2006_06_Tom_Scharpling.jpgWhat do Patton Oswalt, Conan O'Brien, and David Cross all have in common? They've all endorsed the comedy of Scharpling and Wurster . Tom Scharpling is host of The Best Show of WFMU , a three hour block of humor and music that broadcasts Tuesdays on WFMU from eight to eleven PM.

How long have you been with WFMU?
I started back in the mid 90's, volunteering. I got a show a while later by putting together a demo of what my show would be like. At that point, it was a music show. It's a little different from what's going on now. I did that show for a few years and started getting more comfortable talking and enjoyed being on mic. One of the final things I did on that show was Rock, Rot, and Rule with Jon Wurster. That was our first radio bit. We did that and it went really well. Nobody expected it and believed what we were saying because it was in the context of a music show and not a comedy show. I ended up leaving the station because I had some personal things to take care of with family and stuff. I thought I might not come back because I didn't feel like doing a music show. If I were to come back, I'd do what I wanted to, which was an extended version of what Jon Wuster and I had done when we did Rock, Rot, and Rule. In late 2000, we started The Best Show.

What were the early days of The Best Show like?
It was a little sticky trying to get people up to speed to what the show was going to be. There were plenty of people who weren't fans of the show who were regular WFMU listeners complaining that there was too much talk. "Play a record." Every other show on the station plays records. Here's a show that's talk. If you don't like it, put a CD on or change the channel. That took a while to get past, but now everybody's up to speed. It'd be nice to upset everybody again on some level.

What was your radio experience prior to WFMU?
I owned a radio and listened to it. I was always a fan of radio and talk shows. It was something I always wanted to do. There's so much you can do with it. Bob and Ray did so much stuff with it. I still think that they're the best ever in any medium.

If you had to, could you fix an actual radio?
That depends on your definition of fix. It would be more modify than fix. I can put stickers on your radio or write something on it with a marker.

What sort of comedy experience did you have prior to The Best Show on WFMU?
I always wrote stuff and would try to get stuff going. I had dreams of being involved in comedy, but the only thing I didn't have was the performer's gene.I think I'm better suited to be behind the scenes. People say, "I realized the first time I was onstage that that's where I was meant to be." The couple of times I've gone onstage, I've realized that that's where I'm meant not to be. I get really uncomfortable and it's just not fun for me. The weird thing is that being on the radio, I'm in front of more people than I'd be at any comedy venue. The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater can seat about one hundred and fifty people people. I'm doing the radio show in front of a lot more than that and I'm completely at ease. I think it's an issue of eye contact more than anything.

What were these stage experiences?
Helping a friend out with a bit once in a while. I went up at a show called Eating It with Jon Benjamin . He said, "You're going to go up and help me," and I dreaded it all day. I didn't eat the whole day. By the time I went up, I was hallucinating because of not eating all day, on top of my normal fear. Sheets of sweat were cascading down my brow. I was burning off actual vital liquids. I'm just not comfortable onstage. I can get what I want to get across on radio and I like the freedom that I get because of not having an audience there. If something was going south onstage, you can definitely tell it's not working within two seconds. In radio, it's so silent and it's just me and my voice, or me and Jon doing a bit. It's just the two of us and we're not playing for laughs. If it's entertaining to us, we're figuring that there's a fair amount of people who share our sense of humor and they're finding it funny.

What sort of role did comedy play in your youth?
I was a fan of music and comedy at the same time. I would swing back and forth between which one had more importance in my life, but they ran side by side. I was a huge Saturday Night Live and SCTV fan. And other stuff like that. I was interested in how they worked. I would watch them real closely and deconstruct things.

What sort of role did music play in your youth?
When I was buying my first records, I consider those as statement and figuring out who I wanted to be. I wasn't showing up at school with a mohawk or anything, but when you're eight or nine and you're buying Elvis Costello records it helps you figure out who you are in comparison to what else everyone else is listening to. It let's you realize that you shouldn't be on the same path that everyone else is on.

