Sometime after Tom Scharpling, host of the New Jersey-based cult call-in program The Best Show on WFMU, appeared on Marc Maron’s comedians-on-comedy podcast WTF in February of 2011, I convened with the friend who introduced me to the Best Show, and we found ourselves thinking back to the same moment in the interview. Speaking to Maron, Scharpling mentions that he believes listeners understand that his on-air persona–blustery, short tempered, and capricious; a “semi-benevolent dictator,” as GQ put it in 2010–is just that, a persona. To which my friend and I agreed: maybe, but it’s not always easy to tell.
This is not to say that listeners don’t understand that Scharpling is performing while on air. The Best Show features too many callers from the fictional Jersey town of Newbridge, and lately too many interjections from Scharpling’s prog-rock loving puppet Vance, to be heard as anything other than a comedy program. But callers to the show often approach Scharpling with real apprehension—so much so that Scharpling’s frustration with callers who led with ‘Is this me?’ and followed with ‘I’m a little nervous’ became a motif throughout fall ’11. Continue reading