For 13 years now, Tom Scharpling has hosted The Best Show on WFMU — a cult-hit radio call-in show, part music program, much larger part three-hour comedy free-for-all based out of the tiny, listener-funded WFMU station in Jersey City, New Jersey. At the heart of the show is the comedy team of Scharpling and Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster, who’ve rolodexed a Best Show guest spot family that includes East Coast career indie rockers and comedians par excellence like John Hodgman, Aimee Mann, Paul F. Tompkins (who’s kinda had a falling out with Tom), Patton Oswalt, Ted Leo, Julie Klausner and Todd Barry. Over its decade-plus run, the show has managed to build a community of longtime listeners, frequent callers, and recurring characters, voiced by Wurster (like Philadelphiaphile “Philly Boy” Roy and real-life Fonzie inspiration The Gorch), most phoning in from fictional Newbridge, New Jersey.
On December 17, Scharpling, who’s basically done the show for free while scoring writing credits on Tom Goes To The Mayor and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, producing Monk, and directing one million music videos, will sign-off on The Best Show for good. Let’s face it, it’s hard to continually pour a whole bunch of your creative juice into something with virtually zero returns, cheddar-making-wise.
In reverie and solemn celebration, we’re looking at the music videos of Tom Scharpling, which is what we imagine will become his new vehicle for comedy and probably his Best Show retirement hobby, the same way our dads have turned to building model boats and digital photography and “finally learning the keyboard.” Don’t fret, this isn’t really a horse-put-out-to-pasture moment. There’s a lot of The Best Show in Scharpling’s videos — they’re low budget and high concept and they turn on those beloved cameos handpicked from Tom’s impressive Christmas card list. And I think we’ve got them all.
The New Pornographers, “Moves”
Maybe the Pornos were on tour when Scharpling cast a few of his buddies to shoot the trailer for The Rise and Rise of The New Pornographers. That’s Wurster as AC Newman, Klausner as Neko Case, Grounded For Life‘s Kevin Corrigan as Destroyer, and The Best Show‘s AP Mike as Age of Electric and Limblifter drummer Kurt Dahle. Oh, and he wrangled up Bill Hader and Paul Rudd seemingly just for kicks.
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, “Bottled in Cork”
A fast-talking theatre producer (Tompkins) convinces Ted and co. to mount an American Idiot-japing musical. It fails. But see if you can catch Titus Andronicus‘ beardo frontman who seems genuinely moved.
Aimee Mann, “Labrador”
Jon Hamm sits in as Tom Scharpling to remind us that beyond the brooding Don Draper, he’s also America’s handsomest comedy nerd. Scharpling did a video for Mann’s “Charmer,” but “Labrador” is the real gem. It is, in fact, a shot-for-shot remake of her 1985 ‘Til Tuesday video for “Voices Carry.” Funny how 25 years and Wurster in the role of the abusive bf can kinda turn the whole thing on its head.
Real Estate, “Easy”
The Ettes, “Excuse”
Now Patton Oswalt’s playing Scharpling and he’s blown The Ettes‘ whole video budget on coke and prostitutes, so we’re just supposed to imagine how cool this thing could have been.
Wild Flag, “Romance”
In what looks more like a bank heist, the now-defunct indie rock supergroup Wild Flag take their lunch break to play some basketball and eat ice cream and throw dice before returning punctually to the grind.
Nude Beach, “Some Kinda Love”
Cheaper than a shoestring, but Nude Beach seem like a swell bunch of kids and that self-reflexive narrator sure is a nice enough guy.
Kurt Vile, “KV Crimes”
On August 28, the city of Philadelphia declared it Kurt Vile Day after one of its favourite sons. They presented him with the key to the city. Really. In “KV Crimes,” Scharpling imagines a world in which Vile is king and there are gross hoagies for all.
Monster Magnet, “Mindless Ones”
And for stoner rock pioneers Monster Magnet, Scharpling serves up such a straight-ahead performance video that, given the rest of his work, sits more like a subtle parody of the performance video itself. Am I giving him too much credit?
Titus Andronicus, “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future”
According to frontman Patrick Stickles the real spirit of New Jersey is best captured in this collection of impromptu Titus Andronicus shows. I mean, maybe, but mostly its cute when punks booster.
The Stepkids, “Legend In My Own Mind
It turns out, comedian Kurt Braunohler was only a legend in his own mind. Really, his body was unconscious on the filthy sidewalk.
Ben Gibbard, “Teardrop Windows”
This time Braunohler plays the slimy exec. Even though “bad boys make wampum,” Death Cab singer Ben Gibbard can do no wrong, try as he might.
Postal Service Auditions
Not really a music video, but rather a bit of promo for The Postal Service reunion tour. This one’s an ensemble cast — Scharpling buddies Wurster and Mann alongside Moby, Weird Al, Duff McKagan, Nate Mendel from Sunny Day, Marc Maron, Tom DeLonge, and Page Hamilton from Helmet — all scoring little potshots on the band.