An unlikely comic duo whose work took humor on the radio in a new and inventive direction, Tom Scharpling & Jon Wurster developed a passionate cult following and earned the praise of many fellow comedians with their appearances on The Best Show on WFMU with Tom Scharpling, a longtime staple on the Jersey City, New Jersey-based free-form radio station WFMU-FM.
Tom Scharpling was an aspiring comedy writer and a serious music fan in the early '90s when he became a volunteer at WFMU; he also wrote and published a music fanzine, 18 Wheeler, and spun the 'zine off into a label that, among other things, released a pair of singles by Portastatic, a side project of Superchunk singer and guitarist Mac McCaughan. Through McCaughan, in 1992 Scharpling met Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster, who shared Scharpling's taste in comedy and obsession with the minutia of popular culture.
By 1997, Scharpling was a disc jockey on WFMU, and one night he and Wurster presented a comedy piece they'd dreamed up. Wurster called in to the show posing as Ronald Thomas Clontle, a self-styled music writer who had written a book called Rock, Rot & Rule. Over the course of the "interview," Clontle made his ignorance about rock music abundantly obvious, and a handful of listeners called in to correct him, only to be faced with Clontle's casual lack of concern. Tapes of the broadcast began to circulate, and by the time Scharpling began hosting the weekly broadcast The Best Show on WFMU, Wurster became a regular part of the show, calling in each week impersonating a constantly growing number of characters who populated the fictional community of Newbridge, New Jersey, including Philly Boy Roy, a dunderhead obsessed with the City of Brotherly Love; Roland Gorchnik, who claims to have been the real life inspiration for Fonzie on Happy Days, though "the Gorch" has a greater enthusiasm for fighting with chains; Kenny Dupree, a dubiously patriotic country singer eager to replace the Dixie Chicks on radio playlists; and Matthew Thompkins, a programmer for a failing cable TV network.
The Best Show developed a loyal following, especially after WFMU began streaming their broadcasting on the Internet and making Scharpling & Wurster's calls available as podcasts. Conan O'Brien, Amy Poehler, Patton Oswalt, and David Cross were all avowed fans of The Best Show, and Scharpling & Wurster launched an independent record label, Stereolaffs, to release some of their calls on CD and MP3, while both members of the team kept busy with other projects -- Scharpling as a writer and producer for the TV show Monk, and Wurster as a drummer with Superchunk, the Mountain Goats, Bob Mould, Robert Pollard, Jay Farrar, and many others. In 2013, Scharpling & Wurster announced they were retiring The Best Show on WFMU, but in late 2014 they relaunched the show as a podcast under the name The Best Show. In 2015, the Numero Group released a massive box set, The Best of the Best Show, which collected 16 CDs worth of Scharpling & Wurster's calls from the WFMU era of The Best Show. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi