Since today is “Back To The Future Day,” the date that Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to in the second movie in the series, I’ve dug into the archives for this interview from 1997 with the comedian who played the villain…
Harris: Welcome to our guest microphone comedian Tom Wilson, who you may remember as Biff in the “Back To The Future” movies. But I promised him we would not talk about that this morning because at this point, you’ve got to be tired of the whole Biff thing.
Wilson: We ended the last “Back To The Future” movie in 1989.
Wilson: It’s now 1997.
Harris: I know.
Wilson: Get over it!
Harris: I know, that’s why we’re not going to talk about it this morning.
Wilson: It’s a movie! I have people coming up to me and they’re like “Star Trek” fans! People dressed as Marty McFly!
Harris: You’re kidding me!
Wilson: Oh, no kidding, no kidding. I’m serious. It’s like a “Star Trek” thing: The “Back To The Future” fan club is actually growing in membership. These people are going crazy.
Harris: You don’t have people coming up and going, “You know, I thought Biff was good but Griff was better.”
Wilson: Yeah, so I’m in that position. I’m just sitting at a table autographing pictures with Scotty. I’m just out there…”What happened?!?”
Harris: The next table over is Skippy from “Family Ties.”
Wilson: It’s just a movie!
Harris: All right, so we’ll talk about other things this morning, like your ever expanding family. I understand that you have a new son, right?
Wilson: I have a new son, nine-months old. Well, yeah I have four kids. I’m very fertile. Sperm motility is not a problem.
Harris: I’ll stand back a little bit then.
Wilson: Yeah, don’t sit on a love seat with me, really, because something might happen. I have three daughters, though. All of them have hair of gold, like their mother, the youngest one in curls.
Wilson: I have three girls, I’ve got a nine-month old son. Our house, with the girls, looks like Laura Ashley exploded in it. I live in Malibu Barbie’s dream house. I’ve got 37 Barbies in body parts alone, in a drawer. So, okay, me and my nine-month old son, we just huddle in a corner covered in steer blood, chanting ritualistic male things. Beating a drum and moaning about “dada” or something. And the girls just do their thing.
Harris: Were you so happy when the fourth one turned out to be a boy? “Finally, some of my own hormones have paid off!”
Wilson: That was just really it. It wasn’t the “my boy Bill” thing, it was just like, “Oh, someone! Someone so maybe I can throw a football once in my life with a child. Honey, I love the ballet shows, but Daddy occasionally wants to play cowboy.”
Harris: You know what’s going to happen know. Your son’s going to grow up, “My personal hero: Mikhail Barishnikov!”
Wilson: That’s right, that’s right.
Harris: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Wilson: I didn’t mean that in a bad way, that my son could be traipsing around like a little…well…
Harris: I understand…I understand…three tutus in the house is plenty. Four, counting yours.
Wilson: No, he’s a good boy and we’ve taped a football to his hand because he’s going to be a biggun’. So we want him to get out there, Daddy’s your manager, and we go out for big money.
Harris: You’re using Tiger Woods’ dad as your example. Start him young, train him, get him in there.
Wilson: Wow, that is weird, isn’t it? I mean, to do that. I’m like Mr. California Dad, Mr. Peace Sign, brother. You do what you want. You express yourself, my son. Don’t work for The Man.
Harris: Unless, of course, The Man is the guy from Nike with a $60,000,000 contract.
Wilson: Then, you just kiss The Man’s butt. You just take The Man’s money. That’s right. No, we don’t do that sort of thing. No, actually, he doesn’t have an identity. He actually is a small me. He actually is me. Just everything I’ve been a loser at in my life, I’m just going to whip him until he does it and succeeds. It’s the American way!
Harris: This is your chance to remake your own image.
Wilson: That’s right.
Harris: Just like everybody thought they could do with cloning. Oh, I’ll go and fix all my own mistakes.
Wilson: Like so many dads, I’ll see you out on the little league field. “You loser! Get back in that batter’s box right now!” “Daddy, he hit me with the pitch!” “If you cry…don’t get in my car if you cry!”
