Since launching the Best Show in 2000, the comedy team of Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster have lampooned all aspects of pop culture, including classic rockers like Bruce Springsteen, Kiss and Pink Floyd. Billed as “three hours of mirth, music and mayhem,” every episode of the radio program finds Scharpling weighing in on whatever is on his mind, taking calls from listeners and interviewing his many friends and fans in the comedy and indie-rock worlds.
But the weekly highlight is the mostly scripted comedy bit that features Wurster, who by day is the drummer for Superchunk, the Mountain Goats and Bob Mould. Playing a variety of characters — some recurring, some created for the call — Wurster begins with a premise that starts out plausible, but layer upon layer of hysterical weirdness soon unfolds. The bulk of the calls, which usually last between 30-45 minutes, are set in Newbridge, N.J., a fictional town that, like The Simpsons’ Springfield, is whatever it needs to be at that moment and has developed a life of its own throughout the run of the program.
The Best Show originally aired on New Jersey’s listener-supported free-form radio station WFMU, but Scharpling ended its run in December 2013. Scharpling then relaunched the program a year later on its own website, where the three-hour show can be streamed live every Tuesday at 9PM ET or downloaded as a podcast the next day. Many of the entries on our list of the Top 10 Scharpling & Wurster Best Show Classic Rock Moments were released on The Best of the Best Show, a 16-CD box set released in 2015, while others come from its new iteration or the Best Show Gems podcast that brought latecomers a taste of the history of Scharpling & Wurster.
Frank Zappa's “Jazz Fart”
Bryce Prefontaine is Newbridge’s resident stoner, conducting his operations from a lean-to. While he usually asks Tom to play songs by the Grateful Dead, this time he requests a handful of Frank Zappa tunes. When Tom reveals his disdain for Zappa, Bryce counters by taking a bong hit and singing a fake Zappa song called “Jazz Fart.” “I remember I was reading [Barry Miles’ Zappa biography] and thinking how the ultimate Frank Zappa song would be ‘Jazz Fart,’” Scharpling said in the liner notes to the box set. “A combination of his high and low art.”
The first proper Scharpling & Wurster call took place on Scharpling’s pre-Best Show WFMU program in 1997. Wurster calls in as Ronald Thomas Clontle, the author of Rock, Rot & Rule, which he defines as the “ultimate argument settler.” The book is nothing more than a list that arbitrarily puts rock bands into one of those three categories: the Who, Led Zeppelin and the Ramones rule, while the Beatles only rock because “they had a lot of bad songs” and Neil Young rots because Clontle is familiar only with Young’s ‘80s output. But the best part is when over-serious listeners, not realizing it’s a scripted comedy routine, call in to take exception with Clontle, who never wavers from the book's position, even when confronted with evidence that Madness, contrary to his claim, did not invent ska.
Gene Simmons Auditions Ted Leo and Carl Newman
During WFMU’s 2011 fundraising marathon, Wurster calls in as Gene Simmons and issues a challenge: If Scharpling doesn’t make his pledge goal, “Simmons,” who had just finished his fourth “love-making session” of the day before dialing, gets to take over The Best Show for a year and convert it to an all-Kiss format. He then turns his attentions to the in-studio guests, Carl Newman of the New Pornographers and Ted Leo, and offers them the opportunity to replace him and Paul Stanley to keep the band alive when they eventually decide to retire. “You’ll each get $300 a week,” he says. “Of course you’ll have to buy your own makeup and wardrobe from me.” Leo is intrigued the offer and sings a line of “I Was Made for Loving You” as his audition.
Danny Phipps, Billy Joel Fanatic
Tom gets a call from the leader of Glass Houses, which bills itself as America’s No. 1 Billy Joel Tribute Band. In describing his fandom, he reveals that, in college, he made mixtapes of Joel’s music and put up signs around campus that read, “Meet me at the dumpster behind Norton Hall for your free B.J.” To this day, he has no idea why he got beat up by the football team. The bit took on another dimension when H. Jon Benjamin (Archer, Bob’s Burgers) called in and auditioned for the band by singing “Captain Jack.”
