Entertainment & Arts

Tom Wilson gets that question a lot

Not Biff
Wilson performs on “The Ghost Whisperer” and “SpongeBob.”
(MacDonald Murray Management)
Special to The Times

ATTENTION celebrities: Tired of fielding the same questions from fans that you’ve answered thousands of times? Besieged by arcane queries about your hit TV show or cult movie fave? Hounded in public to deliver your signature catchphrase? Tom Wilson may have the answer. It’s called “The Question Song,” and every luminary should have one.

Wilson created this ditty in response to the barrage of questions he continues to receive over his breakout role as Biff, Michael J. Fox’s nemesis in the “Back to the Future” films. Wilson is a character actor, stand-up comedian, musician and artist. But even after more than two decades, seldom does he go out in public without being asked, “What’s Michael J. Fox like?” or “Was that really manure [dumped on his character as a running joke throughout the trilogy]?”

And so, as part of his stand-up act, he performs “The Question Song” “to save us all a lot of time” in answering the most-asked queries about “BTTF”:

Do you all hang out together?

No, we don’t.

How’s Crispin Glover?”

Never talk to him.

“Back to the Future 4"?

Not happening! Stop asking me the


Since its debut last year, the upbeat and catchy “Song” has become a touchstone of Wilson’s act and a popular video, first on YouTube and then on the new Will Ferrell/Adam McKay website,, where it was selected as one of the site’s staff favorites by guest judge Paul Scheer of MTV’s “Human Giant.”

Wilson, who had been performing stand-up since 1979, was caught up in what he calls a “pop cultural tornado” when “Back to the Future” was released. It was an instant pop culture phenomenon and would become the top-grossing film of 1985. “The weekend after it opened,” he recalled, “I got together with Crispin Glover (who played Fox’s father in the movie). We went to Canter’s Deli and we couldn’t figure out why they were all staring at us. We looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, that’s right; we’re starring in the No. 1 movie in America.’ ”

And then the heckling started. Performing his stand-up, Wilson would be interrupted by audience members channeling Biff by calling him “Butthead” and repeating his most memorable lines from the film. “I had to find a way to deal with it onstage before I could be accepted” by the audience, Wilson said. “At the very, very beginning, there was a certain amount of resentment at only being known as that guy from the movie.”

The solution, initially, would be to comically exploit the audience’s misperception of Wilson as being the “big, dumb, bully of a guy” they had grown to love to hate. Wilson relates to the classic “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which William Shatner famously tells attendees at a “Star Trek” convention to “get a life” (he can quote Shatner’s rant verbatim). Wilson prides himself on being “a regular guy from a normal family of kind people from Pennsylvania” and endeavors to be gracious with fans. But as the decades passed and he answered for the umpteenth time that, yes, Michael J. Fox is a nice guy, and, no, it wasn’t really manure, he labored to find a more constructive way to deal with those and other questions about “Back to the Future.”

“There are two ways to go,” he said in a recent interview. “Either you become the resentful, bitter guy, and who wants to be that guy? On the other hand, there’s the pathetic guy who goes into every restaurant saying, ‘Does everybody remember me? Do you have a low-level celebrity discount?’ ”

The song offered Wilson a more constructive third option that was more in line with the example set by such friends as Dan Whitney, a.k.a. Larry the Cable Guy, who, Wilson said, deals with requests by fans to repeat his catchphrase, “Git-R-Done” “with good humor, patience and kindness. That’s the kind of person you’re supposed to be.”

“The Question Song,” Wilson explained, “says, ‘Folks, feel free to come up to me after the show, but please understand that these are questions I’ve been asked 10 million times. So let’s get a few of the very obvious questions out of the way and then we can have an actual conversation.’ ”

And there is a lot to talk to Wilson about besides “Back to the Future.” He has recurring roles on the CBS series “The Ghost Whisperer” and Comedy Central’s “American Body Shop.” Wilson has also gained considerable cult cachet voicing various characters on “SpongeBob SquarePants” and for his role as Coach Fredricks on the late, lamented “Freaks and Geeks.” “Every time I see Judd Apatow (who served as executive producer and writer on the series created by Paul Feig), I thank him for cutting my Biff celebrity by about 10 to 15%,” Wilson joked.

Wilson is also a painter for whom art imitates life. Some of his most arresting works depict iconic toys of the 1960s and ‘70s, such as a View-Master and a Hot Wheels car zooming around a Loop the Loop. More than simple nostalgia, he said, the paintings represent “the pop objectification that in so many ways I’ve experienced. Sometimes when I’m walking through an airport, I might as well be that Hot Wheels car going through the Loop the Loop.”

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