Comedy Review: Scharpling and Wurster, The Art of the Slap

The Best of Scharpling and Wurster on the Best Show on WFMU, Volume 4: The Art of the Slap
Stereolaffs, 2007

I was a bit skeptical about Scharpling and Wurster’s The Art of the Slap when I first heard about it.  Tom Scharpling’s day job is as a writer/executive producer for Monk while Jon Wurster has involved himself with bands like Superchunk and the Mountain Goats.  Together they have contributed voices to Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Squidbillies (good) and have involved themselves heavily with Tom Goes to the Mayor (bad.)  Their pedigrees include a mix of the great and the forgettable.

Nowadays, I often reference Philly Boy Roy routines without knowing.  Scharpling and Wurster have that effect on people.

The type of comedy The Art of the Slap deals in is hard to pull off.  Considering the level of difficulty in trying to make the ridiculous believable, S&W acquit themselves very well.  This won’t be everyone’s type of comedy – hell, I didn’t even think it was that funny on first listen.  Still, S&W have taken the Simpsons/South Park tack of building an entire self-contained universe out of a volunteer show on famed freeform station WFMU.

Ten years after Jon Wurster pulled a prank on WFMU listeners by pretending to shill the worst music reference book ever (well, the worst fake music reference book ever), Scharpling and Wurster can make something outlandish easily seem like it’s happening right now.  They can mix a realistic, down-to-earth routine with robots and magic powers.  The joke is on the listeners for buying into all this even when they’re in on the joke.  It’s quite a proactive, dynamic paradigm – with zazz!

Caution: this contains spoilers.  Then again, if you’re familiar with Scharpling and Wurster and/or have gone to you would realize that I’m spoiling at most 5% of the routine.  S&W’s routines are just that involved – and long.

Disc One
Jock Squad (October 11, 2005) – That isn’t much of a premise, frankly.  A parody of Geek Squad but with jocks?  Way to aim high, S&W!  The standard Scharpling & Wurster buildup is established for the neophytes: the Jock Squad turn out to be ‘roid balloons, spending most of their time working out (sometimes with the computers they’re supposed to be fixing – the Jock Squad even shoot .mpgs of themselves destroying computers) and taking thirty minutes of their time each day to actually learn about computer repair.  Well, they don’t really learn about computer repair, but they tune up Scharpling’s computer by rinsing it out.  Scharpling has bodily harm threatened on him, setting up the denouement that listeners will be familiar with after listening to more than one S&W routine.  Kind of obvious, but “Jock Squad” does have its moments.

The Auteur (March 4, 2006) – “The Auteur” Trent L. Strauss defends his films (You’re Soaking in Her, Entrails 2: The Gouging, Face Peelers 1-4 and 6, The Hacksawist, Gut Bomb 2003) as morally uplifting, and then describes at length his latest opus The Tool Belt Killer.  He sells “Belty,” the rich son of the town’s mayor and Strauss’ apparent Mary Sue, as the hero of the film.  Somehow Viking strength, omelettes, a love interest and attempts at product placement feature into the film.  This is in every way better than “Jock Squad” – the premise is better, the opening relatively realistic (Scharpling argues against Hollywood being socially responsible, leading to Strauss’ defending it via the worst possible examples) and the buildup more bizarre overall.

The Tool Belt Killer, which seems to be The Driller Killer but more Lowe’s-centric, is something I’d like to see.  As with many S&W routines, it ends with the Jon Wurster character threatening Scharpling’s life.  How?  Watch the upcoming documentary Kill the DJ to find out.

Philly Boy Roy (July 11, 2006) – Philly Boy Roy is a recurring character within the S&W framework.  He appears often enough that it’s one of the most recognizable S&W routines – hell, PBR threatens to swallow 2007 where it stands.  This outing features the manipulative Roy Jr. convincing his father that he’s psychic, leading to PBR believing that he has switched bodies with his son.  His son then spends money on a mini-catamaran while PBR gets caught smoking while attending summer school.  PBR also wins the Running of the Cheesesteaks (“little people” ride four-wheelers and swing shellacked cheesesteaks at race participants), leading to PBR eating sixty-five pounds of his 200-pound cheesesteak prize in a day.

I’m not even going to explain the backstory behind Laser Allin.  Yes, there is mention of laser shows set to songs like “Expose Yourself to Kids,” “I Don’t Give a S***” (the lack of profanity on The Best Show is such that “S***” is actually pronounced “s”) and “Watch Me Kill.”  It all sounds so stupid, but the PBR guy is damn near endearing even when talking about GG Allin.  I can’t explain why someone who burned down a Quizno’s franchise is appealing to any degree, but he is and I’ll leave it at that.

