Imagine getting your start as a stand-up comedian who roomed with Andrew Dice Clay and Yakov Smirnoff. (“I taught them both about America.”) You do an episode of Knight Rider, an episode of The Facts of Life. You’re in Los Angeles Streetfighter, a movie so forgotten it hasn’t even been done by RiffTrax yet. And then you get cast as the bully in some science fiction thing that’s so troubled they recast the lead. And suddenly, you’re so locked into that one role that you end up writing a song to answer the same handful of questions that everyone wants to ask you about it.
What gets lost, I think, in discussion of Back to the Future is that Biff Tannen is not the same as Griff Tannen is not the same as Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen. Heck, there are a couple of variants on Biff, depending on whether we’re talking about Young Bully Biff, Old Bully Biff, Old Servile Biff, or Old Rich Biff. That’s four distinct versions just of the one character, and that’s without getting into the other two. Arguably, Wilson’s is the most complicated acting in the series, and he certainly doesn’t get the credit for it.
I also want to point out his amazing voice performance as Coach Lawrence from TrollHunters. Is this more of Gillian’s pro-TrollHunters propaganda? Sure it is. On the other hand, it’s a fine performance that deserves to be mentioned in one of the most well-cast animated shows ever made. Coach Lawrence is every gym coach stereotype you want to name except for the part where he’s also got a warm heart under his exterior. When he suggests hugging it out with his girlfriend’s resentful son, you believe he means it. He can be a bully, but he doesn’t seem to mean it, you know?
Speaking of well-cast animated shows, he was Tony Zucco on Batman: The Animated Series. The width and depth of Wilson’s career is hard to express without just listing; he’s quite the talent. He’s one of those actors that people don’t think about often who’s had a bit in an enormous array of things. Sure, he’s one of the few people who voiced his character from the movie in the cartoon, and, sure, he’s played any number of coaches other than Coach Lawrence, but he’s definitely one of those people who deserves more notice than he gets.
I would imagine it’s also frustrating to him that the most notice he’s gotten in a long time was because of a resemblance between Old Rich Biff and a certain former US President. I don’t know his politics—Wikipedia says he’s a devout Catholic, but so is my mom and I know who she wouldn’t vote for no matter what—but it’s got to be frustrating to have your popularity tied to that whole thing when you’ve done so much more. There’s a reason I’ve seen him as Coach Lawrence so much more recently.