Interview: WFMU’s Tom Scharpling on His Twitter Novel, the New Scharpling and Wurster Album, and His Antipathy Towards Sleep.


Fuel Dump is going to be like Magnolia. Or Crash. It’s going to be like Magnolia meets Crash.”

What Tom Scharpling, host of The Best Show On WFMU with Tom Scharpling, might lack in modesty, he makes up for with his impressive time-management skills. When Scharpling isn’t busy chatting with guests like Patton Oswalt, Aimee Mann, or Paul F. Tompkins he uses his radio show to ask, and answer, the big questions. After all, someone has to proclaim that songwriter Gary Puckett is officially the sleaziest musician of all time. (Have you read the lyrics to “Young Girl” recently?)

When Scharpling isn’t hosting The Best Show, which airs from 8 to 11pm every Tuesday on the non-commercial station, he’s busy writing Fuel Dump, the internet’s greatest Twitter-based novel, starring debonair rock journalist Kurt Beaudreau and the treachery of Kid Rock. He also works with Superchunk drummer/man of a thousand imitations Jon Wurster as the prank-phonecall duo Scharpling And Wurster, whose spot-on parodies of grouchy music know-it-alls and corporate alt-rockers are as incisive as anything you’d read in a Da Capo Anthology.

Somehow, Scharpling still finds time in his busy schedule to write and to executive produce the USA Network’s neurotic detective comedy Monk. Despite his packed schedule, Scharpling is going to attend the first ever WFMU Fest, which kicks of tonight and runs for three days at the Williamsburg Hall Of Music. Faust, Cold Cave, Pissed Jeans, TV Ghost and even Teenage Jesus and the Jerks are on the bill.

Ever the multi-tasker, Scharpling recently found time to discuss with us the WFMU Fest, the next Scharpling and Wurster album, and the importance of priorities.

We’ve all read a million stories about how audiences are fragmenting and it’s harder and harder for media outlets reach a mass of people. How important are events like this in reaching your listeners and getting them involved with the station?

Things like that are great to just reach out. It’s the station taking a very active role in things, bringing a version of what they do to people rather than expecting people to just find the station and figure out what the station does. Shows like that are an embodiment of what WFMU does. I think it’s a good way to bring people on board.

I know WFMU has partnered with All Tomorrow’s Parties and the Primavera Festival, but this is the first time the station has done their own festival.

Yes. It’s kind of the station finally putting its name on something…and I think you can’t minimize the value of what WFMU is and what it represents. I think there’s only one of it, even though there’s other stations across the country that do stuff similar to it, there really is only one. WFMU does it best, and it’s good to see the station take some pride in that and put its name on something.

Is there anyone you’re excited to see, just as a fan?

I’m interested in seeing how Faust are. I love the first few records. I love Pissed Jeans. I think it’s going to be great.

So, I hear Faust may or may not have sheep onstage? It wasn’t confirmed at this time.

I’m not there for the sheep. I come for Faust, I would stay for the sheep. We’ll see if the sheep make it. I’ve heard conflicting reports about whether the sheep are going to be there.

I was curious if you were even going to be able to make the festival, as you’re obviously busy working on the Great American Twitter Novel, Fuel Dump.

I’m going to do everything I can to get there, I think I’m going to get there for at least one of the nights, hopefully two. I tend to bite off a little bit more than I can chew, sometimes. And Fuel Dump is now one of these many things where my reach is exceeding my grasp. But I’m trying, I’m going to see it through. I am taking it seriously, it is going somewhere and I know where it’s going.

Where did the idea come from? Was it just another way to try to get more Twitter followers than Ted Leo?

No. Everybody was doing different things with Twitter, and some people were using it as a great venue to try out jokes and one-liners. And I was just trying to figure out what’s the most ambitious thing you can do on this thing that is so small? What is something big you can do on something small? Oh, write a book on it. So, I figured I would try that, and we’re getting there. Line-by-line.

