Everyone probably has their favorite sketch from I Think You Should Leave season two. I won’t say anyone else’s list is right or wrong, but for me the sketch that stood out as most memorable was “Detective Crashmore,” the one in which Santa Claus is the aging star of a reactionary detective movie.
At the risk of explaining a joke, the beauty of the sketch is that it’s strange and surreal, but also an incisive parody — a quality that probably a lot of great I Think You Should Leave sketches have, of being simultaneously far-fetched and applicable. It reminded me both of inarticulate action stars not quite committing to their roles, and of that “extra gear” many actors have in press tour interviews, where they can slip into flowery pretension without warning.
A big part of the reason it all works is the actor playing Santa Claus. He combines a face that looks like it’s lived some hard years with a voice that sounds like Droopy Dog’s beer drunk uncle, with a soupcon of stoned surf dude. It’s the verisimilitude of him looking like a real mall Santa mixed with the surprise of him effortlessly handling these jarring tone shifts that becomes something sublime. I crack up every time I think about some of his line reads.
Did I mention the actor’s name is “Biff Wiff?”
Naturally, I wanted to know more about this man. I Think You Should Leave is actually Wiff’s third credited role as Santa Claus, after 9-1-1 and Just Roll With It. He seems to specialize in crusty outsiders, with other credits that include “Homeless Man” (Homecoming, Desperate Housewives), “Cart Driver” (Westworld), and “Hollywood Hobo” (iCarly).
Wiff had a face that positively screamed “this guy’s got some stories,” and in speaking to him for what turned out to be his first interview with any media, I discovered that my instincts had not been wrong. Yes, “Biff Wiff” is a stage name. Wiff says it came from his time in a song parody troupe called The Piparoos. He declined to share his birth name (“Everybody calls me Biff except my mom, my doctors, and the police”).
He currently lives in LA with his wife and two dogs, and he lives a life typical, in many ways, of any struggling actor. (“When it’s good, it’s very good. When it’s bad, it sucks.”) He’s also in the rare position of being able to compare The Santa Claus Circuit in different cities. Fodder for ITYSL season three, I hope? I spoke to Wiff via Zoom this week.
Where are you talking to me from?
I’m at home. I live in North Hills, California. It’s up by the Budweiser brewery. It’s in LA, basically. We’ve been here probably close to 30 years. Me and my wife and my dogs.
How many dogs do you have?
Two, two of the best dogs in the world. Bopper and Snooki. They’re mutts I got from the pound, rescue dogs, little terriers. One of them is about 30 pounds and the other one’s about 10, 11, 12, something like that. We’ve had them a while. Snookie’s getting pretty old. She’s like me.
You seem like you’re doing all right.
I’m doing okay right now. That’s the life of the actor. When it’s good, it’s very good, and when it’s bad, it sucks. I’ve got a costume fitting this afternoon and I’m working next week. So things are going okay I guess.
Tell me about that. This is your third or fourth time playing Santa Claus, isn’t it? How did that come about? Did this kind of grow out of that?
Kind of, I guess I would say. My father is a Baptist minister. So we didn’t have Santa when we were growing up. Santa and Satan are pretty much the same dude [to Baptists]. So when I got to be old enough, I said, well, I want to see what Santa Claus is like. First gig I got hired for was down in San Diego for their Christmas parade. They had a booth set up after the parade was over to bring people up and sit on Santa’s lap and stuff. It was a real eye-opener to me about what a difference Santa Claus could make in somebody’s life. At that time, it was the old gaslamp — now it’s thriving with all kinds of new bars and stuff, but back then it was skid row. So I would see these kids, they would come up and sit on my lap, a lot of them missing teeth, and we’re giving out things like candy. I think they gave out a UNO card game. And I’m saying, “why aren’t they giving these kids toothbrushes and things they need?” That just kind of started me going honestly.
So you have sort of like an emotional attachment to playing the character of Santa Claus?
Well, I wouldn’t say I still do, but that’s where it started. I actually kind of quit doing Santa Claus on personal levels because for years and years I would deliver presents on Christmas Eve to different households. There were some real adventures in that, but I just kind of got tired of doing it, especially just being away from my wife’s family on Christmas Eve for 30 years.
So did you get into acting through being Santa Claus?
