Before he was starring on the recently renewed Hulu series Difficult People , audiences knew Billy Eichner by his over-the-top character that accosts strangers on Billy on the Street. But the comedian is neither as psychotic as street savvy Billy, nor as obnoxious as Difficult's Billy, he's just witty, calm and composed, Billy. "I've been doing this act for years now," Eichner says of Billy on the Street. "It does get tiring, and it is a physically demanding persona."
Anyone who's caught a glimpse of Eichner doing his Billy routine on the sidewalks of Manhattan will agree that his physicality alone looks incredibly exhausting. Running up and down New York's busy streets — often with an A-list celebrity in tow — screaming, yelling, and generally being as animated as humanly possible is one reason Billy is so much fun to watch. "The guest lineup this season is outrageous. We've got Tina Fey, Chris Pratt, Jason Sudekis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Anna Kendrick, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader..." the 6' 2" comedian says without taking a breath. "To be on the street and be interacting with non show business people with those people I just mentioned is gonna lead to something surprising and shocking. It always surprises."
What's often surprising is when New York residents are approached by Eichner and an A-lister and have no idea who the celebrity is. "I'm always highly amused when they're not recognized," he says. "To us, we work in the media and we really revere these people. These are people that everyone is clamoring to get to into their party or get in their magazine, and you take them out onto the street to see the everyday person, and the everyday person is like, 'Can you get the f*ck out of my way? I have to go pick up my kid!'"
Despite the tiring persona, Eichner claims the humbling of celebrities in the face of the everyday New Yorker is one of the reasons he continues to do the show. "I like bringing everyone down a notch so we're all on an equal playing field. At the end of the day we have these stars on the show, but really, what's funny are the real people. Not that the stars aren't funny, but the magic happens when everyone is interacting together."
This magic is created with games like Lightning Round, where Eichner and his celebrity of choice ask those they pass questions like, "Do you think Jennifer Hudson peaked too soon?" or simply, "Miley Cyrus: Then and Now."
"We do this lightning round with Jason Sudekis where I'm in a different type of persona, I'm not the typical Billy on the Street persona... even though we're on the street," the 37-year-old reveals of a segment from Season 4 — though he wouldn't reveal what this new persona entails.
The season kicks off with a bang with the one and only Tina Fey, a guest star that had the usually outgoing Eichner nervous. "I have to say, I was a little intimidated by Tina. Driving to work with her to film that day, I was a little more nervous than I usually am, just because she's so smart and so funny. I wanted to do right by her," Eichner says. "She's a genius. She does more than talk to people, she eats a stranger's sandwich, she dances with this homeless person — I don't know if he's homeless, but he's certainly like a street character of some sort. She's rolling around on the ground at one point. Things that I didn't expect. But that is a testament to how smart she is. She knows if you're on Billy on the Street, you better be able to role on the f*cking ground."
While there are some guest stars Eichner is still trying to nail down — Meryl Streep, Rihanna, Steve Martin — he's already had a glut of impressive talent make appearances on the heavily improvised show. "Sarah Jessica Parker is a magical human being, and I'm in love with her," Eichner swoons. "One of the most surprising people we've gotten on the show, because she's not in my comedy world like Tina [Fey] or [Chris] Pratt — who I knew from Parks and Rec — is Julianne Moore. She literally did Billy on the Street the year she won an Oscar," he boasts.
Eichner describes how he got "one of our great actresses" on the show with a simple Twitter DM. "We didn't go through publicists, or managers, or agents, or anything. It was all over Twitter. She got back to me in like an hour — faster than a lot of people I personally know have gotten back to me. She has a f*cking Oscar."
Though Eichner promises there is no method to who he approaches on the street, sometimes he hits the comedic jackpot, like when he found Elena, a middle-aged woman who has appeared multiple times since her first appearance on the show way back when. "Elena is the funniest person we've ever run into on the show. She's funnier than me, and she's consistently funny. We had her playing against Lena Dunham, and I thought, 'What if Elena was just a flash in the pants? What if magic happened that one day, and she's not usually that person?' But she is, and that's what is amazing about her. She can't help but be herself," he says.
"I had an argument with Amy Poehler about her, because Amy can't believe that Elena is real and not putting it on. But I told her that we deal with Elena off camera. We deal with her behind the scenes. We took her to Washington D.C. to play against Michelle Obama," he recalls. "Just in dealing with her behind the scenes, we know, this is Elena, she is always like that. She's just hilarious, and she doesn't know it. She knows people like her, I don't think she understands why."
Billy on the Street's Season 4 premieres Thursday, Oct. 8, at 10:30 p.m. (ET/PT) on truTV.
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