Please Don't Scream at Us, Billy Eichner, We Love Your Show
BY Jami Smith
January 18 2012 11:50 AM ET
Funny or Die darling
Billy Eichner isn’t your everyday game show host. With his new television show, aptly titled Billy
On The Street, Eichner hosts an impromptu quiz
show where unsuspecting New Yorkers are ambushed on the sidewalk and forced to
answer hilarious (and entirely subjective) pop culture questions for money. The
premise of the show is simple, but the results are spectacular.
Eichner chats with The Advocate about going toe-to-toe with some headstrong
pedestrians and why Brad Pitt won’t win an Oscar this year.
When did you first get the idea of accosting people on the street with a
Billy Eichner: I
was doing a live show in New York back in 2005 called Creation Nation. It was a talk show, my version of what Letterman
does or The Daily Show, but we
didn’t have a TV show so we did it onstage at various Off Broadway theaters and
bars in the East Village. It developed a pretty big cult following in New York.
The host I played was a persona, a very exaggerated version of myself. One idea
that popped into my head was the original kernel of the idea for my man-on-the-street
act. At the time, I was a struggling actor/writer, and I thought it would be
funny if I went to my Korean dry cleaner and asked her opinion of my new
headshot, as if that were an important thing in the world. When you are a young
actor/comedian in New York, your fledgling career is the focus of your life and
people lose a lot of self awareness. I sort of played with that. I thought it
would be funny to run around New York asking people who wouldn’t give a shit
about my headshot as if it’s something everyone should weigh in on. That was
the original idea. We never actually shot that, but it led to going out to the
street and asking people about my career and about pop culture in general. The
first time we showed this at my show, people loved it. We would show it at the
end of the show and people would wait for it and clap when I started to
announce it. It had an incredible reaction every month and became a signature.
Now that it’s escalated into a television show, have
people starting looking for you on the street the way they look for the Cash
I’ve been in L.A. since the show started
airing but I came back for Christmas and I went into the Apple Store and one of
the employees said to me, “Are you Billy On The Street?” And I said “yes,” and he said, “Please
don’t scream at me.”
The thing I find most interesting is that you can never
predict how New Yorkers are going to respond to such an abrupt approach.
Anywhere else, people would be terrified. Here, some people don’t even flinch
when you run up to them.
It’s amazing. We get a really wide variety
of responses. Asian women have a tendency to get terrified and run away from
me. Other than that, it’s always so hard to predict. What you see on the show
is what you get. There is little to no pre-planning. We decide what
neighborhood to shoot in that day, and we turn the cameras on. I don’t know who
I’m going to approach until three seconds before I approach them. It’s not like
Cash Cab where contestants have some idea that they are about to
play a game of some sort. But here, it isn’t the case at all. I find that every
time I think someone that looks fun and crazy, nine times out of 10, they’re
boring. Then, I go up to the most unassuming old lady with like a cane, part of
me doesn’t want to scare her, but I’ll approach her and think, this person
will go nowhere. They are going to know nothing about Lady Gaga,” and she will launch into a five-minute diatribe
about her or Brad Pitt or whatever. It’s so unpredictable. That is the beauty
of New York.