21. Shaggiest dog, longest story
August 16th, 2020

Scharpling & Wurster - 'Bill From Consolidated Cardboard Can't Keep His Story Straight'
(File under: comedy, radio, the best show, dick francis)

Listen: youtube.com/watch?v=1GSOCL1asPY

"WFMU, you're on the air.."

For 13 years, Tom Scharpling hosted The Best Show on WFMU, a weekly 3-hour radio show orbited by a solar system of regular callers—almost all of them real. Amid the legitimate callers each week, however, would be someone notably off: an elderly man claiming to be the inspiration for the Fonz from Happy Days; a music journalist writing an expose on an entirely fictional genre called 'toilet rock'; an obnoxious jock turned computer repair technician calling himself Horse.

The callers were phoney—all of them played by Jon Wurster, drummer for the Mountain Goats, Superchunk and others—but these weren't prank calls in the traditional sense. If a prank was being pulled on anyone, it was unsuspecting listeners new to the show unaware that Wurster was behind the calls, which would usually end with a tantrum and a dial tone, or with Tom's life being threatened. In this specific call, Scharpling asks 'Bill' (a coworker from his fictional day job at Consolidated Cardboard) why he didn't make the company's weekend softball game, which begins a precipitous absurdist slow-burn of lies and backpedaling.

I love figuring out the shape and structure of a comedian's sensibility, and how much it feels like learning a new language. When I discovered the Best Show in the early aughts, I slowly became fluent in its rhythms and vocabulary until something as simple as Scharpling cutting off a caller mid-sentence, or an incredulous "Why?" from any of Wurster's characters would destroy me. Consider this call me pressing a Best Show phrasebook into your hand; maybe you've got an ear for it, too.

Dept. of Enthusiasm is a charmingly sporadic email from me, Jez Burrows. You can read some past issues, or sign up below.