Comedy act takes actor back to his past
The actor did standup before landing his role as Biff in the 'Back to the Future' movies.
By JOHN BENSON
Actor Tom Wilson is living proof you can't judge a book by its cover, an album by its CD jacket or a movie by its poster.
Forever known as the quintessential high school bully Biff Tannen from the popular "Back to the Future" movies, Wilson grew up in Philadelphia as, well, the antithesis of his terrorizing character. That's right, he was the nerd or the McFly of his high school.
"I was the furthest thing from a bully or even a jock," said Wilson, calling from his Los Angeles home. "I was president of the debating team and I played the tuba in the marching band. Paint your own picture."
However, Wilson's youthful story is different from most. Seemingly out of nowhere, the skinny kid transformed into what he called "The Trojan Librarian." More importantly, by his senior year he was a hero to the math club elite.
"Like some kids, I happened to grow in 11th and 12th grade," Wilson said with a laugh. "I was bigger than the football team and I could protect my nerdy friends. I grew to be 6 foot 3 inches, 230 pounds, but inside this shell is a small guy with glasses and a sweater vest."
Still, his looks made him perfect for the role of Tannen. Naturally, "Back to the Future" changed his life but before that, Wilson was busy as a working stand-up comedian. In fact, his early days were spent at the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard learning the craft from a revolving door of greats (Richard Pryor) and an up-and-coming class of new comedians (Robin Williams).
Coming to Youngstown
In the years since "Back to the Future," Wilson has found steady work in both television and film, all the while maintaining his stand-up comedy routine, which he brings to the Youngstown area for the first time Friday and Saturday at the Funny Farm.
"Without casting aspersions, there are a bunch of low-level celebrity guys who do their TV show or whatever and then they say, 'What else can I do now?' and go do stand-up," Wilson said. "The people who think that of me are hopefully in for a happy surprise because I was doing it way longer than a lot of other actors."
He describes his act as very autobiographical and high-energy, incorporating his guitar playing with humorous songs. Over the years, Wilson has developed a musical bit that he hopes staves off any overzealous audience members.
Nipping trouble in the bud
"I have to deal with the fact that I'm the bully guy from the 'Back to the Future' movies," Wilson said. "Because if you don't do it, people will start heckling you, 'Hey butthead,' or whatever throughout the show. So I have what's called 'The Question Song' and it's basically all the questions people ask me after a show -- 'What's Michael J. Fox like? Was that real manure in the truck? Hey that Crispin Glover, he's kind of an odd cat, huh?'"
Recently posted on Youtube.com, Wilson said "The Question Song" has received close to 1 million hits, becoming what he believes to be a pop culture phenomenon on its own. In many ways, it's sort of like Wilson's comedy act.
"The show comes with my personal guarantee: If you don't have a great time and laugh really hard, you have no taste in comedy," Wilson laughed. "I guarantee it. It's a fun show and people across the country have been having a great time and I have every confidence that everybody in Youngstown will have a ball."