Harris: You are a great dad, let me say that right now. I wish you were mine. Several years back — I don’t know how many years ago it was, maybe five years ago — I was watching the Carson show and you came out, you and your tuba and did five, six, seven, eight minutes there and just blew me away because you were the first comedian I’d ever seen perform with a tuba.
Wilson: I think I was actually the first person to ever perform on “The Tonight Show” with a tuba. It’s kind of a weird thing to be.
Harris: Do you still travel at all with the tuba?
Wilson: I travel with it as a good luck charm. I don’t play it anymore, but I’m surprised you didn’t see it on the chain around my neck. It’s kind of a lucky piece, sometimes I use it to keep track of my keys.
Harris: Some people just put them on the desk in the entrance way.
Wilson: And you should see the looks you get from the valet parking guys when you hand him a tuba connected to a couple of keys.
Harris: It’s like the men’s room key at the gas station.
Wilson: That’s right!
Harris: I have to carry this to use the key?!?
Wilson: That’s right, that’s right. Yeah, I played the tuba in the band when I was in school. I was a total geek. I was not an athlete. Now, were you an athlete? Because you cut quite a swarthy figure!
Harris: Well, thank you. Does the word Yahtzee mean anything to you, my friend?
Wilson: Oh, you were on the Yahtzee team!
Harris: 1974 champion, okay! Step back, everybody!
Wilson: That’s a great yearbook shot, you know. You’ve got the football players in their positions, in their triumphant positions. Then you’ve got the Yahtzee team players, with the surprised look looking at dice. Talk about scoring with the cheerleaders!
Harris: That’s it, absolutely!
Wilson: Yeah, those Yahtzee guys.
Harris: Well, we had our own trading cards and that’s what really brought the chicks in.
Wilson: And the Yahtzee cheers are really good.
Harris: “Gimme a Y!”
Wilson: “Gimme an A! Gimme an H!” “H”??? The whole crowd stops, has to mumble among themselves…”H”? Yahtzee? “H”?
Harris: And at the end you could never get them to give you the exclamation point.
Wilson: Exactly, exactly. “What’s that spell?” “H”?? They don’t get over that.
Harris: And so you were in the marching band? I’m guessing with a tuba you’ve got to be in the marching band.
Wilson: Yeah, of course, I was in the marching band with the tuba, the huge instrument. The giant bell, they call it. Big hole that everyone makes toilet jokes about as you walk into the stadium. And then all the rest of the band, they get to sit down in the front of the stands. They get to watch the game, talk to their friends, whatever, put down the instrument. The tubas are way up in the top of the stands, swinging back and forth going da-da-da-da-da…the entire game…da-da-da-da…Can we stop yet?…da-da-da-da…just swinging back and forth with those things trying to dodge all the garbage people are trying to throw into them.
Harris: And you can’t sit up front because people say, “Put that thing down! We’re trying to watch the game!”
Wilson: That’s what I mean, you can’t win. You’re basically an egg target. By the end of a football game, you’ve got sixty bucks of Jujubes on the inside of it. People are just emptying Jujube boxes into it.
Harris: Every time I see a marching band at a football game, it’s always the tuba guy who has to go off and make the little…
Wilson: That’s Ohio State.
Harris: …the little exclamation point or the dot in the “i”.
Wilson: At Ohio State, what’s very famous is that the tuba player, the senior tuba player, will march out and dot the “i”. Which is the thrill of his geeky life. “Mom! Dad! Watch the game! I’m dotting the i!” “Oh, fun, son. I wish you were playing quarterback or something.”
Harris: And of course Mom and Dad are watching on TV and halftime is not televised.
Wilson: “You know, I’d prefer if you sold hot dogs at the game. Great, everybody tune in! My kid’s dotting the i!”
Harris: When you were in high school, did you think to yourself, “Maybe I’ll go to Ohio State and be the tuba player who makes the i dot?
Wilson: [pauses for one beat] No.
Harris: No, I didn’t think so.
Wilson: I never thought that.
Harris: Okay, fine.
Copyright 1997, Paul Harris.
Transcript by Danny Guzman.