Jon Wurster on the Etiquette Beat

"The funniest drummer in indierock" tells our live audience how to behave

Drummer and funny-person Jon Wurster joined Rico and Brendan on stage to answer etiquette questions at our recent live show in Chapel Hill, NC — which was presented in conjunction with Merge Records’ twenty-fifth anniversary festival.

Mr. Wurster is into musical polyamory, happily sharing his drumming gifts with no less than three Merge acts: Superchunk, The Mountain Goats and Bob Mould. He also developed his comedic reputation with regular appearances on the super-popular, much missed The Best Show on WFMU with Tom Scharpling.

Jon established his good-manners bona fides right off the top by taking the stage in the middle of our hosts’ introduction.


Brendan Francis Newnam: He’s out already!

Rico Gagliano: Just come on up, Jon. It’s your show.

Jon Wurster: These people have somewhere to go.

Brendan Francis Newnam: This is an etiquette segment!

All right, forget the introduction, we’ll just skip ahead. Wait — no, actually, we have to do this: Rolling Stone called you “the funniest drummer in indierock.” Which sounds great, but is there a ton of competition?

Jon Wurster: Well, first of all, my dad is the editor.

Brendan Francis Newnam: But are there any other funny drummers?

Jon Wurster: …No.

Rico Gagliano: You did it! So you are a man who both does comedy and drums. There is, of course, a whole sub-genre of drummer jokes. We are collectors of really bad jokes, as evidenced by the beginning of this show. You got any for us?

Jon Wurster: Well there’s the one that goes…. How do you know a drummer is knocking at the door?

Brendan Francis Newnam: I don’t know.

Jon Wurster: He speeds up and slows down.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s pretty good.

Jon Wurster: I don’t like it.

Rico Gagliano: Where do these jokes come from? Why is the drummer so picked on?

Jon Wurster: Guitar players, bass players.  They’re all out there, just scheming.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You can tell a joke about guitar players, if you want.

Jon Wurster: No, there aren’t any. They’re perfect beings.

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, so before we get to our etiquette questions, one interesting fact in your bio: One of your first bands back in the Eighties was call The Right Profile… and it also featured Stephen Dubner, one of the authors of the best-selling “Freakonomics” books.  He’s now host of his own public radio show —

Jon Wurster: I don’t like that Dubner got an audible gasp from the audience. But when I slid out here, nothing happened.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, give us some dirt on Dubner.

Rico Gagliano: Dirt we can use to crush him.

Jon Wuster: He’s pretty un-crushable.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Did he, like, control the money for the band?

Jon Wurster: Here’s what he did do: he was in a band that was pretty successful… while he was also the music critic for the local weekly at the same time.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Ohhh, there you go.

Can Denim Ever Be Wrong, If Wearing It Feels So Right?

Rico Gagliano: All right. We’ve got a bunch of questions. This one is from Bart in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Bart asks:
“Are there any occasions for which denim is not appropriate attire?”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Ah, the Canadian tuxedo.

Jon Wurster: First, I want to address that. I feel that it’s not a Canadian tuxedo if it is two different shades. If it’s blue denim up top, and like black denim pants? I don’t think that’s a ‘tuxedo.’

Brendan Francis Newnam: No, that’s not a tuxedo. That’s casual wear. That’s Canadian casual.

Jon Wurster: That’s my every day wear. I live my life like the world is one giant Blue Oyster Cult concert. So it’s always appropriate.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Always appropriate. There you go, Bart.

Comparing Notes from the Tour Bus

Brendan Francis Newnam: This next question comes from John in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He asks Jon:
“Let’s say you’re a drummer, and you’ve been on lots of tours with various musical acts of different levels of fame and tour comfort. What do you do when one band asks you how life on the road is with another band? Do you evade the inevitable comparisons, or launch into a full examination of the catering backstage, bus/van etiquette, etc. of your various tourmates?”

Jon Wurster: Yeah, that’s a slippery slope. Feelings get hurt. Although the three main bands I play in – Bob Mould, Superchunk, Mountain Goats – are all similar, we play the same venues…

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, but do they ever have a couple of kombuchas backstage, or…

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, who’s the fanciest? C’mon — one of them is the fanciest.  The frou-frouest.