What were you like in school?
I would always lose focus. was sometimes shocked at how poorly I did in school. I could have done better. If I had to go back and sit in a classroom now, I wouldn't be able to.

You grew up in New Jersey. Are you surprised that people assume that New Jersey is just an unpleasant place?
Yes I am. New York is fine. I like New York. Maybe I even love New York, but I grew up with New York half an hour away my whole life. Unlike all the people who live there now who grew up in Delaware, South Carolina, or wherever and then they act like, "I'm a New Yorker because I lived here for five months." They're going to tell what's going on. I went into New York every week with my parents to help them with their business my whole life. I had a pretty good handle on New York. I have a driveway, a back yard, a car, a dog that isn't all cooped up, and I go a half hour through the tunnel and I'm in the city. I use New York, I leave New York, and then I go back to my house. People think that New Jersey is some monologue joke with toxic dumps. Take a look at New York. You might want to take a closer look at where you're actually living. Ultimately, if people don't want to come to New Jersey, fine. It's more room for the people who get it.

Young boys, free time, and suburban sprawl often leads to mischievous behavior. Could the same be said of young Tom Scharpling?
Yes, but when I was a kid I was frighteningly well behaved. I remember raking the lawns of old ladies in the neighborhood without being asked. It was more of boredom than anything. I didn't get in a whole lot of trouble, but it's more of that there's not much to do until you get that car. Then you can go to the movie theater and you're home free. It's nothing but gravy from that point on.

Were you, say, the class clown or the funny one in your group of friends?
In the way that the social order went in school, there were the jocks, the burnouts, who were smoking cigarettes, nerds, and this little abandoned group of people who made fun of all the other groups. That was the group I was in. I guess we didn't realize how low on the totem poll we were. I can remember in middle school when the class awards came out, like most popular. There was class clown, and I thought, "I wonder if I got that." I saw some kid's name on that and thought, "What? That kid's not funny. You've got to be kidding me." At that point, I realized that maybe awards wouldn't have a whole lot to do with my life. I do remember being actively irritated by that because I knew at that point, seventh grade, that this guy can't bring it. I was even using that phrase, "Bring it," in seventh grade. I think I invented that phrase.

In my high school, the class clown wasn't funny funny as much as he cut his own nipple off with a safety pin.
There's different types of clowns. The word clown is pretty inclusive. There are clowns that kids like and clowns that kids have nightmares about. It sounds like you had one of those nightmare clowns in your school.

Are you able to pinpoint the moment when you were consciously aware of your ability to make people laugh?
I can remember doing an impression of my grandfather and everyone in the family thinking it was funny. I would also prank phone call people in my extended family.

What sort of creative outlets did you have growing up?

I always wrote. I'd write short stories and parodies of things that were pretty inconsequential, but they were important. It's nothing that I'm going to dig up and say, "Hey, everybody, check out what I did when I was fourteen!" It was important just to do stuff without a goal insight, which I would say is the problem with a lot of people in the entertainment business. People don't do stuff for the love of doing it. They won't do anything unless they know what the end result will be and I think that that's how you get sloppy. You have to do stuff just because you love doing it. That's the stuff that always opens doors for you and gets the most response out of people.

What did you do after high school?
I went to a community college, thank you very much.

What did you study there?
There's so many ways I can answer that. I was the guy who took six years to get through a two-year community college experience because he was working full time. If you don't live at your college and you can count the amount of days on campus that you don't speak to anybody, then I don't think you're having much of a college experience. I was navigating through this world where I would drive to school, go to class, drive to work, and then go home and do homework.

I ended up getting a four-year degree. It was called Trenton State College at that point, but now it's called The College of New Jersey. I got in right when it was a bad school still. I was literally part of the last class to get in when they didn't care. Once in a while, people will say, "You went there? That's pretty impressive." Trust me, you're giving me credit for what somebody else had to struggle through. I was also working full time then. I had the privilege of doing an eighty-minute drive to school and seeing all the people that knew each other from living on campus. I was navigating through that and realized that there was no chance of me talking to anybody because everyone else was hanging out already. I'd then drive ninety minutes to work. I didn't have the classic college experience.

