From Alabama” Sims’s idea that it takes nine hours of listening to it for your brain to reorient itself.
What turned me around on The Best Show on WFMU was when Tom prank called a random “Bruce Willis” from the phonebook and the call does not go as expected with Willis losing his mind and screaming incomprehensibly into the phone. That by itself might have been enough weirdness and funny but the next week “Bruce Willis” stops by the studio to scream right in Tom’s face and I’ll be damned if that entire thing wasn’t the most hilarious thing I’ve heard.
Oh, and also Tom’s BRILLIANT takedown of Billy Crystal’s “audio blackface” Jazzman bit. Everyone should listen to that Best Show Gem.