Jon Wurster: Probably what you would think is the fanciest – it’s not super fancy – is in Mountain Goats, we like to have fresh-cut flowers.

Rico Gagliano: Is that true?

Jon Wurster: Oh, that’s true, yeah. But we throw them at each other.

Rico Gagliano: That’s exactly what I imagine is going on on a Mountain Goats tour.

Sexy Drumming (And What Not to Wear in Columbia)

Rico Gagliano: Here is something from Certain Stars, a band —

Jon Wurster: That’s a Superchunk song! Isn’t it?

Rico Gagliano: They’ve apparently named themselves after the song. They write:
“What is the secret to remaining sexy while drumming, not that we noticed?”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Wait, are you “Certain Stars,” Jon? Did you submit this?

Jon Wurster: Well, I would never assume that’s about me. Because every photo I see of myself, I look like Quasimodo having been asked a math question.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Do you ever drum topless? Because a lot of drummers do that.

Jon Wurster: No, I can’t do that. I will not wear shorts. I have worn shorts on stage once in my life. It was with Superchunk, it was one of my first tours. We were playing in Columbia, South Carolina, and the day before I had gone to the beach with some friends and I got sunburned on my legs and I could not wear long pants.

That was also the night we played in Columbia and afterwards, these two kind of young, frat-ish guys came up.  And they said: “You just lost two fans tonight.”

Rico Gagliano: It was the shorts!

Jon Wurster: It might’ve been the shorts!

Rico Gagliano: Do not ever wear shorts, Certain Stars. That’s how you remain sexy.

Lyric Abuse

Brendan Francis Newnam: There you go, Certain Stars.

This next question comes from Andrew from New York. The question is:
“When no radio is around, I love singing my own, personal a cappella renditions of Top 40 music. I often don’t know the actual words, and I’m too lazy to figure them out. My ad-libbed lyrics annoy my friend Ed. Am I doing a disservice to Ed, the musicians responsible for the song, and/or music in general?  Or am I allowed to improvise as I see fit?

Jon Wurster: I think you should improvise as you see fit.  Because one of the greatest, funniest stories I have ever come across is related to this.

I used to work at a store called Record Bar. My first day of work – this is a side-story – I showed up and I was told one of the maintenance guys had been crushed in the elevator that morning. That was how I started.

So, anyway, one of the guys that worked there was named Rusty. And Rusty had a great story of a woman coming up to him, this would have been 1982 or 1983, and saying “I’m looking for that song about the cat.”

And he goes, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She says, “You know, that one about the cat!” And he goes, “Ma’am I really don’t know. Could you, like, sing some of it for me?”

And she goes: “Yeah, it goes…  [Tune of “Rock the Casbah”] ‘Siamese-sies don’t like it!/Not the cat’s fault!/Not the cat’s fault!'”

Rico Gagliano: Did you just make that up?

Jon Wurster: No! And Rusty said he had to just, like, walk backwards into the storeroom.

Rico Gagliano: “I will not strike this dear woman.”

Did you answer the etiquette question? I don’t know.

Jon Wurster: Oh, yeah. I think it’s fine.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You support Andrew from New York.

Rico Gagliano: Sing whatever you want, whenever you want.

Jon Wurster: Yes!

The Tastykake Menu

Rico Gagliano: Brian in Brighton, Mass asks:
“When should I serve my guests their customary Tastykakes?”

Brendan Francis Newnam: We think this is a reference to when you were on the show “The Best Show on WFMU.”  And one of your characters on the show is Philly Boy Roy, and he liked all things Philadelphia: Hoagies, etc… and Tastykakes.

Jon Wurster: Well, if Roy was answering the question, he would say, [affecting character voice] “Oh every course could be a Tastykake! You start off with the peanut-butter candy cake, that’s your salad. And then your entree is the coconut cream pie. And then, for dessert, the krimpet, the butterscotch krimpet. And then your coffee is the cream-filled cupcake.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Jon Wurster, everyone!