I ended up with an English degree, I think. A huge part of me was removed from the experience. At that point, I was doing it just to finish it.

Where did you work at the time?
A sheet music store in Summit, New Jersey.

Was your college education and advantage or disadvantage for your comedy career?
Everything ends up taking you where you're supposed to go, so I'm sure that there are things I got from it that I'm not even aware of. If I'm happy with where I am now, I should be appreciative with what it was because it got me where I am now. In terms of learning, I think the most important thing I ever got out of school was the typing class I took in high school. I was, and still am, an excellent typist. At my peak, I was hanging around seventy-five words per minute.

Was this about the time you started the fanzine?
The fanzine came about the end of my college experience. If you don't play an instrument but want to be involved, you find other ways to get involved. I found three of those ways. One was to do a fanzine, which was a way to write about music and do stuff in a funny way. The fanzine was a precursor to the radio show. Number two was to put records out. I started a record label off of the fanzine. And number three was to get involved in radio.

What was the fanzine called?
It was called 18 Wheeler. And that's what the record label was called as well.

How many people were involved?
It was primarily me and I'd write under different names. Then I got other people writing for it, which was great. I was the captain of that ship.

How'd you make the actual fanzine?
I took it to an offset printer that would run the stuff off.

How many issues did you put out?
Four.

Did this lead to positions as a rock journalist?
It didn't. I kind of wanted it to, but now I'm glad it didn't. I would have been someone in their mid-thirties forced to interview the guy from Dashboard Confessional. I'm glad I ultimately didn't end up in that world.

What sort of role do you think that music critics should play in people's consumption of music?
I was thinking about critics a whole lot lately. Sometimes it comes from that Entertainment Weekly thing where they're so snarky and obnoxious. The thing that drives me most nuts about that stuff is that something can be "five minutes ago." What is this, a race? You can't enjoy something on your own? You have to make sure that everyone else is signing off on it for you to enjoy it and then you have to make sure you get out at the right time? This is supposed to be fun stuff. These aren't stocks.

What was next after graduating from college?
More time at the music store selling plenty of sheet music. At that point, I was just trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I wanted to write. I didn't want to go get a grownup job. That was just going to make me sick if I had to go get a straight job. I hid out at the music store for a while, but I was writing every night. Working on screenplays with a friend, sketches. I just really wanted to do that and get good at it. I would work, go home, and then write until four in the morning.

How was it that you met Jon Wurster?
Jon was the drummer for a band called Superchunk that I was a huge fan of and he was their new drummer. We met when Superchunk came through town, started talking, and realized that we both loved Chris Elliot. That was the thing we both bonded on: Get a Life and Chris Elliot. We became friends and decided to try this thing on the radio show, which took things to the next level. That was when we realized that we were meant to be partners in this stuff. It worked; it was great to work with him, and we were on the exact same wavelength.

Did the fanzine have any role with your meeting with Jon?
I had interviewed Superchunk previously, so I was in with them and had a good relationship. It gave me the opportunity to meet him in a more casual circumstance than having to talk to him while he's loading his drum kit into the van.

When did you get involved with the Onion?
That's a ways down the road. I was already doing the Best Show. I wanted a job so bad at that point. I was working on Conan packets and just trying to get anybody's attention. I got to know Brian Stack up at Conan. Those guys were fans of the CDs we put out, which is so important to me. It meant so much to me that people doing what I loved would actually like something that I did. I wanted to write for The Onion and Brian Stack put me in touch with Todd Hanson, who was the head writer up there. Todd was a big fan of the CDs too. This was when they were still in Wisconsin, right before they moved to New York. The way it worked then was that writers who were on staff could sponsor an outside person. I really was just selling headlines. I never wrote articles, but it was a real shot in the arm to get things into something I respected so much.

