Joking around with Michelle Obama is one way comic Billy Eichner burnishes his street-smart credentials. Confronting regular folks on the street is another. Richard Schlesinger shows what we mean:
Eichner: “Who do you think’s funnier -- be honest -- me or Seth Rogan?”
Woman on street: “Oh my God, you!”
Eichner: “Thank you!”
Woman: “Oh my God, a million times! I don’t think he’s funny at all.”
Eichner: “Oh wow, well, he’s right here! Seth Rogan!”
If Billy Eichner is one of the new voices in comedy, it is one voice that is hard to miss.
Eichner: “Miss, Olivia Wilde is beautiful!”
Olivia Wilde: “Please tell me I’m beautiful!”
Eichner: “You’re gorgeous!”
Eichner: “Yes, let’s go. Look at her skin, look at her skin and then die trying to get it!”
It is loud, and in-your-face.
Eichner: “I liked the movie and I hope you do another one.”
Sarah Jessica Parker: “Thank you. And it did make an enormous amount of cash.”
Eichner: “Why don’t you shove that down our faces? We know: You’re very rich!”
And it is starting to be heard in Hollywood, the very city he loves to mock.
When asked how famous he is, Eichner said, “I’m on my way, in my mind. I think I’ve made a lot of progress. I don’t know what level of fame that is, but I’m fine with it. I actually really enjoy whatever it is I have right now.”
What he has is this show: “Billy on the Street,” where 38-year-old Eichner races around New York with A-list celebrities in tow, confronting unsuspecting pedestrians with a high-octane, staccato talk show/prank fest/very low-stakes game show. [”Don’t touch her! She doesn’t deserve to touch you!”]
Eichner: “Miss, for a dollar, would you have sex with Paul Rudd?”
Woman: “Of course, I would.”
Eichner: “Yes! Thank you! Here’s a dollar!”
It started its fifth season, now on Tru TV.
Eichner says his “Billy on the Street” character “is extremely separate from who I am.”
He also costars on “Difficult People,” a sitcom about bitter show-biz wannabes. It was just renewed for a third season on Hulu, the video streaming service.
And he’s shooting another comedy for Netflix.
And until recently -- until YouTube -- he could never have gotten where he did, how he did.
Eichner invented “Billy on the Street” when he was appearing way off-Broadway in his own show. It got a little notice. But when he put the show on YouTube, it got a lot of notice.
“I could take these meetings in L.A. and say, ‘Hey, half a million people think this video is great. Look what they’re saying about me on the blogs. This will go beyond a small circle of people in Manhattan.’ And it did!”
Eichner started performing in the smallest circle of all, as a child in his parents’ living room.
He was raised in Queens, N.Y. And Billy, the kid, was one lousy neighbor.
“I would sing late at night,” he told Schlesinger. “People would complain. I would remember the neighbors coming down and knocking on our door and saying to my mom, ‘We wish him the best of luck, but it’s just very late!’”
The songs were mostly numbers from the Broadway shows his parents took him to see.
By the time he was Bar Mitzvahed, it was pretty clear where he was headed. He knew it, and his late mother knew it.
“I would put on a suit to watch the Oscars,” Eichner said. “I mean, no one’s proud of that, Richard. But it’s what happened.”
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Schlesinger said.
“I don’t know why, but I had show business, the performing arts, in my blood from as far back as I can remember.”
The thing is: he could have been a rocket scientist, or any other kind of scientist. No joking! He was accepted into a famed high school for performing arts, but decided to attend the uber-selective Stuyvesant High School in New York, one of the top math and science schools in the nation.
“I was a good student,” he said. “This is where you went. If you got into this school, you went!”
Like Eichner himself, “Billy on the Street” is not just smart, it’s quick.
Eichner: “For a dollar, what’s the name of the theater David Letterman films his TV show in?”
Woman: “’The Tonight Show.’”
Eichner: “No! No! NO! That never happened!”
If Eichner and his act all seem ridiculous, it was all serious enough for The New Yorker. “They wrote about me in The New Yorker. Not too shabby!”
There was his profile alongside essays about photographer Diane Arbus and British politician Jeremy Corbyn. Eichner was pronounced “hyper-literate in the language of pop culture.”
“I love the incongruity of it,” Eichner said. “And we belong in The New Yorker, and we also belong, you know, on some pop culture blog.”
And if Billy Eichner is not a name in every household yet, that’s okay. That’s what he says. Of course, he could be kidding.
“I’m very comfortable where I’m at, and as long as I keep working and doing good things, whatever fame come along with that comes along. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” he said. “But it will, Richard!”
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