I can't say what my first Best Show was or even what brought me to it. Possibly something on Twitter? Or maybe it was before that was even a thing.
I remember the second episode I listened to there was a Bryce call and, being uninitiated, I wondered who this strange lady was calling in and why the host was just letting her go on at length about weed.
Eventually I got it, but I can't say when that happened either. My memories of the show are a bit of a blur. I can't say when my favorite moments happened, only that they were my favorite moments. The period of the show when Tom would hang up on rogue callers with a canned ghost howl and yelp "YOU'RE A GHOST!" Every time Darren Ploppelton referred to himself as "PlopTron 3000". The call from Bruce Springsteen's biographer telling the story of how The Boss likes to work at seasonal stores in a stocking capacity. The runner where this author would call at the top of the show, let off a littany of R-rated material that Tom would have to bleep out and then hang up on him, and then he would call back again the next week, apologize profusely, and then do the same thing again. Tom's story about the most relaxing sleep he ever took, in the theater during a showing of Kevin Smith's Cop Out. Fredericks from New Port Richie describing his technique for flattening out a warped record album. Whenever a Wurster character broke discussing Robert Trujillo's basketball jersey collection. Whenever a Wurster character ever broke, actually, because it was always at the funniest bits. ("Everyone lighting a match at a rock concert sucks.") The Instagram Mysteries. ("They find clues in pictures of tacos.") Any time GG Allin was described as having "passed on." ("....yeah.") Gene Simmons Toyota. ("You're going to 'shout it out loud'...")
But there are two singular favorite experiences in Best Show history to me. ("Two singular"? Okay.)
The first is Tom listening to "Cowboy Star" for the first time. He had been arguing with Associate Producer Mike Lisk about what the worst possible song could be and Neil Diamond's "Porcupine Pie" was far and away the leader. Then one show, Mike offered up this song by Ambrosia and played it live on air, listening to it for the first time. I can't really describe how special it was to have someone whose sensibilities and talents you admire having the exact same reactions as you, live, as you have them, but it was truly incredible. There's a moment towards the end of this insane song, after several minutes of this ridiculous Aaron Copland pastiche Western orchestral, where a lone gunshot rings out. At exactly this moment, you can hear Tom uncontrollably burst out laughing, at the exact same time I did. It's that kind of moment that really encapsulates what was special about The Best Show. It was a shared sensibility.
The second is a little more personal. One of all-time my favorite Scharpling & Wurster bits is "The First Rock Band on Mt. Everest." It's a very long story about Corey Harris, lead singer of the band Mother 13, and his quest to stage a rock concert at the peak of Mt. Everest. It naturally is a disaster. It's broken up into two parts. In the first, Corey calls into the show thrilled about his ambition and all the big names he's gotten on board (The Polyphonic Spree, Clarence "The Big Man" Clemons, Art Alexakis, among many others). The second is a barely conscious Harris calling from a hospital bed in the Himalayas, barely alive, recounting the grisly deaths of nearly everyone involved in the concert. There's a moment where Harris breaks down into these incredible sobs while describing the deaths of his two roadies, watching them slide off the ice one after the other, that I swear I rewound and listened to a dozen times because it was so amazing. But the fact that it was one of my favorite bits was only one half of why it's so special to me.
One year, when putting together his Marathon Premiums, Tom asked me to contribute an illustration. I'm still not sure how he knew about me. I contributed a comic strip entry to the art contest for the show that year, but I didn't think it was that big of a deal. (It fictionally recounted Tom's return to McCarren park after he had been made fun of for his sunglasses and taking his revenge with a kickball that had errantly been kicked his way.) I haven't had a huge amount of illustration gigs in my life as an artist but I'm happy to say that they've involved the two most influential things in my creative life. (Yup. I'd put the collective Best Show up there with Infinite Jest as far as what's inspired me.) I jumped at the chance to illustrate my favorite character and moment, and even got to draw The Big Man's "Blues Igloo". One of my Top Five Moments as a Creative Person, easy.
I remember sheepishly idling up to Tom at a comedy show at The Bell House with a draft of it on my phone and seeing his face light up, giving me a thumbs up. Life highlight.
Years later, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists were playing at the South Street Seaport Pier. After the show, some people who I had mostly known from Best Show tweets were idling around, and then we all were walking off to rides or the subway, and I was saying my goodbyes and went to shake Tom's hand and he stretched out his arms and said, "We hug."
And that's The Best Show to me. It's Tom putting it all out there, making a personal connection with anyone who'd get it, with intelligence and humor. I love what he said recently about the "stupidity" of his brilliant comedy:
It's that confidence in owning the stupidity that makes it work. Those are the special moments: "Yeah, this is stupid. And I am not. I will stare you down with this if you want to have staring contest over how stupid this is and try and get me to apologize. But I will not lose. You're going to give in before I give in."
I'd say I'm going to miss that, but just because The Best Show is ending, I know that sensibility isn't going anywhere.
But there's no mistaking that we're losing something tonight. It'll be hard to recapture Tom listening to "Cowboy Star" or the sheer audacity of playing something like the Sound Collage on the radio, and it's truly tragic that people will no longer get Bad Companied.
But we all loved it while we had it. Good Guys Won. Bad Guys Died.