Scharpling & Wurster
The Art of the Slap
he greatest moments in comedic radio are the portentous ones, wherein the listener can sense the setup of a joke that they know is gonna kill. What makes these bits so effective are the environment in which their audience is listening: a person, or persons, sitting around silently, kneeling over and waiting feverishly for the gag. Unlike television, which is much more of a visceral experience, radio can thrive on the fact that it only offers sound, and that nervousness of isolation can augment the impact of the punchline. The primary problem with The Art of the Slap is that these moments are almost impossible to replicate. By transferring radio broadcasts onto CD, the surprise of hearing a live broadcast in your living room is rendered obsolete, thereby reducing the joke’s effects.
A three-disc collection clocking in at a bloated three hours worth of material, The Art of the Slap’s routines consist of a very basic premise: Scharpling (WFMU DJ Tom Scharpling) fields calls from Wurster (Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster). But what begins as commonplace radio DJ/listener interactions soon turn into obvious farces. On “The Auteur,” Trent L. Strauss calls to complain about unfair stereotypes launched at the Academy of Motion Pictures & Sciences, and raises some rather good points. Upon further inspection by Scharpling into Mr. Strauss’ character, however, he finds that the caller is the writer/producer/director of such classics as The Kidney Thieves and It’s Raining Membranes, of which the artist declares are not “horror flicks” but “extreme cinema.” By the end, Strauss details his new movie: a story about a DJ who’s being stalked by this guy and…you get the picture.
Most of the skits on The Art of the Slap are very much in the same vein. “Andy From Lake Newbridge” sees the title character eventually revealing that he is, in fact, a carp (that’s right, the fish), and ends with him threatening to fight Scharpling. “Jock Squad” finds Horse, a computer repairman/muscleman who claims to have fixed Scharpling’s computer, only to later reveal to him that it was smashed, and concludes by threatening to have employees of Jock Squad fight him. With two discs’ worth of this material—of which the majority are between twenty minutes and a half-hour long—many of the tracks become tedious, particularly if you’re listening to all three discs back-to-back-to-back. If The Art of the Slap is in need of anything, it’s a good editor, as this could easily have been trimmed down to two discs.
Without a doubt the finest routine on the album is “Mother 13…The First Rock Band On Mt. Everest (Pt. I & II), ” which takes up the entirety of the third CD. Corey Harris, the lead singer of said rock group, calls Scharpling to inform him that, along with special guests such as the Polyphonic Spree, Buddy Guy, and Clarence Clemons from The E Street Band, Mother 13 will be climbing and subsequently playing a show at the top of Mt. Everest. While this has its fair share of giggles, the jugular is hit on the forty-minute second part, in which Scharpling follows up and Harris recalls what happened on the trek. Detailing each obviously disastrous event that happens after such boneheaded egoists decide to embark on such a ludicrous venture, the duo prove shockingly adept at being able to extenuate the hilarity of the bit. Their timing, placement of jokes, and the ridiculous anecdotes (which include doing blow with two waitresses the night before climbing the mountain, burying Buddy Guy, and Clarence Clemons resorting to cannibalism despite the abundance of PowerBars and yak meat) made me laugh so hard that I nearly suffocated from laughter just thinking about it.
The last disc of The Art of the Slap, and the finer moments of the first disc, recall Monty Python in their ability to unravel silliness and stupidity by one-upping themselves. In that respect, Scharpling and Wurster, right down to their namesake, fall more in line with British humor rather than the social observation yuk-yuks that Americans too often rely upon. Maybe if they had trimmed this down a bit, they could have made something that transcended those touchstones, but instead dashed it by stuffing themselves with too much turkey.