Over the past few years, comedian Billy Eichner has become a force to be reckoned with. Earlier this year, the actor finished his two-season run as Craig Middlebrooks on Parks and Recreation. And while this may have been the comedian’s first big introduction to the mainstream, the UCB-trained actor has created hilarious content on the Internet for well over a decade.
After making his mark with Creation Nation: A Live Talk Show, Eichner was approached by FuseTV after his parody of Jay Z’s Empire State of Mind — featuring Rachel Dratch on backing vocals — went viral. Soon, his “On the Street” segment from Creation Nation was transformed into the on-the-spot game show / talk show hybrid we know as Billy on the Street.
On Thursday, October 8, the new season will premiere on truTV at 10:30pm, finding Billy Eichner returning to the streets of New York to once again bring unsuspecting pedestrians into his high energy quiz show. This year, Eichner welcomes a whole slew of celebrity guests to help him out, including Tina Fey, Chris Pratt, Bill Hader, Julianne Moore, Anna Kendrick, and more.
Last month, I met with the man himself at Funny or Die’s headquarters where we discussed what to expect in the new season, the savvy of New Yorkers, the appeal of Jewish food, and the obvious f*ckability of Chris Pratt.
Hey, here’s something you probably haven’t heard much: Happy New Year!
Thank you. It’s a little late, but I’ll take it.
I’ll give it. You make a reference to prune hamantaschen in your video parody of Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” Prune? Really?
Oh, I’m pretty non-practicing, but I do like the food!
What is your go-to holiday Jew food? My wife isn’t very fond of that jar of gefilte fish that has taken up residence in my fridge.
Ew, I’m not really into that stuff.
That jellied white fish gets a bad rap, man. However, it seems to last forever and will probably feed us well when the apocalypse hits.
I like a matzah ball, and I really liked a matzah brei when I was a kid. You know, anything eggy and fried. I love a pastry, you know… I like all that stuff. But now, I’m in L.A., so I only eat protein bars.
Are you living in L.A. now?
I’m here for half the year.
Let me get this straight. You shoot each season of Billy on the Street in New York, yet you edit every episode out here?
Yep. Right in this building.
How exactly does that schedule work?
This year, for instance, I shot Difficult People in January and February in New York, did pre-production for Billy on the Street in March and April, shot Billy on the Street — we don’t shoot every day — May through early August, came out here, watched all the footage, and now I’m editing all the episodes. I have a busy life.
Your show has a very improvisational feel, yet there is a writing staff. How exactly does that process work for each episode? I’m assuming as I’ve never been to New York, that it’s a bit more of a chaotic environment than here in L.A.?
Wait, you’ve never been to New York!?
Your shock is a common reaction.
Never even once?
Nope. According to the moral majority, I’ve never truly experienced a proper bagel or pizza.
That’s really strange.
Don’t get me wrong, the desire to visit is there! Do you think Billy on the Street would ever be able to work anywhere else?
Oh, it wouldn’t work in L.A. No one walks around here.
That Missing Persons song still holds up.
I’ve done segments elsewhere like for Conan, but it’s a very New York show that heavily relies on New York attitudes and, I think more than anything, the diversity of New York is something you just don’t get in most other places. In terms of the writing process… basically, the writers and I come up with the questions, game ideas, ideas for obstacle courses, and then once I’m on the street, you can kind of tell. Like, I start off with a list of potential questions in my mind, but then a bus will go by and I’ll see a picture of Tom Hardy, and then in my head, I’ll think of 10 Tom Hardy questions.
You’ve been talking to pedestrians for a long time now. With the amount of footage you get, has there ever been a scene you ended up having to cut due to its outlandish or violent nature?
It’s never gotten violent. There were like one or two people over the years who got really pissed that may have pushed me aside or pushed my cameraman, but it’s never been more than that, and I’ve been shooting these videos since 2004. You know, I think New Yorkers are very savvy. They might not be friendly and they might not want to participate — 90 percent of the people I walk up to just walk away and don’t communicate with me at all — but to actually physically hit me or something, it’s never gotten to that point.
Speaking of your camera crew, how long is that microphone cord?
I’m attached to the camera.
Exactly. You’re running around all over the place. That’s gotta be risky for everyone involved.
Our camera team are the unsung heroes of the show. If I’m running — and we are running — I’m running towards you with Chris Pratt. My camera team, which are two camera guys and a sound guy, are running with cameras on their shoulders at our speed, and backwards in order to capture us running forward. They are unbelievably, relentlessly, kick-ass, and brave. Honestly, I don’t know how they do it.
Tina Fey is your guest in the premiere, and, as you mentioned, Chris Pratt will show up this season. Is there still that one dream celebrity “get” that you’ve been aiming to have on your show?
