It started when my friend Brian insisted I listen to this phone call. Brian is a proud comedy snob, so if he says something is worth hearing, it's like the Michelin guide saying, “We made up an extra star for this restaurant because the food is that delicious.”
I listened. A guy named Philly Boy Roy pitched a movie to Patton Oswalt called Rambocky, the perfect Philly movie that combines Rambo and Rocky. I think there was some stuff in there about how much New Jersey sucks. I don't remember all the particulars.
I looked into it further. The Best Show on WFMU, hosted by Tom Scharpling and featuring carefully scripted calls from characters played by Jon Wurster, had been on the air since 2000. I lived on the other coast, so I had no idea of the Jersey City radio station's existence. The comedy duo had built a world so immersive and consuming that every call had consistent, constant callbacks to jokes upon jokes upon jokes. I recognized all of it was very funny, but without years of context, I felt lost. I'm an easy route person – I like simple hikes and microwave cookery. Besides, I had a “stack” of downloads to still get through, plus piles of DVDs and books and so on to consume. I put The Best Show away.
Then came Jason.
I was in New York City for an improv festival. (That may be the dorkiest sentence ever typed. Bear with me.) It's nonstop shows for three days, which means people are performing at all hours. I concluded a set at 3:30 a.m., After many warm beers and hours of weird, insane improv, I still felt wired. It seemed like a great idea to go try this Dunkin' Donuts everyone was always on about, so I convinced my friend Jonny to come with me, who was with Jason, a guy I knew somewhat. I had a feeling he thought I was cute. I wanted a donut.
Somewhere in the middle of Chelsea, as Jonny drunkenly ranted about all the garbage on the streets, Jason piped up with a joke about Philly Boy Roy.
Wait a sec. “I know that name,” I blurted out. We chatted briefly about The Best Show. I admitted I hadn't done a deep dive yet, while he let me know he was a regular listener.
It didn't come up again until we were in the early stages of dating. I listened to an entire show, partly so I'd know what he was talking about, partly because I hate leaving things hanging. I didn't know how long this would last, but I figured if we broke up, we could at least have civil conversations around town about this one common interest.
This time, the show stuck. I went back and listened to calls, filling in the gaps. I subscribed to the podcast, feeling myself being pulled into the world of Newbridge, the fictional town where all of their characters live. I relished the live callers, the comics who called in to chat, and the rants – like this one against Billy Crystal's Jazz Man character at Comic Relief, or this one against Game of Thrones.
Why isn't everyone listening to this, I would think. Why didn't I start sooner? The closest comparison I can make is to Howard Stern devotees, but unlike Stern, this was a radio program that fit my sensibility and humor as well as a snug leather coat. It was warm and worn in, hinting at a touch of danger and general badassery. I feel the show's outlook has been, and could be best summed up as: Oh, you think you're better than me? Wanna fight about it?
I get that. I think everyone does. If you don't, you've had it too good. Get out of here.
A few dates turned into next month's plans, and “I love you,” and should we go somewhere nice for six months, and vacations, and more plans, and birthdays, and what kind of bookshelves to buy, and tears, and fights, and dinners made in our pajamas, and mornings spent in bed holding each other until the sun filtered through our eyelids abrasively.
In between all those moments, we quoted and shared the show together. It's integrated into our lives seamlessly, almost a bizarre, unspoken cornerstone of what we hold dear to us as a couple. So when The Best Show on WFMU ended in December 2013, we held hands and listened together as Tom opened up about how much the show meant to him. I cried. He cried. It was like losing a friend. Even though there were rumors it would be back, the uncertainty loomed heavy in the air.
It was then I struck by how far my relationship with Jason had come. The relationship has been patient, slow to cook like a stew. I'd rather have stew than anything else. I squeezed his hand, grateful for every moment spent together.
The show came back roughly a year later, independently at thebestshow.net. It was like my phantom limb reappeared, and I hadn't even realized I lost a limb in the first place.
The Best Show has taught me so much, both as a writer and a person. More than anything, it's reminded me of the importance of perseverance. Over a decade on the air is nothing to scoff at, and to come back and do it all over again for the love of it is worth more than admiration. No matter how difficult it gets to make something interesting and hilarious, there's proof that if what you create is wholly your voice, people will get on board – and stick with you. They'll sing your praises to everyone they know. They'll help you get closer to the one you love.
Who knows how long you last until you try?