The first call to WFMU, in 1997, was done as a lark. Wurster phoned the station as a smug music critic named Ronald Thomas Clontle whose astoundingly wrongheaded book, Rock, Rot and Rule claimed to be the “ultimate argument settler” with regard to an artist’s merit. Puff Daddy and Bruce Hornsby were deemed to rule; the Beatles merely rock (“Penny Lane” is a pretty bad song); and David Bowie rots (“too many changes”). The board was soon flooded with angry calls from credulous listeners taking issue with Clontle’s misinformed pronouncements. Wurster engaged them with cool aplomb. Luckily, Scharpling had a cassette running. A classic was born.
“We were just amazed that people called in and thought it was real,” says Wurster. “We were never trying to put anything over on anyone. It just sort of happened. We called each other afterward: ‘That was amazing!’ It was the perfect venue for guys like us. It’s all done over the radio, nobody sees you or anything, and you’re able to just create this other world.”
“I’ve always been drawn to the two-man game,” says Scharpling, “whether it’s Bob & Ray or Peter Falk and Alan Arkin in The In-Laws, or Martin Short and Charles Grodin in Clifford. Just watching two people play off each other. Dudley Moore and Peter Cooke is something that I love. Just hearing two people have a dialogue or an argument.”
Out on a limb
As the years have gone on, Scharpling & Wurster’s dialogues have gotten, shall we say, curiouser and curiouser. One highlight of The Art of the Slap — aside from a classic bit from Wurster’s long-time recurring character, the oafish townie Philly Boy Roy — is an epic two-part, 73-minute sketch that scales new heights of comedy.
Wurster plays cocksure corporate rocker Corey Harris (born Dinkins), whose band, Mother 13, are veterans of festivals like the Earthlink/Pringles Summer Slam Jam and the Puffs Tissues “Fall Into Softness” Tour. Corey is trying to restore his reputation by organizing the first rock concert atop Mount Everest. Accompanying him, besides assorted roadies, soundmen, and film crew, will be Buddy Guy, Everclear’s Art Alexakis, Springsteen sax man Clarence Clemons, Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, Darren Cook (Dane’s younger, funnier, fictional brother), and all 38 members of the Polyphonic Spree.
At first, Corey is brazen. Sponsorship from Summit Cola is in place, he’s been getting in shape by scaling the rock wall at the gym by the mall, and everything looks good to go. But a phone call one week later reveals that, perhaps predictably, things didn’t go so well. As he relates his abominable misadventure, as the litany of frostbite, fatal avalanches, cannibalism, and snow-blind mayhem piles up, you find yourself laughing with your jaw somewhere around your knees, marveling at the sheer, towering weirdness of what you’re hearing.
“Even when things get weird, there’s still an element that everyone can relate to in them,” Scharpling says. “Like, the Mount Everest thing is just about people doing anything for attention, the need for fame. Those are things that everybody can relate to. If they weren’t in the calls, we’d be in trouble. Because you can go pretty far out.”