The bits are usually about 60 percent scripted, says Wurster. “We’ll have an outline. Either one of us will come up with the initial kernel of a bit, then we’ll talk about it back and forth.” (One exception was the “Kid eBay” sketch, which, in addition to unleashing Scharpling and Wurster’s obsession with the darker corners of pop culture, reveals their natural rapport: it was almost entirely ad-lib — with Wurster actually lying on his basement floor in a nifty bit of method acting.)
“We make sure we know where the thing’s going, and what marks we want to hit,” says Scharpling. “We know each other enough that they can be looser, and as long as they get to those points, we can do anything in between.” Sometimes Scharpling, an excellent straight man, has to stifle laughter when Wurster surprises him with a particularly ridiculous turn of phrase. “He always gets me.”
Sound bite this
“So much of radio stuff these days is macho guys trying to sound tough,” says Scharpling of the cretinous “Morning Zoo” format that infects America’s airwaves. Although many of Wurster’s characters are, well, macho guys trying to sound tough, their type of radio serves as an antidote to that sort of dumb bombast. And while Scharpling and Wurster have a rabid cult fan base — check out the exhaustive weekly recaps at recidivism.org/tbsowfmu, and the character guide at friendsoftom.com/fotpedia — their brand of comedy, even with high-profile fans like Conan O’Brien, doesn’t yet have the wide audience some people (read: me) think it deserves.
But with plans for the pair — who’ve both contributed to episodes of Cartoon Network shows Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Tom Goes to the Mayor — to branch out into some sort of visual medium soon, they could be poised for a break out.
In the meantime, we have these strange, wonderful two-man radio plays. Wurster acknowledges that the art form is “not for everyone. It does require effort, and a lot of people just don’t have the time or inclination” to engage their long conversations.
And while Scharpling says they’d like to appeal to as many people as possible, he’s also adamant that “we’re not gonna turn these things into three-minute calls, just so it can fit the attention span of the lowest common denominator. People need to learn how to pay attention to things again; everyone is just so used to things getting served up in sound bites.”
Here’s a tip: listen while you’re driving. In Boston traffic, you’ll have a lot of time.
On the Web
“The Best Show on WFMU”: http://wfmu.org/playlists/bs