Do you have an endgame for when the thing will wrap up?
I don’t. We’re not into the meat of it yet. We have yet to reach the shank of what Fuel Dump will be. But we are getting there.

The last part with Kid Rock was pretty intriguing. It’s going to get meatier from there?

It’s just beginning. You have to realize, there’s not even sentences in this thing. They’re like, each sentence is like a paragraph, or a page’s worth of action in any other book because that’s how you have to write it on this thing or it would be the most boring thing you’ve ever read. So, they’re like hyper-sentences. Something has to happen in each sentence. But it’s coming. All the pieces are coming closer, they’re all going to intersect. It’s going to be like Magnolia. Or Crash. It’s going to be like Magnolia meets Crash.

Or maybe just like Magnolia?

Crash is horrible. Magnolia is awesome. Let’s just say it’s more like Magnolia, even though I’m probably…I might be closer to the Crash dude than the Magnolia dude on the spectrum of talent.

So, speaking of projects, I’ve heard rumor of new Scharpling and Wurster album. Is it going to be out this year?

It’s probably out early next year. Early next year we’re going to have something. It’s going to be a different kind of thing we’ve been planning all year. I think it will happen next year. Early next year.

Any title or date info you want to reveal?

I would say quarter one, 2010 but title TBD.

If it’s a different type of thing, what do you have going on this time?

I think we’re going to try things in a different form, it’s not going to be stuff that was on the radio. It’ll be stuff that was recorded for a CD. We started working on it and we’re going to reconvene in December and jump back into it. It’s going to land in a very new place for us, so hopefully it works.

With the skits, does Jon just call up and start going and you react, or do you guys get together and write it out?

We work on them all week long, and some of them we can be looser than others, but those are written out. We know what we’re doing. John plays it loose and I play it loose within that, because we’ve done it enough, but those are not improvised.

When did you first meet Jon?

Back in the early ’90s we kind of hit it off. He was drumming for Superchunk, and I was a big fan. And then we started talking about comedy that we both liked, and then we weirdly just segued on doing something on my radio show one night, and then a few years later we were like “Let’s just do that all the time on the radio, rather than once a year.” So that’s how it started.

What else do you have going on these days?

I write for the TV show Monk, and we’re just wrapping that up now, we’re in the final season and that’s going to end, and then we’ll see where the career fates take me, where the winds blow. I may end up working at Lowe’s Hardware, this time next year. You can come see me in my blue vest.

Seriously though, you have a lot going on. How do you still find time as busy TV writer/executive producer to still work at a community radio station?

I don’t sleep. It’s a very simple question, I sleep three hours a night. And I’m running my body down, and I’m going to end up dead soon. That’s how. I have literally bitten off more than I can chew and I don’t sleep.

Why is the station more important than sleep to you?

It isn’t. Sleep is more important, but this thing won’t stop. I’m on it, I’ve got to get off.

So you’ve consciously decided to prioritize the station over sleep. And your health.

You know what, the way you put it, like that, I think I’m not doing the show any more.

Great, now I’m going to get blamed.

I want to thank you. Yes, it’s all your fault, Michael. I want to thank you for showing me the light, and I would like you to announce my retirement. I’m giving you the scoop, it’s over. Thanks to you and your wisdom, I’m going to dedicate more time to sleep and thanks to everybody and I wish you all the best.

I’m sure your fans are going to be very happy with me for that.

Yeah. They’re going to get you. They’re scary, too. Most of them are nice. There’s a few scary ones, and that’s what you’ve got to worry about. One of the scary ones.

Maybe you can reconsider, just for my safety. Give up on sleep and go back to the show.

Okay, for you I’m going to do it.

The Best Show broadcasts live on Tuesday from 8pm to 11pm on WFMU/91.1. You can read his twitter novel here The WFMU Festival begins tonight at the Williamsburg Hall of Music with Faust, Cold Cave and Aluk Todolo. Tickets are $20.