Well it looks like 2013 will see one more landmark piece of pop culture come to a close, as tonight will mark the final episode of The Best Show On WFMU with Tom Scharpling. Now look, I’m not gonna sit here and pretend that I’m one of the show’s longtime die-hard listeners, because I’m not. I didn’t truly get in to the show until about two months ago, around the time that Scharpling announced that The Best Show would be going off the air on December 17. But considering these last two months have seen me having a lot of free time on my hands, I can say I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time binging on Best Show Gems as well as tuning in to each new episode live, while also making my way through the extensive 13-year archives of The Best Show.
For the uninitiated, perhaps I should explain what exactly The Best Show is, which is not an easy task. But basically, The Best Show is a three-hour music/comedy radio program that’s been airing weekly on independent New Jersey station WFMU since 2000, and since 2006 has taken on even more prominence since being distributed in podcast form. Usually the show will start with Tom Scharpling playing about twenty minutes of music (which will usually include a song by Led Zeppelin or Sweet). Then he’ll take a few calls from listeners, before maybe a comedian (like Patton Oswalt or John Hodgman) will show up on the phone or as an in-studio guest. Also, Tom might whip out one of his patented “sound collages” built around Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop”, and puppets might show up at some point as well.
But for me (and I’m sure many others), the best part of any Best Show is when noted indie drummer (and sometimes comedy writer) Jon Wurster calls in as one of his fictional characters that inhabit the fictional town of Newbridge, New Jersey. The weird, sprawling universe that Scharpling and Wurster have created just within this one aspect of The Best Show is truly the stuff of comedy legend, and quite simply some of the funniest stuff I’ve ever heard. Also, I think these bits are the best place to start if you’re trying to get into The Best Show, since they’re readily available in the form of the Best Show Gems podcast and the CD’s that’ve been released under the moniker Scharpling & Wurster.
Now even though the Newbridge stuff was what initially turned me on to The Best Show, the other parts of it are still vital pieces of the show’s brilliantly messy puzzle. I’ve never really been in to talk radio, mainly because the hosts usually seem so loud and obnoxious, and I could care less about what some random caller could possibly have to say about… well, anything. But Scharpling on the other hand, is fun to listen to because he has a very unique and particular on-air persona (he’s no stranger to dead air and general grumpiness). Also, he’s basically found a way to turn hanging up on callers into a hilariously mean-spirited art form. And then there’s the recurring cast of musicians and comedians that Tom frequently has on, many of whom have gone on to become fixtures of the comedy podcast community that has sprung up over the last couple years.
Which I guess brings up The Best Show’s legacy — that is if it’s possible for something as strange and irreverent to contain something as stuffy as a so-called “legacy”. But you could easily make the case that The Best Show is one of the foremost precursors to the abundance of comedy podcasts that have permeated the internet in recent years, while Tom Scharpling had been doing his thing over on WFMU long before any of them. And of course, being that Scharpling has been doing this on a listener-funded radio station, he still hasn’t made a cent off of it, which seems to be the main reason for why he’s finally calling it quits.
I wasn’t sure whether to write this post before or after the final episode of The Best Show aired. I figured on one hand, if I wrote it before I could be all like, “Dude, the Best Show’s ending! If you’ve never listened to it, you should check it out tonight.” But on the other hand, I’m guessing The Best Show’s finale will be a fairly in-jokey affair, considering it’s a show that has always been for and built by it’s fans. But what the hell, I say if you’re not doing anything around 6 PM PST, head on over to the WFMU website or check out the podcast when it comes out on Thursday to hear how this cult comedy institution comes to an end.