Billy Eichner tirelessly working the streets of Manhattan (to our amusement)
If anyone can get away with running through the streets of Manhattan getting strangers to do everything from naming white celebrities to telling Olivia Wilde to her face that she’s “pretty for a single dollar bill”, it’s Billy Eichner.
The out comedian/producer/actor has been building a fan base over the past few years with his popular videos and appearances on shows like Conan, The Wendy Williams Show as well as voice work on Fox’s Bob’s Burgers.
Even he will admit that it’s not too difficult these days to get big names to appear on his game show, Funny Or Die’s Billy On The Street, which returns for a third season of episodes tonight on Fuse. This season alone, a cavalcade of guest stars include Rachel Dratch, Lena Dunham, Neil Patrick Harris, Sean Hayes, Lindsay Lohan, Joel McHale, Seth Meyers, Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Paul Rudd and an exceptionally game Olivia Wilde.
As if the game show wasn’t keeping him busy enough, Eichner also popping up on Parks And Recreation as the loud and intense office employee, Craig, a character that was originally only going to appear in one or two episodes, but now seems to becoming a more permanent fixture on the series.
We grabbed some time with Eichner to talk about the new season of Billy On The Street as well as his recent tweets about John Travolta and that now-infamous mispronunciation of Idina Menzel. We also asked him whether he’s as ballsy when interested in someone as he is when approaching strangers on the streets of Manhattan.
TheBackLot: How do you pitch the celebrities you have on the show? Like, Olivia Wilde. ‘Hey, we’re going to run through the streets and give people dollars for saying you’re pretty.’ Is that how you pitched that to her?
Billy Eichner: Well, pretty much. You know we’ve been really lucky this season. Obviously the show started out really under the radar, which is not to say it’s still not under the radar, but much less so. Last season, we had Will Ferrell, and Pink, and Zach Qunito and all of these segments that went pretty viral online. The show has really gotten out there. We’ve always had a lot of support in the comedy communities, and within the industry itself, which is kind of rare because oftentimes there’s this cliché that comedians don’t support other comedians. But it definitely hasn’t been true in my case.
And some of my earliest supporters, like Joan Rivers, and a lot of the people at SNL, they always like sort of preached the gospel of Billy on the Street, and now that it’s getting more popular and mainstream, these people really just jump at the chance at being on the show. I mean this season I had a dream list of people, and 99 percent of them said yes immediately.
Olivia Wilde’s team approached us about doing the show, and of course I said yes, and I hadn’t met Olivia before. We were like Twitter friends, but we hadn’t met, and I did think of a few ideas to pitch her. And what’s great about this show is that the people that say yes, they’re willing to go along with it, they’re not coming on the show to promote a movie, most times. They’re coming to have this crazy experience because it’s not something that they can do on any other show, and either they’re fans, and they want to feel how nuts it is to run around with me, and ambush people, and see what their reactions are.
On more than one occasion a celebrity has come and we’ve played a couple of games where the two of us are standing there, I’m putting them on something, and at the end they’ll say, ‘Are we going to run around?’ They really want to run around. And that happened with Rashida Jones last year, and Olivia, too, this year, really wanted to run around. They just want it. They just want that experience. So I said, “Yeah. How about this?” And I pitched her the idea of making, you know, other women on the street tell her she’s pretty. And I thought that was sort of taking the Olivia Wilde image and just exaggerating it to this ridiculous level, and I’m glad she was game for it. And I think she comes off great, she comes off self-aware and fun.
Billy’s Twitter feed was afire the night of the Academy Awards thanks to Travolta.
I was watching your Twitter feed @billyeichner on Oscar night, and I wonder if when things like the John Travolta thing happens if that’s just a gift to you as a comedian?
BE: Yeah. I mean that was just completely bizarre. He drives me up a wall as it is. I do love Twitter. I’m really vocal on Twitter and I talk to the fans of Billy on the Street a lot on Twitter especially when the show starts airing again. It allows me to comment on pop culture when I’m too busy to go do a show or up on stage somewhere, which these days is not much between Billy on the Street and Parks and Rec. There’s a lot going on, but I still like to get my two cents in and it’s a way of performing, actually, when you’re on the go.
When something like that happens, I mean, yeah, it is a gift, sort of, to a comedian because it gives you so much to play with, although I think at the end of the day I think, his is going to be much more a tragic story than a funny story.
You tweeted in the future we’re going to have a Behind The Candelabra kind of movie about him.
