The uproariously funny comedian and actor Murray Hill has described himself in the past as “the hardest-working middle-aged man in showbiz.” And for Hill, who just turned 50, this descriptor is especially true in the early months of 2022.
The hard-to-miss Hill first popped up as a series regular in HBO’s critically acclaimed series Somebody Somewhere. And last week he emerged again as a costar in Amy Schumer’s new Hulu sitcom Life & Beth.
When I caught up with Hill recently, I congratulated him on his success and asked him how life was treating him now. “Thank you so much, but I think I’m the longest overnight success story in Hollywood history,” he shot back. “I’m in three TV shows right now, and it’s been a long time getting to this point.”
The trans star noted that in addition to the Hulu and HBO shows, he was lucky enough to shoot an episode for producers Paul Feig and Jenny Bicks’s new mockumentary show, Welcome to Flatch, on Fox. “My first network show, and after over 20 years in the business, it really did take a long time to get to this point, and I’m enjoying every moment.”
Hill’s journey to stardom and his personal journey to the present-day Murray Hill were the result of some luck and some bold decisions on his part, despite many obstacles about how he and others viewed him.
“My personal story is a very long one, but I won’t bore you with all the details,” he recalled. “Suffice to say that when I was growing up there really weren’t any queer, gay, and trans people that I could look up to, and there was no internet to try and search for those people. So I felt pretty lonely.”
“At that time, I was what you called a ‘tom boy,’ and I thought I was a boy pretty much the whole time I was growing up. There wasn’t acceptance for the way I felt, and there was religion that condemned you if you felt different. There were a lot of problems growing up that interfered with being my true self.”
It wasn’t until Hill moved to Boston in the early 1990s that he encountered queer life. “First, I didn’t think I was gay, but I was fascinated with the drag world. I love photography, so I ended up photographing drag queens. It was almost like a hobby, but it taught me a lot about expressing your personal freedom.”
When Hill moved to New York City, he continued to visit drag clubs with his camera. “There was a club called The 99999's at Flamingo East, and there was Wigstock, and as I began to capture all these beautiful queens, it suddenly dawned on me that there needed to be more kings. Where were they?”
Hill eventually found HerShe Bar, which was presenting a drag king pageant. “I took so many pictures there,” he recalled. “Here was a world where women dressed as men. It was a remarkably whole diff experience. That’s when I started performing in downtown clubs, emceeing, and doing stand-up, and I even ran for mayor of New York City in 1997. My persona began to develop around this time, and I would do impressions of famous males, including Elvis and John Travolta. It was funny, it was campy, and being campy is great for a live performer.”
And almost 30 years later, Hill may have finally arrived in the big time. “I’ve known Bridget [Everett, the creator and star of Somebody Somewhere) for over 20 years. I remember the first time I met her at a club in Williamsburg [a Brooklyn neighborhood]. I was emceeing, and she wanted to perform and sing, and I said, ‘Great, you go on at 11:30.’ And the rest is history. In addition to being so funny, she’s an incredibly talented singer which she was able to demonstrate in the show.”
Hill became part of a multicultural and ethnically diverse show. “The cool thing about the show is that Bridget didn’t just check boxes about everyone’s background. She picked and cast people that had relevant experiences to the characters. She picked people who were their true selves. Not everyone is a gym bunny. It’s a slice of life of a small town in Kansas. The cast gelled terrifically, and we were all pumped and were all so happy to be there.”
Next up was Schumer’s Life & Beth. I told Hill that the character of Murray in the show, Schumer’s boss at a wine distributor, had to be written for him. Was I right? “Yes, it was written for me, but nevertheless I had to audition three times. That’s showbiz for ya!”
The Daily Beast said of Hill’s character in the show, “To make work even more of a living hell, karaoke is another mandated activity enforced by boss Murray (the excellent Murray Hill is having a moment).”
If you watch the show and follow Hill’s character closely, there’s one thing you might pick up on. “No one ever called out the character of Murray, meaning that the script never had anyone questioning whether Murray was queer or trans or nonbinary,” Hill explained. “Murray was just a character in the show, and for me, that was really special. I think that finally the culture has caught up, so there’s no need to try to explain a character like Murray, and that’s a great thing.”