Review ·

Though they once made up a sizable portion of any hip record buyer's music collection, comedy albums have gone the way of the dinosaur. There are reasons for this, because there are reasons for everything. We live in a sensible, well-ordered universe in which everything can be explained.

 

What the Loch Ness Monster is to dinosaurs, Scharpling and Wurster are to comedy records: still thriving despite the virtual extinction of their race. Tom Scharpling is a deejay on celebrated New Jersey free-form station WFMU; Jon Wurster is (among other things) Superchunk's drummer. Hippy Justice is the duo's fourth release, one that finds Scharpling and Wurster comfortably treading water as they rely on their time-tested formula to get the laughs. What happens is this: Wurster calls Scharpling's radio show under various absurd identities and Scharpling plays the straight man, feigning shock and/or surprise toward the declarations of Wurster's characters.

 

This time around we get treated to the likes of "Hippy Johnny," a copyright-obsessed commune leader whose business churns out products such as "hemp bullets" and "Farm Fresh Drain Cleaner." Get it? Or how about "Timmy Von Trimble," a two-inch-tall genetic mutation who sounds adorable ("I poop in a thimble!") until he slowly reveals his hateful views toward those who aren't white. Other tracks head into even more absurd territory, such as the elaborately set-up "Darren From Work," in which a case of mistaken identity leads to Scharpling uncovering his co-workers' plans to murder him, and "Kid eBay," who debates pop-culture minutiae with Scharpling even after he falls down the stairs and breaks his legs.

 

If this sounds funny, it's because it is. And in a world where "cred" is apparently very important, Scharpling and Wurster have got it in spades: endorsements from Conan O'Brien and David Cross, interviews with the Onion, and hidden references to their material on Strangers With Candy. But with everyone in on the joke, the duo has few directions to go.

 

These sketches would work best if the listener was left to ask himself (yes, "himself" - girls don't like comedy) if what they were hearing was real or a joke. But with the element of surprise missing, many of these calls run too long. Scharpling is often reduced to the thankless task of endlessly restating Wurster's comments or fabricating outrage over what is obviously a hoax. Premises that are hysterical after five minutes are worn ragged by eighteen.

 

I guess you could say this makes Scharpling and Wurster victims of their own success. Where callers to Scharpling's show once expressed shock over what they were hearing, now they're all in on the joke, adding layers of ironic comment to what is already a tongue-in-cheek exercise. Scharpling and Wurster have been crushed beneath the massive weight of their cripplingly self-aware meta-comedy. Maybe that's what happened to the dinosaurs.

 

 

WFMU Web site: http://www.wfmu.org/

Stereolaffs Web site: http://www.stereolaffs.com/

Reviews and discography: http://www.markprindle.com/scharpling.htm

 


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