Liner Note Authors: Tom Scharpling; Julie Klausner; Jon Wurster; Damian Abraham; Rob Wesley; Rob Meisch; Patrick Rapa; Martin Degrell; A.P. Mike.
Recording information: WFMU Studios, East Orange, NJ (2000-2013); WFMU Studios, Jersey City, NJ (2000-2013).
Introduction by: Patton Oswalt.
Photographers: Lisa Jane Persky; Jeff Moore; Phil Morrison; Mindy Tucker; Steven Brahms; Rob Hatch-Miller.
The notion that a writer for the TV show Monk and the drummer for Superchunk would team up to blaze a new trail in American comedy sounds like some sort of a joke -- or perhaps the premise for a phone call that appeared on the long-running WFMU-FM radio show The Best Show on WFMU with Tom Scharpling. Scharpling, a comedy writer, fanzine publisher, and music fan, struck gold when he became a writer and producer for Monk, but his greatest creative achievement came as a host on New Jersey's free-form radio outlet WFMU, where he would spin records, interview guests, and most significantly take a phone call every week from Jon Wurster, a drummer with a passion for absurdist humor and pop culture. Each week, Scharpling would play straight man as Wurster impersonated a dizzying variety of characters, most of them hapless denizens of the fictional town of Newbridge, New Jersey. The show's clever if nerdy take on the obsessions of the average (or not so average) citizen as reflected in the Newbridge populace made the show a cult favorite, and it ran on WFMU from November 2000 to December 2013 before Scharpling & Wurster put The Best Show on hiatus, reviving it as an independent podcast in 2014. Scharpling & Wurster have released highlights from the show in the past on CD and MP3, but The Best of the Best Show is the writ-large archival collection of the WFMU incarnation of the show, a monstrous 16-disc box set of Scharpling & Wurster in their element. Scharpling sounds curious, baffled, or outraged as Wurster takes the form of a variety of eccentrics, wannabes, and never weres, including Philly Boy Roy, Hot Rockin' Ronnie, the Gorch, Pat Sajak's brother Mike, struggling rockers Mother 13 and the Gas Station Dogs, and Marky Ramone (now an author of historical erotica). What's most impressive is not just how deep Wurster can go into a broad range of characters, but how the characters change over time, each existing within their own world as well as the sprawling landscape of Newbridge. At at their best, Scharpling & Wurster perfected the art of the prank call, but the prank wasn't being played on the person who picked up the phone, but the audience listening in, as fact and absurd fiction march hand in hand. The box includes a 108-page book full of essays, interviews, character sketches, and notes on all the calls, and comes with a USB stick featuring five extended pieces, just in case you felt cheated only getting 16 discs' worth of comedy (the level of hilarity is impressively consistent throughout the set). The Best of the Best Show is clearly meant for the most serious of fans, given the bulk of the package, but if you want an exhaustive collection of one of the best and most unusual comedy teams of the new millennium, this is the treasure trove of Tastykakes you've always dreamed of. ~ Mark Deming