The Tom Scharpling Interview
Today I chat with the host of the beloved radio program “The Best Show on WFMU.” Not content to be merely a legend of the airwaves, however, he’s also the director of music videos for groups like the New Pornographers, Wild Flag and Ted Leo, often starring your favorite comedians.
Scharpling was also a writer and executive producer on the award winning television program Monk as well as a writer on the hilariously bizarre Tom Goes to the Mayor and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!. And that’s not all: he has released several albums with comedy partner Jon Wurster under the moniker Scharpling & Wurster. You can learn so much about him here as well as follow him on Twitter.
After you’ve wrapped an episode of “Best Show,” do you ponder where it lies on the spectrum of episodes in terms of quality? What would be the difference between a good episode and a great episode?
I really do know how good or bad the show was. And there are times when I truly know how bad it was, and those shows aren't always the ones that seem like they go south in a very public way. I know when my thought process isn't clicking like I want it to and that I take a concept half as far as I'd like to. And sometimes people say they like those shows, so while I know how I feel about it it's not my place to convince them that they're wrong for enjoying something I made. I'm lucky enough to have people interested in what I do and to have them seem to like what I do as it is. Besides, I would hate it if I liked a set by a band or stand-up and they told me that I was wrong for enjoying it.
Listening to any longrunning radio show for the first time can make you feel like you're listening to a bunch of insider jokes you don’t get but want to. What would you say is integral to know before starting the show?
I know that sometimes it might not seem like it, but I do work at trying to make the show a balance of stuff for newcomers and veterans alike. Jon and I try to balance out the amount of Scharpling & Wurster calls that are super referential to the Newbridge world we've built up with calls that are for anybody getting onboard for the first time, and I try to frame the discussions I have with long-time callers so that someone who is new to the party can follow along. But there IS something satisfying about knowing you want to get some jokes but you don't, so you do the work and listen a bunch and then the answers reveal themselves. I love when I get obsessed with someone's work and I'm doing everything I can to crack the codes!
Who are some people you've always wanted to have on the show but haven’t gotten yet?
There are a couple people who I've been trying to get on but things haven't worked out schedule-wise. Andy Kindler is at the top of that list - he has said some really nice things about the show and I can't wait to have him in the studio some Tuesday night.
Whether you’re cooking or driving or hanging out at the beach or what have you, what do you listen to when you want background sound?
I like to just bounce around my iPod and see what's what. It depends where I am and what I'm doing. When I'm working the music can't be too aggressive or too mellow, so something like The Move works pretty well. I love listening to Led Zeppelin almost all the time, and I enjoy things like jazz and F----d Up and audio books when I'm driving or walking.
What are some of your favorite Tim and Eric sketches?
My favorite thing that T&E did was the Cinco behind-the-scenes episode. Their acting was stupendous and I still can't believe that they got Tom Leykis.
What did being an executive producer for Monk entail on a day-to-day basis?
I did a lot of everything - breaking the stories with the other writers, talking on the phone with production, doing rewrites, watching dailies, weighing in on casting and various practical decisions. It was a great experience overall and it was an honor to work on. I'm hoping my next writing experience comes close to how enjoyable Monk was.
What are some other shows that you particularly admire for the quality of their writing?
I like Community a ton. What Dan Harmon and his cohorts are doing there is just insane - they push things as hard as they can every single episode. And Parks & Rec has figured out a real sense of humanity within such an oversized/undersized world. They've really hit their stride big-time.
What’s the latest update on Evil Genius?
Comedy Central passed on it. Not sure if anything will happen with it. Hopefully it does, but it won't happen with me. I'm working on a show with the Gregory Brothers for Comedy Central - we just shot a pilot with Peyton Reed directing and knock on wood it will go forward because the pilot turned out GREAT and I've never been so proud of something in all my career.
What’s an example of something, comedy-wise, that most people seem to love that you just can’t get into?
This is a hard one to answer - I can generally appreciate something and see what others see in it even if it doesn't work for me. And as someone who makes stuff for a living, it's not generally my favorite thing to turn my inability to enjoy something into a rant about how that person sucks. Sorry!
You’ve spoken in other interviews about knowing that you’re not a stage performer, but if you somehow could be one, who’s an example of a performer whose style you’d love to emulate?
Hmmm. I'm not sure what that would mean. I honestly don't like being onstage! I would rather be on the radio or writing or directing - anything but me being the one in front of people. It's not my skill set at all and I'm at a point where I'm better off just doing what I seem to be pretty good at rather than trying to be something I'm not. But if situations present themselves I am certainly open to pursuing them. But don't expect me to be anything other than the character of Tom onstage.
What’s the last song/album you bought?
I picked up a ton of records at the WFMU Record Fair this past weekend. Got a nice clean copy of PRESENCE, an un-water colored IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR and a bunch of amazing reissues put out by Sundazed Records and Numero Group. I'm sure I'll be showcasing them on the radio over the next month or so.
Are there any other cities or parts of the country that remind you of New Jersey, either in terms of looks or general persona?
Strangely enough, Los Angeles reminds me of NJ sometimes. You drive to the places you want to go to, except in New Jersey you're driving to a Chipotle and in LA you're going to Poquito Mas. I would live in LA in a heartbeat if a job brought me there. Who knows what that means for the radio show, but I gots to go where the work is!
Do you think New Jersey will ever be the new Brooklyn?
No, not really. It's too spread out and not mass-transity enough. I think that Jersey City could put something together if the city could take advantage of its openness in an artistic capacity, but Brooklyn is Brooklyn and nothing will ever be like it, for better or worse.
I’ve read in other interviews that you started writing at a young age. Have you looked back on many of those old pieces? How do you think they’ve held up (taking age/maturity into account)?
I have looked back when I stumble across a box in my basement. The stuff I wrote is pretty garbagey but I was just figuring out what I was doing. Although hopefully I will look back ten years from now and be shocked at how much of a leap I took writing-wise over the decade.
How does it feel to be the 293rd person interviewed for Zulkey.com (and now WBEZ)?
It goes without saying that it is an honor. But it also goes without saying that since I am so flagrantly late handing this in that I'm not the 293rd person at this point. Right?
Right, now you’re 296. But still, welcome and congrats