Philly Boy Roy vs. Robert Fripp
“Philly Boy” Roy Ziegler is probably Wurster’s most beloved character. A defender of all things from the City of Brotherly Love — his ringtone is “And We Danced” by the Hooters — Ziegler routinely finds new and inventive ways to get into trouble. On Scharpling’s last WFMU episode, Roy makes an in-studio appearance where he lets it slip that King Crimson founder Robert Fripp was his mortal enemy, and gives the backstory. As payback for Fripp’s production on Daryl Hall’s Sacred Songs, Roy decided to dispense “Philly justice” every time Fripp came to town. As with all of Roy’s schemes, it went horribly wrong, particularly when he enrolled in Fripp’s Guitar Craft school. “Have you ever been beaten by a spanking machine made up of 50 guys with Ovation acoustic guitars?” he asks, before disclosing, “I still got bottom welts. It’s made me a shy lover to this day.”
Marky Ramone, Erotic Novelist
Wurster played the part of Marky Ramone several times in 2006, calling in to take Scharpling to task for something he said or promote his latest venture that capitalizes on the Ramones’ name. One of those was a series of historical erotic fiction. He reads a portion of Lady Wanesworth’s Desires, where the title character has an affair with her stable boy while her British general husband is fighting the Revolutionary War. Its deliberately hackneyed prose is made even more comical by "Ramone"’s cartoonishly thick Noo Yawk accent as Scharpling groans in disgust.
Mac was a teenage listener who would regularly call in to talk about rock. Once, when discussing Aerosmith, Wurster — without a script — called in pretending to be Jimmy Crespo, who was Joe Perry’s replacement in the early-to-mid-‘80s. Not believing it was Crespo, Mac tests Wurster by asking how many units Aerosmith has sold throughout their career. “Units?” “Crespo” asks. “Who are you, Clive Davis?” But when Wurster comes dangerously close to the actual mark, Mac freezes up. “Who’s laughing now, schmuck?” Wurster fires back. “How many pull-ups can you do?”
The Bruce Springsteen Book
One of the longest calls in Scharpling & Wurster history is an interview with Steven Jennings, the author of Darkness on the River’s Edge in the U.S.A.: From Greetings to the Promise: Bruce Springsteen: The Story Behind the Albums. Jennings reveals previously unknown details about Springsteen, including that he’s so scared of going broke that he often takes odd jobs around New Jersey when not on tour. But the funniest moment is when Wurster, in an earnest, Springsteen-esque voice, sings two minutes worth of lyrics that were cut from “Racing in the Street” that go into greater detail about the 1969 Chevy described in the first verse, including, “It’s also got a wide trim running from the front bumper to the rear of the car / The Chevy bowtie logo on top of the grill that I got at the Pep Boys downtown.”
This isn’t a Scharpling & Wurster bit, but it has become a regular part of The Best Show. Whenever a caller is boring, Tom, unknown to the listener, will play Bad Company’s “Bad Company.” He’ll feign interest long enough to keep the person on the phone while slowly raising the volume on the song, only to hang up when it gets to the chorus.
The No. 1 entry on our list of the Top 10 Scharpling & Wurster Best Show Classic Rock Moments is also arguably Wurster’s finest hour. Here, he plays Darren Ploppleton, a childhood friend and co-worker with Tom at the fictional Consolidated Cardboard and one of the least self-aware of Wurster’s recurring characters. Darren found the tape that their middle-school band made, where they rewrote Pink Floyd’s The Wall from the perspective of 13-year-olds growing up in Newbridge. Over Tom’s objections, Darren, using an app that allows him to take control of the studio, plays several of the songs over the air, and the results are every bit as horrible as you would expect, complete with Darren’s ear-splittingly bad vocals, blown chords and juvenile lyrics.