Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
Jon Wurster’s work with Tom Scharpling on The Best Show is so ambitious, involved, and rightfully acclaimed that it can be hard to believe that Wurster’s calls only constitute one component of a three-hour weekly podcast. Not every bit requires the same amount of effort but some of the duo’s most accomplished segments boast a Herculean level of ambition.
In previous columns, I’ve highlighted such time and labor-intensive Best Show triumphs as the Newbridge Mayubernatorial debate, which brought together an insane number of Wurster’s characters for one massive tour de force, and the multi-part Mother 13/First Band to Climb Everest saga, which began as a pitch-perfect parody of slick alt-rock opportunism and corporate co-option and ended as a demented, corpse-riddled dark comedy.
Those were both podcasts for the ages. Podcasting is an ephemeral medium intensely focussed on the present and future but those were both clearly designed for posterity, to be listened to and enjoyed twenty, or thirty, or fifty years from now as well as in the week they were released. That is true of another instant-classic Best Show Scharpling & Wurster collaboration: “The Newbridge Wall.”
The segment opens with Darren (Wurster), a co-worker of Scharpling within the show’s fictional Newbridge mythology, cooing, “I found it” with a sense of joy as palpable as it is misguided. “It” turns out to be something Darren views as a personal Holy Grail and that Scharpling views as an albatross: The Newbridge Wall, a radical “re-imagining” of Pink Floyd’s The Wall as filtered through the bratty, myopic sensibility of Reagan-era American kids barely into their teens.
The only evidence The Newbridge Wall ever existed disappeared three decades earlier but Darren never stopped looking for it or trying to bring the dream back to life. True, he was a little discouraged, if not suspicious, when he discovered that someone poured bleach on it in an attempt to ensure that it’s never heard but that did not keep him from spending thousands of dollars getting it lovingly restored.
It becomes obvious from Scharpling’s mortified tone alone that he’s the one who attempted to literally bury The Newbridge Wall forever out of a richly merited sense of shame and self-consciousness. Yet his one-time band member’s evident discomfort at being reminded of their early collaboration does nothing to dim Darren’s overwhelming enthusiasm for the resurrected project, nor his belief that the magic they made as children in the early 80s must be shared with the contemporary world.
To that end, Darren begins playing songs from The Newbridge Wall over the Best Show soundboard using a sadistic app called the “Playlist Enforcer” that allows users to control other people’s soundboards. In this case, it allows Darren to play songs from the distant past over Tom’s will. It’s immediately apparent why Scharpling wants his youthful indiscretions buried. It’s the musical equivalent of the world’s most embarrassing yearbook photo, only infinitely worse and more soul-scarring.
Scharpling & Wurster obviously did an enormous amount of work on the The Newbridge Wall. As always, they nail the details, particularly on a sonic level. There’s something approximating pure joy in the way the adult Wurster channels the heartfelt squeakiness of early adolescence as he warbles Newbridge-centric new lyrics to popular favorites from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, his voice high and unsure, his tone wavering and off-key, yet his misguided enthusiasm shining through in every tortured altered lyric.
Behind him, overwhelmed neophytes perform something vaguely approximating the actual melodies of Pink Floyd’s iconic songs while forever lagging way behind the beat. The selections from The Newbridge Wall capture on a thematic, audio, and emotional level what it sounds like for a bunch of children who don’t know what they’re doing to try to recreate the music they love and be just successful enough for the resemblance to be embarrassing. It takes smart professionals to create something that feels so authentically, poignantly amateurish.
There’s something wonderfully human about these realistically embarrassing demos. On some level, “The Newbridge Wall” is a cockeyed tribute to the weird emotional connection kids and early teenagers feel towards music created in a vastly different cultural context that nevertheless speaks profoundly to their lives and their emotions.
There’s a great moment when Wurster, as Darren, succinctly sums up the unlikely appeal of The Wall to American kids when he reflects, “All kids of our age back in the early 80s could totally identify with dark, disturbing songs about an English boy growing up in the 1940s whose father was killed by the Germans in World War II. [The young Scharpling] reshaped those songs to make them reflect our lives.”
Listening to the podcast made me think about my own 13-year-old self’s obsession with The Monkees, to the point where my best friend and I had a two-person club devoted exclusively to the Prefab-Four. If there’s something utterly ridiculous about people like a young Tom and Darren identifying so strongly and passionately in something like The Wall, there’s something kind of beautiful about it as well. Darren’s complete lack of self-consciousness regarding The Newbridge Wall is played for laughs, but there’s something strangely moving about his unwavering belief in something Tom has the decency and self-awareness to be deeply embarrassed by.
“The Newbridge Wall” is a long bit, lasting almost an hour, so Scharpling & Wurster build out the story and the universe, with escalating details involving The Newbridge Wall being played to an understandably perplexed Roger Waters and Darren possibly getting killed by a Viking ghost of some sort.
“The Newbridge Wall” references a lot of Best Show lore but it does not rely upon familiarity with the show’s involved mythology to be funny and memorable. It actually wouldn’t be a bad introduction for beginners, particularly since Wurster, in his other life as a sought-after and accomplished veteran drummer, recently participated in a higher-profile project not terribly dissimilar from helping make The Newbridge Wall.
Wurster was recently part of Test Pattern, a fictional group based on The Talking Heads that Bill Hader and Fred Armisen put together for their Documentary Now series’ parody of Stop Making Sense. IFC even made the music of Test Pattern available free on its website, so you fortunately do not have to wait three long decades to hear this simultaneously irreverent and reverent take on another iconic rock masterpiece beloved by adults and weird-ass, weirdly creative kids alike.
Nathan Rabin is the author of five books, including Weird Al: The Book (with Al Yankovic) and the recently released Ebook “Short Read”, 7 Days In Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of The Juggalos And The Summer Everything Went Insane.