Disc Two
Andy from Lake Newbridge (October 18, 2005) – Another relatively weak routine from S&W.  Andy from Lake Newbridge is a carp.  He talks shit about Aquaman, hinting that “Aquadouche” and Namor the Sub-Mariner are a thing.  Andy also crashes on Aquaman’s pad when Aquaman isn’t there.  Andy’s life is like a more literal version of Spongebob Squarepants, Andy fronting a band called The Hey Now and phoning through a headset.  One can just see the fish-based jokes in one’s head, and they’re prevalent here.  Scharpling actually ends the interview by picking a fight with Andy.  It’s not much of a sketch, but that seems to be the standard with the first track on both discs.

Tornado Todd (April 5, 2006) – “Wait…whuuut?” is one of the catchphrases familiar to Scharpling & Wurster routines.  It doesn’t sound like much, but you have to hear Jon Wurster say it.  Here he plays Tornado Todd Hutchins of non-profit organization LifeChanges.  Tornado Todd, who appeared on a previous edition of The Best Show, shills his line of products – Grand Theft Auto ripoff Pimp City (Todd is the voice of the rail-lovin’ ferret Pippin), dyed, scentless weed called Faux Nuggs and Tornado Todd’s Sorority Skank Patrol Volumes 1 through 17.

Tornado Todd, having survived being in a tornado with only minor injuries, has gone back to illicit business dealings.  At one point Hutchins blackmails Scharpling, Scharpling acting the part of Pimp City‘s Ving Rhames/Hulk Hogan gestalt Big Money under threat of his alleged “sick act” appearing in Tornado Todd’s Sickest Celebrity Sex Tape (guest panelists include Danny Bonaduce.)  It makes a nice change-up from the usual “Scharpling is dumbfounded by his callers” routine, although it ends in the usual “you gonna get killed” fashion.  This time, Scharpling faces the wrath of dismembering Siberian Yuri.  The best routine thus far on The Art of the Slap.

Postal Slap Fight (April 18, 2006) – The most outlandish routine on The Art of the Slap and one that veers off into many different directions.  Keith Garfinkle is the blackmailing nephew of United States Postmaster General Edmond T. Garfinkle (not the real Postmaster General, by the way – S&W routines aren’t supposed to be that realistic, after all.)

Garfinkle also steps into the nonagon for the Newbridge Redfaces of the Northeastern Slap Fight League, has won many Wayne Knight lookalike competitions and is very ill-informed.  He’s also seen President Baseball and ties that into why Dick Cheney (“Lon Chaney” to Keith Garfinkel) is being scouted by Major League Baseball.  Throwing that many disparate references into the routine shouldn’t work, but somehow it does and tops even Tornado Todd in its ridiculousness.  Surprisingly, Scharpling isn’t threatened with bodily harm here.

Bonus Disc
Mother 13…The First Rock Band on Mt. Everest! (May 2/9, 2006) – S&W refer to past routines a lot.  Mother 13 first appeared on a 2002 episode shilling their album on RCA and their appearance on the Earthlink/Pringles Summer Slam Jam.  Kern Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Summit Cola and a longtime Scharpling & Wurster running joke, have convinced Mother 13 to get back together and climb Mount Everest with assorted random music figures – the Polyphonic Spree, Buddy Guy, Art Alexakis of Everclear, Bruce Springsteen stalwart Clarence Clemons and blink-182’s Travis Barker.  Other assorted hangers-on include Trent L. Strauss and Darren Cook (better than his “brother” Dane Cook since Dane Cook is real and all.)  The objective is to play a concert at the summit of Everest, which Mother 13 lead singer Corey Harris gets ready for by climbing a rock-climbing wall drunk and doing a lot of situps.  He’s totally cut!

As expected, most of the people attempting the Mount Everest climb “die” – the Trent L. Strauss character somehow survives (although not on this CD set) and Corey Harris manages to tell the sordid details of his Mount Everest concert to Scharpling.

I found “Mother 13…The First Rock Band on Mt. Everest!” suspended disbelief to such a degree that it didn’t work comedically.  It’s “epic,” but the concept of having anyone climb a mountain with an entourage for a publicity stunt is too unbelievable even by S&W standards.  The two-part saga is overlong and it’s hard to believe any of the musicians mentioned in the routine would even bother to support a minor “new rock” band, never mind climb Mount Everest with them.  “Mother 13…The First Rock Band on Mt. Everest!” has a good first half (the May 2 show), but that May 9 show just falls off a cliff.

Wait, I don’t mean that.  Uhh…Summit Cola roxx!  SOG? does not currently list The Art of the Slap.  For more information about Scharpling and Wurster visit, Fotpedia and The Best Show playlists at WFMU.

C. Archer
Le Social