Scharpling & Wurster

Tags: comedy , WFMU , the best show on wfmu
On a fateful night back in early 1997, WFMU disc jockey Tom Scharpling and his comedy partner Jon Wurster orchestrated what they thought would be a one-off goof. Wurster called Scharpling’s radio program posing as Ronald Thomas Clontle, the author of Rock, Rot & Rule, a highly-dubious and aggressively idiotic tome that promised to be the “ultimate argument settler� by filing every musical artist into one of three vague categories – “rock�, “rot�, or “rule.�

The phones explo
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On a fateful night back in early 1997, WFMU disc jockey Tom Scharpling and his comedy partner Jon Wurster orchestrated what they thought would be a one-off goof. Wurster called Scharpling’s radio program posing as Ronald Thomas Clontle, the author of Rock, Rot & Rule, a highly-dubious and aggressively idiotic tome that promised to be the “ultimate argument settler� by filing every musical artist into one of three vague categories – “rock�, “rot�, or “rule.�

The phones exploded with angry and baffled callers falling right into the duo’s comedic trap. Scharpling navigated the ruse with expert faux incredulity, while Wurster plowed ahead undeterred, as Clontle’s bizarre justifications (David Bowie and Neil Young rot because of “too many changes�) and blatant inaccuracies (“Madness invented ska�) stirred up endless, unsettled arguments. A tape of the call started making the rounds and soon became an underground hit, especially with touring rock bands. To meet the demand, Scharpling and Wurster formed Stereolaffs Records and released Rock, Rot & Rule on CD in 1999.

Their pieces now anchor Scharpling’s “The Best Show on WFMU�, a weekly, three-hour dose of mirth, music, and mayhem that hit the airwaves in 2000. Scharpling also continues to work as a writer/executive producer for the television show Monk, and Wurster, the longtime drummer for indie-rock pioneers Superchunk, has recently toured with former Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard and the Mountain Goats.

The duo also co-wrote “(Not So) Great Moments in Rock�, a monthly column for Harp magazine, and worked on Tom Goes To The Mayor, a cult fave on the Cartoon Network’s popular “Adult Swim� block. This past October, they skyrocketed to a #10 debut in the bi-annual Top 20 Comedians Poll on A Special Thing, the premier online portal tracking the comedy zeitgeist. They joined elite company that included winner Paul F. Tompkins, as well as Zach Galifianakis, Andy Kindler, Louis CK and Jim Gaffigan.

In the years following Rock, Rot & Rule, an increasing number of comedy and music titans began singing Scharpling and Wurster’s praises, like Conan O’Brien, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Ben Gibbard and Ted Leo. The double-CD Best-Of compilations Chain Fights, Beer Busts and Service with a Grin (2002) and New Hope for the Ape-Eared (2004) were further evidence that not only were Scharpling and Wurster crafting brilliant, standalone bits, but also mapping out an exciting and unique comedic universe. Those releases were followed in 2005 by the instant-classic, Hippy Justice.

The widely-hailed set spawned legendary characters, such as two-inch racist Timmy von Trimble and the tyrannical commune leader named Hippy Johnny, and concluded with “Kid eBay�, perhaps the oddest conversation ever recorded. A track like “Darren From Work� is a quintessential example of Scharpling and Wurster’s masterful use of the slow-burn set-up and surprise twist that, in this case, has Tom questioning his own sanity and fearing for his life.

“There’s nothing funnier to me than someone who is absolutely wrong – morally and realistically – in what they are doing, yet so incredibly convinced that they’re in the right or that they can’t fail,� says Wurster. “That’s a very common characteristic of a lot of our characters.�

In addition to offering hours of fun, these highlights – culled from the hundreds of bits from “The Best Show� – showcase the rich tapestry that Scharpling & Wurster have created via their fictional town of Newbridge, New Jersey, an alternative slice of America populated by a growing roster of interconnected misfits. The larger narrative is driven by these denizens, who take a break from prowling the seedy Muffler Row and the Newbridge Commons shopping district to give the audience a peek at their delusional dreams, demented schemes, and disturbed minds.

Their use of escalating absurdism and eccentric characters that often become vessels for sly social commentary recalls Mr. Show’s incisive skewering of the status quo, Arrested Development’s dysfunctional Bluth family run amok, and Sacha Baron Cohen’s stateside takedowns. Many characters also have a kinship to Steve Coogan’s insecure and status-crazed Alan Partridge, Ricky Gervais’s self-promoting and self-delusional David Brent on The Office, and the improbable predicaments that engulf Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm. The surreal twists and turns also have roots in the plotlines and skewed worldview of Chris Elliot’s short-lived sitcom, Get A Life, which Scharpling and Wurster bonded over when they first met in the early 1990s at a Superchunk gig.

A magical collision occurs when these aggressively wrongheaded callers are forced to battle Scharpling, a master of acting surprised as a pragmatic stand-in for the audience. As a beacon of normalcy, Scharpling’s shocked outrage and lucid questioning serve to illuminate the dynamic at play.

“I end up as the voices of reason on the calls,� says Scharpling of his crucial role as straight man. “It gives a sense of contrast – that way the weirdness of the characters can really shine.�

While they keep pushing the boundaries of the art of long-form radio comedy, Scharpling and Wurster’s approach remains rooted in the inspiration for that first call: making each other laugh.

“I think the key thing is that from day one we’ve been doing this purely for our own amusement,� says Wurster. “It’s really gratifying that so many people have connected with what we do. But I’d like to think we’d still be doing this even if nobody was listening.� 'Read more on Last.fm'. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.
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Live Dates:

Scharpling & Wurster Live Tour

Playing 1 listed Music Festivals in 2016
FestivalFestivalCountryDate
George WA, USA 27 May - 30 May

Data on this page has been provided by http://www.last.fm, http://www.discogs.com & http://musicbrainz.org/.