by LIZA MITCHELL
Being funny pays off, especially when you are a struggling actor. Tom Wilson never intended to pursue comedy for a living, but when he discovered that the guys doing stand up were paid cash and got a free cheeseburger, while he was out pounding the pavement for peanuts, he knew he had stumbled onto something big.
Wilson, who is best known for his iconic roles in the Back to the Future franchise, appears September 26-28 at the Comedy Club of Jacksonville. Although his act touches on the characters Biff Tannen, his grandson Griff and Biff’s great grandfather, Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen, don’t expect a routine based solely on the famous 80s trilogy.
“I have so many people ask me about that role that I wrote ‘The Question Song’ and that’s all I have,” he says. “I understand my position. I know that my lines have been quoted over and over and have been included in presidential speeches. But as a human being, I can’t have that as my identity. I don’t feel like being that guy.”
Wilson was always careful to avoid the stereotypical reaction of actors who can’t shake their memorable roles. He created ‘The Question Song’ as a way to acknowledge his past and answer people’s questions without losing his identity and his passion. “They either went to angry and resentful about it, or they are that guy in Denny’s saying ‘Hey look! Do you know who I am?’ They are the sad and pathetic guys that everyone is pitying and eventually making fun of.”
Before he embarked on his comedy crusade, Wilson studied theatre and had aspirations of the serious stage. He worked hard, auditioned for parts, worked on sets and followed all the rules. He dabbled in comedy here and there, enough to hopefully drum up a good story for the grandkids about the time he went “slumming in stand up.”
It wasn’t exactly an “aha!” moment, but Wilson recalls seeing Steve Martin perform his comedy routine at a time when the industry wasn’t yet saturated by stand up acts. As an actor, he understood the magnitude of what Martin was able to do and was astounded by his ability to command the audience. “I was absolutely blown away that one person could so control such a huge crowd. He had everyone in the palm of his hand with his material and performance skills,” Wilson says.
The freedom that comedy offered remains appealing to Wilson. He likes writing his own material and doesn’t need someone’s permission to be cast in a role or take someone else’s direction. And he understands that the fundamentals of serious acting and comedy go hand in hand. “When all the guys are living and dying by the specific strength of a joke, I am creating a piece of theatre,” he says. “It’s comedy. You’re the boss, the director, the writer. It is whatever you say it is. It’s liberating.”
Tom Wilson appears at Jacksonville Comedy Club
by LIZA MITCHELL