No, I got into acting due to my old man being a minister. When you see somebody do an hour monologue on Sunday morning, a 45-minute monologue on Sunday night and about another half hour monologue on Wednesdays… It wasn’t like I was listening a lot, but I watched how he performed on stage basically. Which is what it is; it’s a stage. And that, I think, really influenced me.
So, did acting become a full-time profession? And at what point did that start?
Well, it started in San Diego first off where I quit my real job and started doing acting. There was no money to make down there.
What was your real job before that?
I sold fabric in a fabric store by the yard. When you do real work, you know how it is, you say this is not what I want to do. It’s more important to be doing what I want to do than being able to afford what I want to do. So times were rough down in San Diego sometimes because, like I say, I was working all the time. I was doing lunchtime theater, late-night theater, main stage theater, I had a comedy improv troupe that I worked with, I had a song parody troupe that I worked with. I was just busy all the time, but just literally barely getting by. So I said, well, I’ve got to move.
How old were you when you moved up to LA?
Oh my. Let’s see, it’s been… I was probably in my early 40s, I think.
And so Biff Wiff, is that your stage name or your birth name?
There’s the one we’re getting to, isn’t it? I’ll never tell you what my real name is, but it’s not Biff Wiff.
Is there a story behind the stage name?
Yeah, there’s probably a story. That’s my real name. Everybody calls me Biff except my mom, my doctors, and the police. I was down in San Diego with the song parody quartet that I was working with called the Piparoos. You can look up Piparoos on YouTube and you’ll see what we were like when we were kids. We all took these names because of this song parody quartet. I was Biff Wiff, I had a buddy who was Duke LaDoo; we’re still friends, my friend, Willie Bippp, who’s now deceased, and Spike Tacular. We were the four Piparoos.
What kind of songs would you guys parody?
We would parody anything and make them into dick jokes, pretty much. And, but we did a lot of parody on San Diego theater itself, because San Diego was a lot different than what it is in LA. In San Diego there’s like three or four theaters, so all the theater people hung out in the same bar. We all went to go and see each other, and we all just knew each other.
So how did I Think You Should Leave come about? Do you know how you got that call or what they’d seen you in?
I have no idea how I got that call. It all starts off with one of these self-tape interviews that you have to do, the lines and other stuff. That’s so much harder for the actors then what it was. We used to be able to go in to the casting director and you’d have somebody in the room to play off of. We’re just doing these cold tapes now that are just like, man oh man. They expect you to be memorized. And if you get more than one in a week, you’ve got a lot of pages, you have to give up on one of them because you’re not going to memorize all of them, especially when you get a little bit older. So that’s pretty much how that came about.
What was shooting that like? How collaborative was the shooting? I know Tim Robinson’s kind of an improv guy.
Yeah, I didn’t really work with Tim. I saw him. That guy works some pretty unbelievable hours on that show. He’s the first one there pretty much and the last one to leave, I was really impressed by him. I had never seen the show before I got booked. So then of course I checked it out to see what it was like. And some of it I don’t really get, but I’m probably not the target audience. But he was a super nice guy. He made sure that he said hi to me and he made sure that he came back after I’d wrapped and spoke with me for a little bit, thanked me, all that kind of stuff. The director, Zach was a really nice guy. They’d give me a lot of freedom. Almost every shot was, okay, you’ve done it, so we’ve got what we want, do it like you want. And they were real good about that. They just started calling it “The Wiff Way.”
Were you drawing on anything specific there? Like, to me, the part where you’re doing the actor, sort of, press tour interview, obviously, like I’ve done a lot of those interviews from the other side.
I thought it was funny too. The thing with the comedy was I was trying to play as real as I possibly could without giving totally flat reading, which is what they asked for. Sometimes they’d say, okay, don’t do that anymore. We shot that first, the interview scene. That thing starts off with a pretty long monologue by me, with the rant and all this stuff. I was really kind of nervous when that started. I don’t really know these people, I barely know the show, and I don’t want to make a fool out of myself. But with a name like Biff Wiff, they don’t forget. If it’s good, then I’m good. But when it’s bad, they don’t forget.
To me and other people that are really online, I guess, the show feels sort of like it’s a cultural phenomenon. I know you’ve been in other fairly high-profile stuff, but have you noticed any change in your own notoriety since this has been on?
