Consider this a long form drunk text. You’re not supposed to delve deep into emotions immediately after the fact. You sleep on it. You process your feelings and then, rationally, you look back on the situation and understand it in totality.
This is no time for any of that.
Anytime in the last three years, if you had asked me what’s my favorite thing, you’d have been told Arsenal Football Club and The Best Show on WFMU. One is a multi-billion dollar global soccer team and the other is a show on free form radio done for free, for the last 13 years. Guess which one I’m losing?
The Best Show on WFMU is a three hour call in show based out of Jersey City, NJ that airs 9-midnight every Tuesday. It has aired, current as of 10/30/13 at 12:53am, 556 times. Thirteen years strong. The last episode is happening December 17th and I’m honestly heartbroken.
The host of The Best Show, Tom Scharpling has shaped my sense of humor more than any other single person apart from perhaps Jon Wurster, who writes along with him(in addition to drumming for Superchunk, The Mountain Goats, and Bob Mould all of whom I love). Tom has always taken the position of the fighter. Scrappy, crafty underdog who is fighting on behalf of everything that is good. Or his idea of good, anyway, which I happen to subscribe to. Tom is the voice of the downtrodden. A genuine working class hero raging against the man in all his forms, be it Hollywood, third rate game show hosts, Brooklyn tall bike culture, or Chris Christie.
The last one is especially important. I don’t think Tom has made a big difference politically, but he’s especially invested in the state of New Jersey as a lifelong resident. Having spent 24 years in New Jersey myself, this means a lot.
After Hurricane Sandy Tom sat in the WFMU studio playing an all New Jersey music set(Titus Andronicus, The Feelies, Ted Leo, Misfits, Monster Magnet, Yo La Tengo, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen) taking calls on a $9 burner phone. The power was still out in half the state. People’s homes and business and lives in general were in tatters, but Tom was there. The Dollar Menu Dickens was on air, finding ways to raise money to help victims and the station.
The Best Show has also introduced me to a near endless amount of music and comedy that I love and brought me closer to the things I loved already. Julie Klausner, Ted Leo, John Hodgman, Marc Maron, Andy Kindler, Chris Gethard, Titus Andronicus, AC Newman and so, so many and I am forever grateful.
Then there are the people I’ve met through the show on twitter and in real life. They’ve all been incredible. They make the show even better, laughing along with everyone following the #BestShowWFMU hashtag every Tuesday. Hell, even spending an hour and a half on the phone with Jason from Huntsville, the Alabammy Comet, talking about improv.
I left New Jersey for New York City in February. I came here to do comedy. Tom inspired me so much and instilled an attitude that I always try to emulate. If I’m being honest with myself, I know I don’t have his work ethic. Not many do, but that’s the next step. The end of the show means there’s a huge void and someone needs to fill it. If you’re a fan of the show, and you do comedy, I think you have a responsibility to step up now. This is it, man. Make the things you’d love to see or hear because Tom isn’t there to do it for us anymore.
We’ve got seven more episodes, and while this really hurts, it’s our chance to show how much it meant to us. I love Tom and Jon and AP Mike and everyone else who had anything to do with getting the show to me.
Tom does this for free, by the way. This has been unpaid for 13 years. It’s all part of the struggle. That’s New Jersey. The state makes you who you are, but at some point you need a bigger stage, and I hope that time has come for Tom Scharpling. I hope his decision brings him bigger things. Springsteen so often sang about getting out, but equally important is getting over. It’s Tom’s turn to get over.
Fans that I meet, they’re like me, they have this optimism to them. They’re smart enough to know how brutal the world is and they know all the ugly words for all the things that are bad about everything, but they’re compelled to want things to be better. They want to be happy. They want to like people. They want to hug people. They oftentimes don’t know how to do it. And they have a lot of stories about how they failed to do it right in a world full of people that know how to hug people and take it for granted. They are misfits that are proud to be misfits, but at the same time, desperately hunger to fit in because it feels good.
