A Beginner’s Guide To The Best Show

I think of my favorite moment of The Best Show at least once a day.

It was the second to last episode of the show on WFMU. Tom was about to sign off (seemingly) forever before ultimately bringing the show back a year later as a podcast. Several minutes went by of him telling people to call in but they weren’t. Tom decided, out loud, that people weren’t calling in because they were dissuaded by the pressure that being one of the final callers on The Best Show would bring. He told his audience not to worry, that whoever called in now he would be nice to. Someone finally calls in and is a complete dud. At this point Tom says, “Listen, this is going to sound mean, but I don’t mean it to be mean: I hope you die.” I was driving my car at the time and I literally had to pull over before I caused an accident I was laughing so hard.

I can understand if you’ve never heard of The Best Show. Before 2011, I hadn’t either. Iwandered this planet for most of my life wholly without meaning, wondering to myself, “Is this really all life has to offer? Has humanity finally run its course?” The answers to those questions are still ultimately, “Probably,” but in our last throes as people I found a final beacon of hope. A show that’s so smart and funny that Abbott and Costello are kicking themselves in their own untalented, grave-dirt coveredasses for even trying to work in the same field as the true Kingof Comedy, Tom Scharpling.

For all intents and purposes the show started twenty years ago in 1997. At the time Tom was a radio DJ that played music when he and drummer of Superchunk, Bob Mould and The Mountain Goats Jon Wurster wrote a bit together that they performed on the air that was as hilarious as it was hated by their listeners. Jon Wurster called in playing a character named Ronald Thomas Clontle who claimed to have written a book called Rock, Rot and Rule, a book that labels bands as rotting, ruling or rocking for increasingly arbitrary reasons and a healthy handful of straight-up lies. Some loved it, I’m sure, but for the most part people seemed confused and openly hostile. Why wouldn’t they be? It wasn’t a comedy show. Which is what made it all the funnier as people continue to call in, angrier and angrier at the fictional character that wrote this book.


Shortly after this experiment, Scharpling decided that a straight-forward comedy show was what he wanted to do with his time and The Best Show on WFMU was born. For years Tom would spend 3 hours of air time (minus half an hour of music upfront) talking about what was on his mind, taking calls from regular listeners, weirdos and the profoundly talented alike getting funnier all the time. The format has evolved slowly and surely over the years but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the weekly call from Jon Wurster, who almost never makes any attempt to disguise his voice, playing literally hundreds of characters that are so funny I don’t know how they can ever make it through one call, let alone well over a thousand, becoming in my opinion and everyone else’s that knows anything about anything the greatest comedy duo that has or will ever live.

But don’t take my word for it, let’s get to what we’re really here for: those red-hot clips.

First I would like to show what Tom is like on his own. No calls, no Wurster, maybe a little Mike and a puppet or two:





The Best Show isn’t just about tearing people down, no matter how hilarious it is. It’s also about making something. It’s easy to give it to people when you can’t bring it, but Tom brings it harder than any of these chumps could ever dream to. Many times with the help of Jon Wurster, who calls in every week unannounced and disguised as a character as they launch into a lengthy pre-written that comes across so naturally you almost think it came off of the top of their heads. Here are a few person favorites of mine:






Finally there are the calls. For me there are few things funnier in this world than Tom hanging up with some dullard with an ego that would drive them to call into a radio show/podcast with nothing of worth to talk about. His intolerance of people wasting his time is hilarious as it is vindicating, both as a boring person that would never call into the show and a shared distaste of people that would dare to waste our time. My person favorite segment is this first clip whereTom would slowly turn up Bad Company by Bad Company as someone is droning on and on until it finally gets the chorus when they belt out, “Bad company! I don’t need none!” and hangs up on them abruptly:




This final clip is maybe my favorite of all time:



I normally don’t write these sorts of things, and by normally I mean never, but there are so many people I come across that haven’t even heard of this fantastic show let alone worship the airwaves (or series of tubes) it travels on live every Tuesday night at 9 P.M. Eastern. I probably did a bad job with this list and a bad job explaining exactly why everyone should give this show a chance, but if you listen to these clips I’ve provided I don’t see how you could possibly leave this page without knowing the unwavering greatness of The Best Show.