How did you get involved with Monk?
I was at the radio station and a guy who had another show on the station, Andy Breckman, who's really funny and wrote for Saturday Night Live and Letterman in his earliest years. I loved his radio show. I got to meet him and I had a script that I co-wrote with a friend that I was really proud of and wanted to get Andy to read. I got it to him, never heard back, and then five months later he calls. He's like, "I'm on vacation with my family. I read this script you wrote. It's really funny." Getting comments like that from people you respect means so much. We both lived, and still live, in New Jersey. It was, "Hey, you're funny and live in New Jersey. Let's hang out." I became good friends with him.

Eventually, I said, "I'm quitting the music store," and the owner said, "Then I'm selling it." I had been there for so long that I was co-running it. He said, "Let me sell it and I'll give you a little bonus when it sells as a farewell package." It gave me enough for year to write full time. Anybody that let me write for them, I would do it. At this point, Andy was a feature screenwriter. He'd need assistance; someone to sit in the room with him and be a soundboard. I did that for a while and it was like going to school. I got to learn how a real screenwriter writes movies. That was also like my audition for Monk. When the show was finally picked up by the USA Network, I was the first person to get hired when it was going to become a series. You end up at these positions at the most roundabout ways.

What does your position currently entail?
Co-executive producer.

Tell me about Jeff the Demon.
Jeff the Demon is a script I wrote with a friend named Joe Ventura. Joe and I have worked together in the past on screenplays. We wrote it up for a small production company and that production company shopped it around and New Line Pictures bought it. Who knows? Movies are like glaciers. We'll see if it ever gets made. I'd love to see it get made, but I can't hinge all my hopes on movie stuff because it takes years.

What are some projects that you're currently involved in?
Jon Wurster and I are working on a bunch of stuff. We're working on a book together. Rock will be the driving force of the book. I'm writing a pilot for Conan O'Brien's company on the side. Monk is a full time job. I'm also trying to do some other movie stuff with Joe. And the radio show. We're putting a lot of work into the radio show. We're trying to make that as strong as it can be and have it heard by as many people as can be. I love it so much. Of all the things I've worked on, it's still my favorite. We get to do things the way that we want to do them. You work on a TV show or a movie and it's a hundred people working on something, but on a radio show it's me and it's Jon. Nobody tells us what to do. It's what I like to do in its purest sense.

Are there any projects that you're contemplating?
Sure, I'd love to get another fanzine going again. There's a void for something out there that I would like to fill. I slept two hours the other night because my mind was just racing with all this stuff. I would say that I've bitten off more than I can chew. I have to start picking my spots a little bit, but I think it's also the fear of falling out of a window. Do you know who Robert Wyattis? He was in the band Soft Machine in the 60's. He left that band and was going to do a solo album and then he fell out a window. He broke his spine and ended up in a wheel chair. I don't think he was planning on falling out that window. I have a weird fear of getting stuff done now and my body clock is paying the price because I'm not sleeping. But this is the stuff I wanted to do and the opportunities I've always wanted.

Now that I have shots at these things, I'm really excited about it. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying how it is. I can definitely be back selling sheet music. I'm one step away from that. I still pass the store where I used to sell sheet music everyday on my way to work. I didn't come from fancy schmancy upper middle class stuff. I come from a family of blue-collar people and it feels like I was meant to run a landscaping business and it's like the movie Final Destination. Instead of the grim reaper chasing me it's a guy with a push mower trying to get me back to where I'm meant to be. I just have to keep things moving now before reality and my inevitable fate catches up with me.

Are there any albums you'd like to recommend to the readers?
This Robert Wyatt album Rock Bottom . That's the first album he recorded after he fell out the window. I'm in a turn where I'm listening to stuff that's not obscure. I've been listening to a fair amount of Radiohead. Who can't get onboard that train? Hey, everybody, there's a band you might want to check out. It's called Radiohead. It's just one word. I like this band the DC Snipers a lot. They're from New Jersey. So, Robert Wyatt, DC Snipers, and Radiohead. Oh, and The Groundhogs , who are a band from the early 70's. Just great guitar stuff. And Billy Childish .

Visit Tom online at Friendsoftom.com