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Actor Jeff Hiller Makes a Nerdy Christian With a Combover Sexy

Jeff Hiller
Photo by Neil Goldberg

The star of HBO's new offbeat hit Somebody Somewhere on finally cracking the code to success.

Sometimes when I see a new show pop up, I have what you might call hesitation anxiety. "What if I press play, and it sucks?" Or, "What if I press play and get sucked in?"

With all the urgent matters going on in the world, these questions seem pithy at best.

So, recently, I pressed play on HBO's new comedy Somebody Somewhere and I'm happy to report that I got sucked in.

The news that this offbeat hit is being renewed for a second season was welcomed news to the show's co-star actor and comedian Jeff Hiller, who has made a geeky, nerdy, gay Christian with a combover and glasses sexy, and who can finally quit his myriad day jobs.

I had the chance to speak with Hiller, and the call can only be described as a laugh a minute. Hiller is uproariously funny, and we spent the time swapping crazy stories about our lives.

He told me about his pride in being among the original cast and about his time as a waiter when the first Appleby's opened in Manhattan, and I told him about my short stint as a Manhattan waiter when I tossed grated parmesan cheese over a group of businessmen at a working lunch.

When we got down to business, I had to begin by asking him the most pertinent question on my mind. How do you make the nerdy character of Joel on the show sexy? "Mmm, I don't have an answer to that since no one has ever asked," he bellowed with his signature laugh. "I'm in shock right now. I definitely did not intend to make him a hot piece of ass; however, maybe he is sexy because he's completely authentic, true to self, and those are attractive qualities.

"And there is his hair and big mouth, which are like magnets to attract guys," he chuckled.

Hiller, who is 46 and hails from Texas, plays the best friend to the series lead character, Sam -- played by actress, writer, and singer Bridget Everett. The series is semi-autobiographical about her own life. Set in Manhattan, Kan., the show's characters are an eclectic and diverse group of 40-plus-year-old adults who are all still trying to figure out where and how they fit into life.

In the show, Hiller's Joel is in a back and forth, up and down, in and out relationship with his ex, boyfriend, and ex again Michael (Jon Hudson Odom), leading to the perception that Joel has commitment phobia. But his heart seems to truly lie with Sam, and in episode seven, she sings a very touching song about her soulmate.

How did it feel to finally end up in the big time as a star of a hit HBO series? "It feels better than great," he said with pride. "I absolutely love this show as a viewer and as an actor. I'm so happy to be employed and in a show that honestly depicts people who are experiencing confusion in middle age."

However, Hiller admitted that the show can be hard to describe. "When people ask me what the show's about, I sort of say, mmm, well..."

Mashable said that the heart of the show is the chemistry between Everett's Sam and Hiller's Joel. I undertook a careful examination and discerned that Hiller's now joins the pantheon of HBO show's glitterati of best friends, including Miranda Hobbs (Cynthia Nixon) to Carrie in Sex in the City, Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) to Tony from the Sopranos, and Karen Collins (Lennon Parham) to Selina from Veep.

"Wow, I didn't realize I was in such good company, but I'll take it," he said proudly. "Come to think of it, some days I'm like Miranda, and some days I'm definitely Karen. I'm sort of all over the place, I guess."

Hiller has been all over the place, with a long and eclectic list of television shows, films, and theater work in his over 20-year career. He is also a regular performer at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater in New York and Los Angeles. He is also the founder of three all-gay improv groups.

"Oprah convinced me, not personally of course, to move to New York over 20 years ago to pursue my dream of becoming an actor," recalls Hiller. "And since I've arrived, I've only toiled in numerous jobs in the entertainment world, but also lots of odd jobs to pay the bills."

Hiller detailed that he could write an entire essay about all the jobs he's worked to get where he is today. "I worked for the college boards and was a costumed character for a while at the famous Manhattan Jekyll & Hyde Club. I also did tons of clerical jobs, worked at both famous chains like Barnes & Noble and of course the Olive Garden. I taught CPR, was a waiter again, and taught improv classes to students, corporate professionals, land lawyers as part of continuing education programs. Things are much better now that I finally have steady work as an actor."

For Hiller, the support of his family has been immeasurable. 'My mom died in 2016, and I keep thinking how thrilled she would be. She used to read all the comments under the YouTube sketches I posted. She'd be so happy to read all the wonderful things people are saying about the show, and me, on Instagram."

Has his newfound celebrity caused people to stop him on the street? "Oh my God, yes," he exclaimed. "It's happened twice, and I was so excited that I took pictures of them instead of them taking pictures of me," Hiller said with his infectious laugh.

Hiller has been happily married for seven years to his husband, a visual art instructor who is an adjunct professor at several colleges, including Yale. "We've been together for the last 14 years, so he's seen all my ups and downs," Hiller said affectionately. "I think we're both enjoying what's happening now."

The pair live in Manhattan's lower east side, and Hiller still performs at an improv comedy club in the neighborhood once a week.

I asked Hiller what we might expect from Joel in season two of the show. "I don't know yet of course, since we just got renewed. But the show has amazing writers, so I know they'll come up with something great for Joel. My hope is that he continues his journey of self-discovery, and who knows maybe he'll get married and get cool wedding gifts like a Vitamix and Dyson," Hiller said, with one of this patented, sexy one-liners.

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John Casey

John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.
John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.