The Best Show (formerly The Best Show On WFMU) is a radio show-turned-podcast that is the brainchild of writer-comedians Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster. It has its origins in the 1997 skit "Rock, Rot and Rule", which aired on the Jersey City, NJ free-form radio station WFMU. Jon called into the show in the character of Ronald Thomas Clontle, a man who claimed to settle opinions on various bands and artists once and for all by classifying them with the labels of "Rot," "Rock" or "Rule." The premise was absurd enough, but it became ever funnier with "Ronald" veering off into progressively more absurd and extreme territory while Tom remains a skeptical Straight Man.
Three years later, this format became the foundation of a three-hour radio show on WFMU. Almost every week, Jon would call into the show in character as various residents of the fictional town of Newbridge, New Jersey. Some of the characters are one-shots, but others frequently recur, such as Philly Boy Roy, a Philadelphia native with extreme Patriotic Fervor for his hometown and disdain for New Jersey, pompous barbershop singer Zachary Brimstead, and TV producer and This Is Going to Be Huge peddler Matthew Tompkins of the Shout! Network. Jon maintains Kayfabe in each of his calls which is helped by his being a Man of a Thousand Voices and originally, though not as much recently, this was expected of callers/listeners as well. Over the course of more than a decade, this resulted in an immense amount of World Building for Newbridge entirely through the medium of scripted skits performed on air over the telephone.
While Tom and Jon's scripted skits are the meat of The Best Show (and were the focus of the original show's retrospective box set, The Best of the Best Show), the show also contains Real Life interaction between Tom and listeners who call into the show, often around a predetermined discussion topic. While Tom is happy to talk to many listeners, his Deadpan Snarker streak is prominently on display and he freely heckles callers who annoy him, sometimes shooing them away with an exclamation of "Get off my phone!" or more subtly by playing the opening of "Bad Company" by Bad Company without the caller realizing. Several callers have become regular fixtures on the show and some are as much of "characters" as Jon's fictional ones. In addition, Tom is prone to long monologues and also enjoys playing records of bands he likes and feels are underappreciated on the show (he has a particular fondness for Garage Rock).
The original run of the show on WFMU ended in late 2013, but resurfaced a year later in December 2014 as an internet-only podcast, featuring not only Tom and Jon but the regular production team of Associate Producer "AP" Mike Lisk, Jason "Dudio" Gore note and Pat Byrne. At first, the podcast was financed with scripted advertisements, but at the end of 2016 this was dropped in favor of a Patreon page with several benefit tiers.
Both Tom and Jon have multiple other projects. Tom was a head writer on Monk, directed several music videos for bands such as The New Pornographers, and has done voice work on cartoons such as Adventure Time, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and most notably as Greg Universe in Steven Universe (which brought a significant Colbert Bump to The Best Show). Jon, meanwhile, is a drummer for several musical acts, namely Superchunk, the Mountain Goats and Bob Mould's band. The duo's connections to other media forms is on prominent display in the show, with frequent allusions to music, film, TV and general pop culture being embedded in Tom/Jon skits, Tom's conversations with callers and Tom's unscripted monologues.
Tropes found in The Best Show include:
- Annoying Laugh: A characteristic of several of Jon's characters (usually, a high-pitched one) that is often lampshaded by Tom.
- Blatant Lies: Rick Stevens of the Washington Generals, the hapless team that always lost to the Harlem Globetrotters, tells a story about how he auditioned for the Cleveland Cavaliers and beat Lebron James 96-1 in a one-on-one game. Whereupon Lebron offerered Rick everything he owned if Rick would join the team, only for Rick to turn him down.
- Butt-Monkey: Tom becomes increasingly this over the run of the show as the one uniting factor of all the other characters is their undisguised hatred of him. Any time two or more Newbridge residents appear on the show it inevitably results in a pileon against Tom.
- Got Me Doing It: Tom starts accidentally adopting Philly Boy Roy's mangled syntax towards the end of Philly Boy Roy Thinks the Sopranos Is Set in Philly.
- Long List: Tom and Jon love this trope. Callers regularly break into an extended inventory of books, bands, movies, etc. that are usually completely fiction.
- Malaproper: One of Jon's favorite tools for his characters. They claim themselves to be "persona au gratin" in Newbridge and talk of "reeking hammock" on things. Sometimes they argue with Tom for their interpretation of a phrase over the real one, such as not believing that "neither here nor there" is not actually "neither here, Nora, there."
- Nothing Is Scarier: Sometimes a character will say something so graphic or offensive that Tom will "bleep" then resulting in several seconds of Dead Air. Often, we never learn what the character says and can only guess at it via Tom's horrified reaction.
- Phone Word: At times Tom has contemplated having one for the Best Show phone number (1-201-332-3484), but the only thing he could come up with for the main seven digits is "Dead Hug." He is rather chagrinned by this as he is a notorious Fan Hater of The Grateful Dead in general, and AP Mike's love of the Dead specifically.
- Running Gag: To name just a couple:
- A flat "whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat" which soon evolved into "Wait, whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?"
- Rampant cocaine use (particularly using euphemisms like "doing rails" or "skiing")
- Designer drugs hitting Newbridge (The "Blue" epidemic which was followed a couple of years later by "Emerald Nightmare" which was even more dangerous)
- The Monroe family (aka "America's Kennedys") and Reggie Monroe's "incident" on Survivor.
- References to obscure, often graphically violent episodes of television shows that "only aired once".
- Two horns
- GG Allin "passing on"
- "Ask your call screener..."
- Clifford / "I wanna say Mason"
- "Crack a [blank] much? It doesn't sound like you do!"
- Often followed by "I've done my research, now you do yours!"
- Calling WFMU a "high school radio station", and the modern version of the show as a "CB radio show" among other variations
- Tom's voice modulator (which he denies having)
- Tom's baldness (which he denies)
- AP Mike's suspicious/drunk/creepy/criminal behavior
- "What's that Mike?"
- Long and inconvenient Geocities web addresses
- "You strapped in? You got your helmet on?"
- "The magazine"
- "Can you send me a JPEG?"
- "I'm not on the air, am I?"
- Unusual Euphemism: As Tom does not permit swearing on The Best Show, this commonly pops up with Jon's characters. Such euphemisms retain their own form of disgust in their creativity, as a character referring to something like "crotch marbles" will elicit a groan of "Ewwwww..." from Tom.
- Vague Age: In Real Life, Tom was born in 1969 (making him 50 years old as of February 9, 2019), but he has a Running Gag of lying about his age. Unusually for this trope, though, he declares himself to be older than he actually is, usually placing his "age" in the upper seventies.