Where do I even begin with the comedy of Scharpling & Wurster? Not only have these guys created some of the most unique, sprawling, and just flat-out hilarious comedy that I’ve ever heard, but there also happens to be a ton of it in existence. When Tom Scharpling started The Best Show On WFMU in 2000, the plan was to have indie rock drummer Jon Wurster call in to the show every week as some weird character, which continued to happen pretty much every week of the original Best Show‘s run until its conclusion in late 2013. And from what I’ve read, Scharpling & Wurster have supposedly amassed over 10,000 hours of comedy together, which sounds kind of insane when you hear it, but then sounds less insane when you consider this duo’s innate ability to spin radio airtime in to these long, sublimely bizarre strands of comedy gold. Which all makes this new box set of the best Scharpling & Wurster bits a great place to begin for S&W newbies, as well as an essential artifact for die-hards like myself who at this point feel like they’ve spent more time in Newbridge than in the boring reality of their everyday lives.
Pretty much every article I’ve ever read online about Scharpling & Wurster or The Best Show at some point takes the time to explain what exactly the comedy of Scharpling & Wurster/Newbridge is, and even though that doesn’t make for the most exciting reading, it does help point out what a distinct and beautiful creation Newbridge is. Because when Scharpling & Wurster started doing their seemingly-off-the-cuff routines (which were in fact 90% written) in the early 2000s, long-form radio comedy wasn’t really a thing. And sure, that isn’t really the case anymore, what with the recent rise of podcasting, but there still isn’t anything out there that’s as filled with in-jokes and callbacks to other characters in this universe, but is also just so brilliantly funny that it can be enjoyed by someone to whom the name Sheila Larsen means nothing. Oh, and I guess I should explain that Newbridge is a fictional New Jersey town in which all of Jon Wurster’s characters (and the fictional Tom) live in, most of whom express their desire to either sabotage or possibly murder Tom Scharpling before the call is through.
As I mentioned, this box set works for both new and longtime vistors of Newbridge because it has a nice mix of “greatest hits” and more obscure rarities. All-time greats like “The Gas Station Dogs” and “The Springsteen Book” are included as well as Scharpling & Wurster’s first call ever “Rock, Rot, And Rule”, but at the same time there were a bunch of calls that I hadn’t ever heard or possibly just didn’t remember. There are even a few snippets of WFMU calls that pre-date The Best Show, and in turn give the listener a few formative snapshots into how this comedy universe came to be. Also, there’s a giant hard cover book as well as a bunch of other knick-knacks thrown in to the box, which despite (or possibly because of) the fact that it weighs about five pounds, has quickly become one of my favorite things that I currently own.
I have to heap even more praise on to the timelessness of these bits because even though I’d probably already heard about half of the stuff on this box set, I still had a hell of a time listening to all 26 hours of this collection. Which is strange, considering there are probably less than 10 stand-up comedy albums I’ve listened to more than once, and yet I’ve listened to many of these S&W bits multiple times, and could see myself revisiting them many subsequent times in the future. I suppose I would attribute this to the fact that because there are so many different calls that these guys have done, it’s easy to forget the specifics of a lot of them. I’d also attribute it to the fact that these conversations don’t rely so much on huge punchlines that every bit is heading towards, but is more about the minutiae of how Wurster’s pompous characters talk to Tom, while there’s also a wild unpredictability to where a lot of these conversations go. I think it also speaks to the replay value of these bits that in the liner notes of the box, Jon Wurster frequently insists that he has zero memory of a lot of the things he’s recorded over the years.
There are a few different essays contained within the booklet that came with this box (including ones by Patton Oswalt and Fucked Up’s Damien Abraham), but my favorite comes from Julie Klausner, in which she points out that friendship, of all things, is a big part of Scharpling & Wurster’s magic. Which is odd considering the hostile nature these calls, and also the fact that most of them squeeze humor out of the more unseemly sides of human nature, like arrogance and entitlement. Yet I think underneath all of this heated absurdity there is the underlying charm of hearing two guys make the kind of untethered comedy that above all else makes both of them laugh. This makes it all the more fun to hear bits like “Count Rockula” or “Sucks”, in which this usually straight-faced duo struggle to fight their own urges of breaking into laughter. Thankfully, they’re the only two people on Earth that have to fight this seemingly insurmountable fight.
Favorite Tracks: “The Springsteen Book”, “Darren Takes The Van Mellen Cruise”, “Power Pop Pop Pop”