When you're about to interview Tom Scharpling over the phone, you might feel a twinge of anxiety. After all, on The Best Show with Tom Scharpling, he's made an art out of creatively hanging up on poor, unsuspecting callers. It happened to me!
It was 2012, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was listening to the show on my computer, and Scharpling opened up the lines. Many callers failed to impress him and were GOMPed. (That's shorthand for "get off my phone," which Scharpling often yells before hanging up.) Still, I took a chance and called in, fully expecting the hang-up treatment.
As I began to tell Scharpling the story of a trio of women I knew who went to karaoke bars calling themselves The Crotchless Panties, he kept saying, "Uh-huh." I kept talking until I heard the phone click. As I went back to the show online, I heard Scharpling giggling. It turns out that while I was talking, he was playing Bad Company's "Bad Company."
When I reach Scharpling on the phone this time—he assures me he won't hang up—he says I was probably one of the first to receive the unfortunate honor of being "Bad Companied," a fate reserved for boring callers.
"You might have been on the ground floor of it," Scharpling says, driving home from his day job as a writer for the upcoming HBO series Divorce, starring Sarah Jessica Parker. "Congratulations on being an early adopter."
Scharpling has presided over The Best Show with mighty, cranky authority for sixteen years, first at New Jersey free-form radio station WFMU, where it was called The Best Show on WFMU, then on his own podcast. The show has attracted devotees from the worlds of music (Aimee Mann, Ted Leo) and comedy (Marc Maron, Patton Oswalt), who often call in or show up as studio guests. Celebrities like Amy Poehler, Conan O'Brien, Paul Rudd, and Zach Galifianakis are fans. Scharpling steers the ship as a curmudgeonly captain, throwing callers overboard if they're bringing the show down.
"It's all in the quest to try to put together the funniest possible show," he says. "I'm sure you've wanted to hang up on people and couldn't. But when I'm on the air, I can. It's not the real world."
There couldn't be a more accurate statement about what Scharpling does every Tuesday night, fielding lengthy calls from the townspeople of Newbridge, New Jersey. But here's the thing: Newbridge is fake, and the callers are usually portrayed by one man, Chapel Hill's Jon Wurster.
When Wurster isn't busy drumming for Superchunk, the Mountain Goats, or Bob Mould, he calls The Best Show in character as various Newbridge citizens, baffling Scharpling with all the weird, wacky things that go on there. There's mediocre rocker Barry Dworkin and two-inch-tall racist Timmy Von Trimble (long since retired, for obvious reasons). There's Horse, the muscle-headed computer repairman from Radio Hut's "Jock Squad;" Roland "The Gorch" Gorchnick, senior citizen and alleged model for the Fonz; and, most frequently of all, hardcore Philadelphian Roy Ziegler, a.k.a. Philly Boy Roy (see sidebar). It's apt that the most famous resident of a town as eccentric as Newbridge (he was even mayor for a while) is someone who—to paraphrase what W.C. Fields famously wanted on his tombstone—would rather be in Philadelphia.