Mike Lisk (known as AP Mike) is the Associate Producer and call screener of “The Best Show on WFMU with Tom Scharpling,” which is arguably the best comedy radio show/podcast around. While Scharpling is front and center, brilliantly juggling callers, guests and comedy bits with the hilarious Jon Wurster, AP Mike is screening the calls, deciding who will get through, and as Scharpling has said, helping to “dictate the tone of the show.” I spoke with Mike recently about his first interaction with Scharpling, his show with Therese Mahler, Depravity’s Rainbow, and what he did to get Kevin Corrigan laughing.
RYAN SARTOR: How did you start “Depravity’s Rainbow”?
MIKE LISK: It was just by chance, actually, because Tom was going to be out one week. Therese normally was doing the fill-ins. She had already done a few fill-ins for Tom and she asked me the day of the show whether I wanted to come down and take calls. It was very spur of the moment and we had a pretty good show. Basically, I wasn’t going to do what Tom does. I can’t do what Tom does. So I said, “What would be the opposite of that?” The first show we did was ‘Childhood Trauma’—something Tom would probably never discuss. The first couple of shows we did went pretty well, but it’s very difficult. With a call-in show, you depend on the phone calls. Fortunately, we had Tom’s audience, which really helped us a lot. We had one fill-in show outside of Tom’s slot and that was a struggle. It was only an hour show and it was around the holidays. I thought it would go fast, but it actually dragged on because we didn’t get that many callers. I really sweated it out on that one. It’s tough. It’s not easy. That’s what makes what Tom does so remarkable—that he’s doing it week in and week out.
RS: Are you a big Thomas Pynchon fan? Is that where you came up with that name?
M: Omar from the Friends of Tom board suggested it. It had a nice ring to it and was funny, so we went with that. I like Thomas Pynchon. He’s hit or miss with me, but I like his writing overall.
RS: On your blog, you’ve discussed a few short story collections. Who are some of your favorite writers?
M: J.G. Ballard. I like him a lot. I was reading short story collections for a while, now I’m going back to hard-boiled writers. I really like Raymond Chandler. He’s one of my favorite writers. Also, Dashiell Hammett. Now, I’m reading James M. Cain.
RS: Do you have any details about the film that you’re shooting? [On a recent episode of The Best Show, Tom discussed a film that Mike had asked him to appear in.]
M: It’s not a film. You have to take everything Tom says about me with a grain of salt. I tell people that 98% of what he says about me isn't true and I think most people get that. Tom started that whole AP Mike Day idea [On the show, Tom has been encouraging AP Mike’s hometown of Bayonne, NJ to celebrate Mike with his own Day], so I had this idea to do a campaign ad for AP Mike Day. It’s sort of a parody of “The Tree of Life.” It’s going to have some classical music and some bizarre voice-overs and weird scenes, slight exaggerations of my personal life. We’re going to put it up on the “The Faces of Massa’s Tavern” YouTube channel, 563AvenueA [‘The Faces of Massa’s Tavern’ is a documentary series directed by Mike in which he interviews patrons of his uncle’s bar].
RS: Are there any plans for more ‘Faces of Massa’s Tavern’?
M: I’d like to do some more. The hard thing is getting people to volunteer. A lot of the patrons want to maintain their privacy. Most of the people there are older and they don’t visit YouTube. It’s not something they’re particularly interested in. Joe Puppy [a star of one of the ‘Massa’s Tavern’ shorts] will make an appearance in the campaign ad. He’s been a hit and he lives in a trailer park right down the street from the bar. I think people will get a kick out of some of the stuff we shot down there.
RS: How did you get involved with WFMU?
M: I was a fan of Tom’s show. Chris Lowe (Chris L. from Maryland) he recommended the show to me. I got to know Chris via the Kevin Smith board, where I was making trouble. We would email every once in a while and he’s the one who recommended the show to me. Once I started listening to it, I loved it. I went through the archives, catching up with all the old shows. And then I was a fan. I went to the chat board and got into a little wrangle with Tom. I wasn’t going on there to intentionally bust his balls. He was playing a lot of Dinosaur Jr. and I had listened to them around the same time and it sounded kind of dated to me. So I gave Dinosaur Jr. a knock on the board and we got into a little bit of a debate and he said, “Call in.” I called in and we had a little chat. That was in December 2004. Shortly after that, he posted on the ‘Friends of Tom’ board that he was looking for a new call screener. I live in Bayonne, so it was convenient for me. I was working in Hoboken at the time and WFMU was right in between on my commute. I offered to go there. That was at the end of February 2005. It was right before the marathon that year. I remember the show because it was the night they did the famous ‘Old Skull’ bit. That was the first show I was a call screener on. It went fine. It was a great show, but I couldn’t get a read on Tom, whether it was going to work out. It was kind of a trial period, he didn’t say, “You’re in” or anything. It was, “Come down, we’ll try it out and see how it goes.” And basically, it just kept going. It’ll be seven years in February. It’s been great. It’s been a lot of fun for me.