Tom scharpling has been a legend in comedy circles for nearly two decades now, thanks in large part to his radio show and podcast, The best show. The premise is that a variety of weirdos hook up to the program – most, but not all, eccentrics. Rocky posh rock fans and critics alike are played by comedian / drummer / also legendary Jon Wurster, only to run up against the stone wall of a character almost as strange as them: radio host Tom Scharpling. On the air for three hours a week, Scharpling acts as an avatar of the amused moody, constantly courting and pissing off about virtually any perceived silliness that comes his way. But if the first step to be inducted into the Best show Cult learns that Wurster’s frequent caller, Philly Boy Roy, is an impostor, then the second realizes that the deadpan, infinitely confident, and sometimes faded man behind the mic every week is just as much of an invention.
Part of this illusion is found stripped in It never ends: a memory with beautiful memories!, Scharpling’s new memories. This includes the invention of the surname “Scharpling” (a coat rack, apparently, of personal heroes Al Sharpton and Garry Shandling), as well as the expected discussions of the origins and making of The best show, the genesis of the Scharpling & Wurster comedy team, and if Scharpling really hates the music of Tom Waits and Billy Joel. (Yes and yes.) Scharpling is a natural storyteller, with an eye for absurd minutiae, and he puts those talents to good use in the written word as easily as he does on the radio.
Comedy is not the only goal of It never ends. Scharpling also attempts to capture its ancient past, both for its own benefit and that of the reader. Heartfelt revelations about the host and writer’s lifelong struggles with depression, suicidal urges, and the severe psychiatric treatment he endured as a teenager all emerge – information he rarely gets. if ever, shared. Scharpling’s nervousness to open up to these experiences is both palpable and endearing, as he honestly writes about many of the most difficult chapters of his life with tonic clarity. If there is one downside to this rigorous self-examination, it’s that Scharpling’s understandable discomfort with the subject – and the feeling that he’s trying to figure out, on the page, everything that happened to him during his days. the darkest – also imposes a distance diploma on his naturally ironic voice. The mind never backs down completely, but it’s hard to shake off the feeling that these chapters are for the author first, and the bookkeeper second.
The paradox, then, is that one sometimes has the impression that the reader is learning more about Tom Scharpling from a chapter in which he recounts his obsession with a Wizard of Oz arcade machine on the Jersey Shore that meditations on his sanity. Not because Scharpling’s writings on the heavier stuff aren’t convincing, but because the way he embraces the wacky workings of the coin shooter game provides such a clear window into the parts of his mind that bring him joy. The best show has always been a program based on a silly and delicious game, and it is in the embrace of that spirit – and the demonstration, without saying it – that Scharpling’s memories really shine.
It never ends is at its peak as a tour through Scharpling’s pleasantly irascible worldview, imbued with a heady mix of facetious self-glorification and pleasantly honest self-mockery. Those looking for landmark stories about Scharpling’s entertainment career, including his service as a longtime writer for Monk and a voice actor on Steven Universe–could leave disappointed. (Tony Shalhoub and Rebecca Sugar are both, apparently, extremely sweet.) Those looking to understand Tom Scharpling will gain a bit of insight here, but may have to line up behind the man himself for a fuller understanding. But those looking to immerse themselves in the voice of Scharpling, one of the most distinctive of the past 20 years of comedy, now has a perfect vehicle for it. All that and you get top notch stories about the New Monkees, the Sex and the city Papa Roach’s slot machine and basketball sense. This is a very good deal.
Author Photo: Joel Fox