Saying Goodbye to ‘The Best Show on WFMU’

After 13 years, Tom Scharpling’s influential comedy/music radio show The Best Show on WFMU came to an end last night, with one final three-hour installment that featured a lot of firsts (and lasts) for the program.

After Scharpling was sabotaged by a pair of bad headphones right off the bat, he kicked off a jam-packed goodbye show (which you can listen to here) by taking a string of calls that resulted in him doing a lot of what he does best: talking to kids, getting frustrated by a bunch of lunkheads, and Bad Company-ing his last caller. We also got final visits from Gary the Squirrel and newly-married Vance before they beat feet one last time.

Of course, the ultimate Best Show would have to include a lot of Jon Wurster, who calls in early on as Officer Harrups, a character who’s been talked about often on The Best Show throughout its run but has never appeared on it until now, who helped wrap up last week’s Darren from work call about Newbridge being strapped with some very ineffective explosives. Wurster then showed up in studio as his most beloved character, Philly Boy Roy, who of course doesn’t know it’s the last show but uses it as an opportunity to swipe Scharpling’s wallet and AP Mike’s laptop.

After Wurster’s in-studio appearance, Scharpling takes a break to play Big Star’s “Ballad of El Goodo,” the perfect song since the host often compares the show to the band, before launching into an amazing 47-minute sound collage featuring some of The Best Show’s finest moments, a string of funny “Chris Hardwick talking about nerds” clips, and tons more.

The Best Show’s final string of callers are some of its most obnoxious ever, which is kind of perfect, before Fred from Honolulu, the program’s last caller, turns things around and kicks off a series of sincere goodbyes. First, AP Mike comes in to pay his respects, and then, Jon Wurster, appearing out of character on the show for the first time, re-enters the studio to reflect with Scharpling on how their comedy partnership came to be and to thank the show’s mountain of friends and supporters.

After their first out-of-character conversation on the show, Scharpling kicked Wurster out of the studio to say a heartfelt goodbye of his own, telling the story of how he came to WFMU in 1994 and how the show helped him through his wife’s struggle with cancer. The Best Show has never been a stranger to sincerity, and Scharpling’s personal goodbye at the end is perhaps the most poignant moment in its decade-plus history.

Scharpling and Wurster both reiterated something that the former said to me in an interview earlier this week about how The Best Show isn’t going away and that it’ll just probably come back in a different form. Wurster said last night, “This is only the beginning,” and Scharpling explained the situation like this:

“It’s hard for me to say goodbye to this. This is the most satisfying creative experience that I’ve ever had by a hundred miles, and it has brought so much into my life in every possible way … I feel like I’m doing this better than I’ve ever done it. I feel like we are just getting started in so many ways. We have talked about so many ways to keep things going, but there has been no plan in place. It’s just like, ‘Let’s end this amazing experience, 13 years of this beautiful show that has just been a privilege for us to do every Tuesday night.’ Let’s show this show the respect it deserves before we figure out what the future is. That’s how I was approaching everything with it. Maybe we take a break, maybe we do one-off episodes. Who knows? We really have not talked about it on the whole, but the last seven weeks really have driven home the point that this is what I’m best at: talking into a microphone and having this fun and making this comedy. It’s something that I was lucky enough to have stumbled upon. Jon is my partner; he is my best friend. It has been a complete friend to do this stuff with him and to build the world we’ve built …I don’t want to stop. We’ve got something special, and I am going to figure out how to keep what we’re doing going in some form that can be sustainable in the real world. If I’m gonna figure it out, I’m gonna figure it out with Jon and I guess Mike, right? … I’m gonna try to figure something out. This is too great and too big and too important to me to just to say goodbye to it because the show is a victim of its own success, outgrowing a noncommercial radio station … There’s no way that I’m gonna say goodbye to this thing I’ve been doing that I feel is probably why I’m here on the planet.”

It’s difficult to say goodbye to The Best Show, but by the sounds of this, we won’t really have to as things will hopefully come together so the show can return in another form. Following his emotional monologue, Scharpling plays us out with a jaunty Tom Waits song in a fake-out that’s a super funny and fitting conclusion for The Best Show.

And yes, frequent caller Spike didn’t call into The Best Show for its final run of shows, but he did apparently call into the WFMU show Redundancy Radio at 4:45 am (archived here with his call at the 1:48:30 mark), which is a pretty great footnote to The Best Show saga.

Saying Goodbye to ‘The Best Show on WFMU’