Okay, in all honesty no one ever said the word “racist” yesterday. The lack of laughs and the cringing and a lot of people making that “ehhhhh” sound when they don’t really know what to tell you certainly implied that people may have found my work racist. I don’t know. I haven’t felt good about it for the last 36 or so hours for many reasons. I’ll break them down as soon as I explain what happened.
I had my first Sketch 201 class at UCB yesterday. I decided I would bring in a sketch where two white people tell a black man to stop eating chicken because he’s perpetuating a stereotype and it’s making them uncomfortable. Is that the safest choice on the first day? No. Can that sort of thing be funny? Yes. And I’m not the edgy guy! I’m not looking to ruffle feathers. I’m not trying to drop some truth on people.
This is the page people seemed to hate the most:
As I see it, you have two horrible people and they’re ruining an innocent person’s lunch because they think they’re helping. Racism is being played for laughs, yes, BUT the characters saying those racist things don’t think there’s anything wrong with that they’re saying and while they are hurtful, the joke is that these idiots have no idea that the outrageous things they’re saying would upset anyone.
Now, I think that’s funny. I think someone watching a person sit alone and eat lunch being compared to a race riot is ridiculous and if I saw someone do that I would laugh. It’s offensive, but it’s such an extreme overreaction that you have to laugh at it.
I might be asking a lot of people. I don’t mean to sound arrogant when I say that sort of thing might be for a specific audience. A lot of people already don’t like racial humor and I’ve got racist language being directed at a black man by white people. It’s… difficult. Sure. Still, if you’re looking for jokes about an absurd, nonexistent form of political correctness, you’ll see it. If you’re looking for racism, you’ll see it.
Also, the very next sketch we read involved genocide. Zero dissenting voices on that one, and the Croatian war of independence wasn’t exactly a laugh riot.
The inspiration for this sketch was also a point of contention because I once felt the way the white customers did in the sketch. Working in a car dealership you find yourself floating in a sea of casual racism, so you can imagine the horror when I saw our ONE black employee eating fried chicken. I thought “I have to get out of here” because I knew someone was going to come in and say something.
When did you have your last argument with a racist? You didn’t just hear something racist, or yell at a racist, but actually argued with one. At this point in time, a racist trying to prove his point WILL bring up something like Obamaphone and then say “That’s what they’re like.” Which any reasonable person would disagree with. Being white, I’d take issue if someone wanted to lump me in with the overwhelming majority of school shooters and serial killers.
So when you see someone from a group you defend doing something stereotypically negative, you go “Well this will be an argument.” Not that black people ever asked me to defend them, and not that I HAVE to argue every time.
I felt the same way when I saw a Chevy Volt stopped on the side of the road. I wanted to cover it with a blanket lest a Rush Limbaugh listener see it and have their confirmation bias as confirmed as ever.
Maybe my old job wasn’t the best place for me to be intellectually, but my brain is broken now and this is how I think.
Some other complaints were made. The Shirley Chisolm line was singled out as “something someone might actually say” if they wanted to racially abuse someone.
Yeah. Bill Cosby when he’s yelling at kids to pull their pants up. Racists don’t know who Shirley Chisolm is. And you could say “Alright, well switch her name with Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks” but racists wouldn’t even do that. They don’t think. Far too much credit is being given to a group of people who choose to express themselves by making monkey noises at soccer games.
This may just be an enormous hissy fit because people didn’t like my sketch. I don’t know. If it isn’t funny, fine. As much as I fancy myself the one arbiter of good taste in this world, my powers are pretty limited. If you’re not receptive to the sketch because it deals with race the way it does, then that’s lame. This sketch is a few things, and one of them might be “completely unfunny”, but I can say with some certainty that it isn’t racist.
Women are funny. I’m getting that out of the way right at the top. I don’t feel the need to argue a case for that because there are plenty of current examples and I’m not too great at giving history lessons. There are probably several fine books about Carol Burnett.