A few years back, actor Tom Wilson went viral with a video of "Biff's Question Song," in which he joked about getting asked the same questions about his stint as Biff in the "Back to the Future" movies. ("What's Michael J. Fox like? / He's nice. / What's Michael J. Fox like? / Nice guy. / What's Michael J. Fox like?") To folks who'd wondered what happened to Wilson over the years - while he's kept busy doing voiceover work for cartoons like "Spongebob Squarepants," his last high profile roles were on "Freaks and Geeks" and "Ed" - the video was a glorious find and a clever introduction to Wilson's stand-up comedy act.
Wilson now uses his Biff material to open "Tom Wilson: Bigger Than You," an hour-long stand-up special filmed in Santa Ana, California. It's a smart move, the performer assuming that while some of the audience caught his YouTube shtick or his comedy album (the generically but correctly titled "Tom Wilson is Funny!"), many more probably bought tickets merely to see Biff be Biff. You know, the same people that would've loved to see Wilson on VH1's "The Surreal Life," a show he later admits to having been offered. "Let's get over the Back to the Future stuff right off the bat," he jokes, offering up a few quick "buttheads" and "hey, McFlys" and a gnarly Crispin Glover impression to big cheers before breaking out the "Question Song" as a means of wrapping it all up early.
With the nostalgia out of the way, Wilson can then hunker down with a lengthy set about his awkward childhood, where, as a drama nerd and band geek, he didn't quite fit in with his burly Irish family and football-obsessed rural Pennsylvania neighborhood. His material is constantly self-effacing - he's never afraid to paint himself as a total wimp, which amusingly contradicts his tough guy build - and it's fascinating to discover this guy who'd made a living playing jocks and bullies grew up playing the tuba in the marching band.
Wilson's stage presence is manic and highly physical, but unlike most other comics, who use frantic behavior to replace actual punchlines, Wilson's hyperactivity actually enhances his material. There's a George Carlin quality at work, with Wilson knowing how best to use an oversized gesture to punctuate the wordplay. (That's about the only Carlin-esque trait here; Wilson's comedy is notably clean cut.)
The comic moves on to segments on Costco and parenting - topics that sound bland on paper (Costco sells things in bulk? Yawn), yet Wilson pulls some big laughs out of it all, with the sort of famly observations reminiscent of "Bill Cosby: Himself." When he cracks about how every dad has only two stages of being ("watching TV" and "silverback ape"), there's a universal understanding on display.
The real highlight of the show comes at the end, when Wilson returns to the guitar for a series of songs. "I Don't Care" discusses the apathy that comes with turning forty; "She's My Daughter" warns potential boyfriends to keep hands to themselves; "Adult Versions" reworks kiddie tunes for the grown-up set.
Wilson's sharpest material is a string of bite-sized songs written in haiku, little one-sentence balls of absurdity ("It's strange that a dog will eat a dead bird but will never eat a grape" or "I don't write like Shakespeare, but he didn't have antibiotics") that earn quick, giant giggles. Few comics can switch between down-to-earth observations and oddball silliness with such ease, which is why Wilson is fast establishing himself as clever, engaging, and absolutely must-see.
Video & Audio
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks gorgeous, displaying crisp detail and dazzling color. It's almost a slam dunk... except there's some weird motion issues throughout, with the image getting a noticeably jerky from time to time. It's not frequent enough to ruin the image, but it is enough to distract. What gives?
A Dolby 5.1 soundtrack seems like overkill, but it's never overdone as a mix. Wilson's rich, clear vocals remains squarely up front, while rear speakers are used minimally for ambience. No subtitles are provided.
"Photo Shoot" (1:16; 1.78:1 anamorphic) is a quickie montage of Wilson clowning around as he poses for the DVD cover.
The "Little League Song" (1:33; 1.33:1 windowboxed), which looks shot for YouTube, offers a little more about the wonders of youth sports.
"Inside the Artist's Studio" (7:13; 1.78:1 anamorphic) profiles Wilson's work as a pop artist. The featurette (produced for the web as some sort of art-related series) reveals Wilson's passion for painting retro toys. Who knew?
A batch of previews for other Levity Entertainment stand-up videos rounds out the disc.
The album title was right: Tom Wilson is funny, with an exclamation point. "Bigger Than You" is a wonderful re-introduction to the former Biff, and is Recommended not just to "Back to the Future" fans, but to anyone looking for a solid hour of stand-up laughs.