Comedian Billy Eichner‘s pedestrian-attacking presence on the Fuse’s Billy on the Street is not just funny, it’s constantly jarring — and extraordinary and life-affirming that way.
The gonzo game show combines Eichner’s abrupt comic timing, love of pop culture, and tiny cash prizes. It capitalizes on his signature stage delirium, the style that the The New York Times once called “a theatrical phenomenon” in reviewing his 2005 fake late night talk show Creation Nation. Since then, his “Man on the Street” Q&As joined Funny Or Die’s clip roster, and that recognition earned him his Fuse show. Since he’s still shooting the show’s new season, we thought we’d catch up with the delirious comic and discuss his friend Joan Rivers, his new enemy Spike Lee, and what it feels like to bombard Super Bowl-winning football players with questions about Madonna. Follow him on Twitter at @billyeichner and watch Billy on the Street on Fuse every Thursday at 11 p.m. EST.
AfterElton: I also asked Bryan Safi this, but I feel like based on how quick your comic instincts are, you must be bored with most comedy out there right now. Are you?
Billy Eichner: I mean, I have people that I like a lot. I tend to gravitate to comedians who do different types of comedy than I do. My stuff is very pop culture, topical. And I love Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, and Sandra Bernhard, the people who discuss pop culture the way I do, but I also love Louis C.K. He’s so far away from what I do, but he’s so personal, sexual, and kind of raunchy. He’s also really honest. So there are definitely comedians I’m stimulated by. Then there are some who are very popular who I don’t find stimulating at all, and I don’t know why they’re popular. I won’t mention any names, but I respect people who can really write a joke. I like a really good joke combined with someone who’s really honest. There are some people out there who have a fake persona that they’ve made. I don’t respond well to that. Again, I won’t mention any names, but people who are like, “I’m drunk all the time! I’m a slut! Isn’t that crazy?” It’s like: I don’t believe you, and you’re not funny.
AE: Contrivance and insincerity can be pretty unfunny. And irritating.
BE: It’s just boring. It’s old. Of course, I’m playing a character too, a persona, and we all do even when we’re using our names. But the people who claim, “This is the real me just giving it you straight!”? I feel it’s just complete bullsh*t. They just want to be famous. Just shut up. And we all want to be famous, and that’s fine, but write a joke. Earn your fame. Don’t just sit on TV whining while other comedians make the jokes.
AE: Honestly, though everyone does want to be famous, a distinction needs to be made between the reasons people desire fame. Wanting popularity for absolutely no reason is much different than wanting fame because you believe you have the merit for it.
BE: I agree. Fame is a byproduct with pros and cons of a real pathological drive to entertain people and be adored for it among the people who get you. It’s a two-way street, but fame is not the motivating factor. That’s just crazy. The people I respect are the ones who — not to be namedrop-y, but I’ve just worked with Joan Rivers a lot — but Joan Rivers was supportive of me when nobody knew me and when I was just doing pilots that weren’t getting picked up. She was incredibly supportive. She has so much experience to draw on, obviously, and I have so much respect for her. And at the end of the day, Joan works. I don’t know if people know this or not, but you make zero to $500 when you go on a talk show. And minus taxes? Minus your agent’s commisssion and your management? That’s not a ton of money considering how much pressure it is to go on national TV and be funny. There are some people, some comedians who go on those talk shows and treat it like a burden. “This is just part of my junket. Hope you go see my movie.” But then there are people like Joan who go on those shows when they’re not even promoting anything, just to be funny. There’s a lot of respect for crafting a good joke, delivering it, making people laugh, and having a relationship with an audience. I like people who are motivated by the fact that they have raw talent, not that they don’t like being famous. No one is more honest about how they like being famous than Joan, but at the same time, the woman knows how to write and tell a joke. I see a lot of comedians who don’t do that. There’s that whole genre of comedy where they’re like, “I’m a storyteller!” And like, that’s fine, but tell a f*cking joke or I don’t care.
AE: I think anyone who saw her documentary A Piece of Work knows that Joan is the real deal. Her card catalog of jokes? Amazing.
BE: Yeah! You can be a fan of hers or not, but she has a talent. There’s talent there. Comic timing and ability. And I’m not saying I have those things, but I’m drawn to that. Those traits make me want to be one of those people. I’d rather be someone less successful who I respect than someone who’s trying to appeal to everyone.