Yeah. I’ve had relatives who had never heard of me get a hold of me and say ‘Hey, I saw you on I Think You Should Leave and all that kind of stuff. Now I’ve got another project in the can that’s really… You can’t talk about anything that’s in the future because of all these NDAs. But I got one in the can that was a real big step, I think I got cast just simply because of my name. Then they actually did write a thing around it.
Did your wife get a kick out of seeing you on the show?
She had an accident about a month ago where she fell and broke her knee cap, so she’s been kind of bedridden. She walks with a walker, but she’s still got a long time of rehab together. So she saw it. She actually watched it without me. I was trying to be the first one to watch it just in case they do something really stupid, but she watched it without me. She enjoyed it, she thought it was fun. And like I say, she Facebooked it and pushed it more than I have, really.
For something like that, you kind of have to put a lot of trust in your director and editor with what they’re going to do with it. Were you happy with the way it turned out?
There was a couple of bits they cut that I wish they would have kept, but for the most part, yeah, I was real happy with the way it turned out. I was kind of surprised it came off as good as what it did.
Before all these auditions were virtual, was there a group of other people that frequently get cast as Santa Clauses that you would see in auditions?
Oh yeah. You see all of the Santa Clauses at auditions. I think that they do more auditioning for Santa Claus out here than they do in New York.
Did you have any odd or surreal experiences in the course of being a Santa Claus?
Oh yeah. I’ve had some weird ones. I’ll tell you a story. This has been about probably 10 years ago or so. I was doing Santa Claus in a gated community on Christmas Eve. What usually happens is that people will set out a bag of toys or sit their presents on their doorstep, and I’ll put them into a Santa bag and bring them in. That way it looks like they’re getting gifts from Santa. So this job is in a gated community — big house, two-story. When I went inside I picked up the stuff, and it had the bags sitting out for me, so I didn’t need to use my own bag. And it was a big bag. So I got inside and everything in the house that I could see was white: white carpet, white walls, the photographs on the walls were black and white. All the paintings they had were in white. There’s mom and dad dressed to the teeth. Dad’s in a sport coat, a tie, white pants, and mom’s wearing a nice white dress. And the kids are standing on the stairsteps coming down, one, two, three, the boys in blue blazers and ties, and the little girl’s in what looked like to me a communion dress. And I’m just thinking, where am I? Am I in Stepford?
So anyway, it’s time to give out the gifts, and the oldest boy was first. He got like a GI Joe, super, all the GI Joe toys, all the stuff that he could get. And then the little girl came up and she got everything Barbie, a Barbie dream house, she got the car, she got a couple of Barbie’s friends. So the next thing I reached into the bag and it’s for little Joey, eight years old. I’ll always remember this kid. Nice, sweet little kid. So I say, “Well, let’s see what this is.”
I reach inside and it’s a box about that big [making a hand the size of a Rubik’s Cube]. And I thought, well, what in the hell could this possibly be? It’s like, how could you spend that money for an eight-year-old kid on something that fits inside a box that size? So he opens it up and it’s… a slinky. He looks at me like “Santa, what the fuck man? She’s got Barbie, he’s got GI Joe, and you gave me a slinky?” I felt so sorry for the kid. I just said, “Well, you know, Joey, Santa loves you. Hope you enjoy your slinky.”
Oh man. They really set you up.
They did set me up. I was just like “wow.”
Was that a thing that happens? A rich neighborhood hires a Santa to come be their neighborhood Santa Claus?
Yeah. To come and visit them on Christmas Eve. And of course they do parties. I do corporation parties. There’s money in that. But yeah, this costed, I would guess, probably because they had to pay my agency, and they make more than I do — my Santa Claus agent, not my real agent — and I’d say they spent at least $300 or $400 to get Santa Claus to come to their house on Christmas Eve.
Yeah, it just ran out of fun. I had another funny one — I went to one in a trailer park complex, and it was a party where I was dressed Santa Claus, and it turned out I was the youngest person there. So there’s all these old people, and the thing that went through my mind is whenever you’re taking kids on your lap, you can tell if they left anything in their diaper when they sit on you and they slide a little bit. As I was going through this thing with these old people, I thought, you might have the same precaution here. You get a sloppy diaper here just as easy as you can with a kid. That never happened but it went through my mind.
I’m glad it didn’t happen.
Yeah. I’ve had a couple of sloshy bottoms, but never anything to where they leaked out onto my costume. That’s what you worry about the most.