Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster seem an unlikely comedy duo: Scharpling is a radio DJ, best known for his long-running “The Best Show,” at first on WFMU and now online; Wurster is the founding drummer of indie-rock stalwarts Superchunk and also tours with the Mountain Goats and Bob Mould.
But the two carved out a unique comedic niche beginning in 1998, when Wurster called in to Scharpling’s show purporting to be Ronald Thomas Clontle, author of a book called “Rock, Rot & Rule,” passing judgment on every rock band imaginable. Seething listeners called to challenge the know-nothing know-it-all, recordings circulated, and a brilliant comedy team was born.
“We got so lucky during that first call, when Tom started getting calls from listeners who were really irate that this book could exist and how dumb I was,” Wurster recalls. “It was kind of a perfect storm.” Scharpling adds, “The only thing on my mind was, ‘Please let this call be funny.’ We were going out on a ledge, but it really worked.”
In the years since, the pair has created dozens of characters: knowing parodies of fringe pop culture types like The Gorch, who claims to be the inspiration for Fonzie from “Happy Days” but is more violent sociopath than lovable delinquent; or Corey Harris, lead singer of the corporate-shilling rock band Mother 13.
“Being a touring musician helps a lot,” says Wurster. “I’m in a new place every day, and every day I meet someone or see something happen that’s insane. There’s constant fodder for call ideas.”
Enough so that the duo recently released a mammoth 16-CD box set, “The Best of The Best Show,” compiling the funniest calls from their ever-growing catalog. While Wurster calls the process of assembling the set “pure torture,” Scharpling gives it a more positive spin. “It was really satisfying to realize that we’d done this much comedy and there was so much of it that I was legitimately proud of. Not a lot of people get to look back and build a giant statue honoring themselves, which is I guess what we did.”
Now Scharpling & Wurster are translating their characters to a live show, which they’ll bring to Union Transfer on Sunday. Among those likely to appear will be Philly Boy Roy, the heavily accented, Wawa-evangelizing local boy created by Harleysville native Wurster.
“Roy’s based on a lot of people I knew growing up,” he says. “I’ll go back to Philly at least twice a year to play a show and it’s always hanging in the air. There are Roys everywhere. I’ll overhear them in a restaurant or a Wawa — it’s the only town where that type of person lives, in my experience.”
If you go
Scharpling & Wurster are at Union Transfer (1026 Spring Garden St.) on Sunday, Dec. 13. Tickets are $25 at 215-232-2100 or Utphilly.com.