I’ve talked about Meryl Streep a lot on the show, for years. It’d be pretty great to get Meryl on. We have Julianne Moore this year, so I feel like we’re close. Once you have Julianne, you’re getting closer to Meryl. Other than that, though, we’ve had so many great people on the show that it’s hard to say at this point. We’ve filmed with Michelle Obama, Letterman, who is like one of my childhood icons, Madonna, who I loved as a kid… I mean, I don’t know. We just want to be with funny, entertaining, interesting people at this point. It’s not like, “Oh God, I really hope we get Beyonce!” I mean, maybe we’ll get her and maybe we won’t, but at the end of the day, it’s not a race to get the most famous person you can get. It has to be a person who’s game and who really wants to do the show. You know, we recently found out that Rihanna is a fan and we’ve been talking to her. That would be fun. But, we just want people who are game and who have the right attitude.
The concept for Billy on the Street was spawned from your old series Creation Nation. Were there any other segments from that show that you’d like to see turned into series?
I don’t think so. This was sort of the one segment that made sense as its own TV show. I mean, the rest of Creation Nation was like a live, late night talk show. I’d come out and do a topical monologue, there was a band where we’d do funny songs, and I’d interview celebrities. I would do these funny live movie reviews and there were dancers, so there wasn’t just one thing. Maybe one day there might be some Billy talk show/variety show-type of situation down the line that borrows elements from that show beyond the “On the Street” videos, but I don’t think there’s one sketch in particular that lends itself to a whole series.
A Billy Eichner talk show doesn’t sound out of the question, though. But, as you said earlier, you have a busy life. Speaking of, congratulations on Hulu’s renewal of Difficult People.
Do you think Billy will ever get the redemption he desires?
Well, that’s up to Julie Klausner.
I mean, sure, she writes every episode, but do you ever slide her some input or suggestions? The Participator was such a good match for you!
She writes it with our showrunner Scotty King. I don’t write it at all. They do allow me to improvise a lot. A lot of the scenes that feature me and Julie bantering, you can kind of tell. The whole Chelsea Handler riff in the pilot was completely improvised by us on the spot. There’s lots of things like that like when I tell her she looks like Bill Burr. But in the bigger group scenes, there’s much less improv. We really stick to script because everyone riffing would just take forever. But in terms of, like, the arc of the character and the plot points, that’s all Julie and Scotty. And there are other writers, too, but I’m not one of them.
Do you ever yearn for that kind of responsibility there?
Well, that’s what’s fun for me about the show. I mean, Billy on the Street is like this mammoth production that I have to look over, so it’s really nice for me to be able to just be the actor; to just step in and concentrate on my part, and if I come up with some funny jokes to say, then great! But beyond that, it’s really up to Julie.
Has Julie clued you in on what’s in store for season two?
They’re writing the new episodes right now, and I think there’s going to be more personal stuff, like more dating. I think people liked more than just me bantering with Julie about celebrities. I think people liked seeing me date The Participator and being judgmental about that. You know, just like the story with Fred Armisen and seeing me have a family and boyfriends. It’s that stuff that you haven’t seen me do, and I think people enjoy that. And I really liked doing that, as well.
We definitely get to see more of Billy’s human side as the season progressed. That’s not to say, people don’t love the bantering and the yelling. And speaking of yelling, what do you think Craig has been up to since Parks and Rec ended earlier this year?
I’ve been meaning to send him a card!
Yeah, Craig got married to Typhoon and, I mean, Craig had his happily ever after. Craig got married and I am sure they are very happy.
Speaking of Parks and Recreation, it’s been requested by a fan to ask you this slightly profane question.
MARRY. F*CK. KILL: Nick Offerman, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott.
I already know my answer.
Wait, are you gay?
No, I’m just very comfortable.
Aren’t we all? Adam Scott, Nick Offerman, or Chris Pratt? Oh, that’s tough. You definitely choose to live with Nick Offerman, so you marry Nick Offerman, for sure.
Definitely. You’ll never have to go furniture shopping ever again.
Everything about Nick Offerman is perfect. Damn, I really like them all! So, Chris Pratt’s on my show this year, and since I’m not marrying him, I know it’d be a dream for him to have me f*ck him.
Well, I do believe this was a no-brainer.
So, I’m going to say I’ll f*ck Chris Pratt and, although I love Adam Scott, I’m not marrying him. And, wait, you know what? He’s not on my show! He hasn’t done my show! So, I’ll kill him because he’s worthless to me. By the way, just for the record, I would love to have Adam Scott on my show. I’d have sex with him, too!
Well, this just took a strange turn.
Yeah… but, he hasn’t checked any of those boxes. So, I’m going to kill him off.