BE: If Jared Leto can win an Emmy for playing John Travolta…I mean, it’s a shame. He is our Liberace in a way, with the wig and Liberace didn’t go so far as to marry a woman and then the Scientology thing. Travolta is even crazier than Liberace, but with Travolta, I mean, he’s only human so you want to sympathize with the guy, but it gets tough because the saddest thing about Travolta can all be seen in that one moment, before he said her name wrong, when he came out and looked to the audience and said, ‘Thank you. I love you.’ And he was responding to no one. In a room where he’s not being celebrated, he was just presenting someone else. And everything you need to know about John Travolta can be seen in the moment where he said, ‘I love you,’ to a crowd that had not said it back.
And then the hair, and the wife, he didn’t even acknowledge….he couldn’t even fully come out and apologize. I mean he was actually telling everyone to ‘let it go.’ [A nod to the song Menzel was to sing when he mis-introduced her] I mean he was assuming that she would let it go, and he tried to tie that in to her song, and completely unfair in a real way. She’s not going to let that go. You messed up her name in front of a billion people!
I think the only one that wins in all of this is maybe Idina Menzel because if people didn’t know who she was they do now.
BE: Exactly. Yeah. It’s great. More people actually know who Adele Dazeem is and she doesn’t even exist.
Next page… Billy’s relationship status and that Parks and Rec gig
When I’ve talked to comedians in the past, a lot of times it surprises me that they are pretty low key, and sometimes even shy. Where do you fall in that?
BE: I’m pretty normal, I think. I’m like normal to shy. I’m pretty average in terms of that. I have a big group of friends and we’ve all been friends since college, and I have, of course, friends that I’ve made since then, a handful of friends…and when I’m with them, I’m opinionated and loud, the way friends are. But if I walk into a party, and I don’t know people there, and I don’t know if they know me, I’m really shy, and I will stick to like whoever my plus one is.
Are you a flirt at all? Like if you see a cute guy you want to say hi to…?
BE: No! Oh, God, no! No. No. No! I’m very shy when it comes to that. Yeah, I like triple confirmation that someone is in to me. Part of it is shy and part of it is like I can’t be bothered on some level. Like it’s just so time consuming. Flirting, I find so time consuming.
It’s like cut to the chase.
BE: It’s just kind of annoying. That’s me. Fuck the chase. I just want to know, ‘Are we going to f**k?” Because if not, really, I have enough friends.
Gimme that dollar, Billy!
So what’s your status now? Single? Are you coupled? What’s happening?
BE: Oh, I’m single. I might get into the idea. I’m not a relationship person, historically, but I’m not against the idea. But I have to say, I’m very work focused. And this is a pretty exhausting show, and I love it, but you know I’m an executive producer, and I edit the episodes, and I write, and I’m also on Parks and Rec, and there’s a lot of traveling…and I’m not complaining. It’s just kind of what the deal is right now, but we’ll see.
Tell me about Parks and Rec. Did it come along because you knew Amy, or I know Rashida Jones was on your show last year. How did it come about?
BE: People think that, but the truth of the matter is that I knew I had fans from Parks and Rec, not only the actors but in the writer’s room, and the executive producers, and the creators of Parks and Rec, Mike Schur and Dan Goor. I had never met them before. I heard they were fans, and we became Twitter friends. We were following each other on Twitter, and we were just chatting, like DM’ing each other on Twitter, and you know we decided, ‘Let’s hang out. Let’s meet.’ And it wasn’t through agents, or anything, it was just very direct, which is such a new concept because Twitter allows all of us to just talk to each other and connect to people.
I really assumed it would be, you know I heard it was going to be for one or two episodes, and even one line I would have been thrilled, honestly, because it’s such a great show, and it’s my first sitcom, and I ended up on ten episodes and it’s kind of a miracle.
What are you obsessed with, TV show wise? Do you have time to watch anything?
BE: Well, truthfully no. But now that Billy on the Street is launching, I have a few more episodes to edit, we wrapped Parks and Rec, and I’m going to have a little free time for the first time since, I don’t know, last July, probably, honestly…I have been keeping up with Girls, and I’ve been watching that new show, Looking, on HBO, because I feel some sort of social obligation…I think the actors are good. I think it’s shot in a very pretty way. I mean, I keep watching it, so I must be somewhat invested. You know, I don’t know. It’s a little like uneventful for me. That’s kind of an oft cited complaint about the show. People say it’s boring. I don’t know if boring is the right word. It’s just not particularly thrilling. It is what it is. I’m happy that it exists. I wish it had a little bit more punch to it, if that makes any sense.
Billy On The Street airs Wednesdays at 11pm on Fuse. For more Billy, follow him on Twitter.