Recently, a lot of crazy things have happened to Billy Eichner. There was that day last May when he discovered he was an Emmy nominee, honored for his Fuse TV game show Billy on the Street . Or that time, just a week ago, in which he stood in front of a crowd of 2000 at the Beacon Theater, listening to Paul Rudd help introduce the first few episodes of the series' third season, which premieres March 12. Or that afternoon last year, when, filming a scene for the show, he found himself cheering on Rachel Dratch as she crawled through a burrito, although by Eichner's standards, that might've actually been a relatively normal day. But of all the things that have happened to Eichner in the last few years, nothing is as crazy as the time when he met Meryl Streep.
"As you may know, I have an ongoing obsession with Meryl," Eichner said in an interview with Bustle. "Andy [Cohen, of Watch What Happens Live] showed her clips of me screaming 'Meryl fucking Streep' — watching her watch those clips was maybe the most surreal moment of my life."
And for a guy who makes his living yelling pop culture questions at strangers on the street, that's saying something.
Eichner, 35, is something of an anomaly in Hollywood. He is a comedian, having gotten his start with standup acts and stage shows, and he is an actor, with a recurring role on Parks and Recreation ("to have your first sitcom be Parks and Rec... I mean, it’s the best ensemble of comedy actors on television"). Mostly, though, he is a fan.
Whether it's dragging Amy Poehler down the streets of New York City, complimenting Lena Dunham on Twitter, or, yes, shouting "Meryl fucking Streep!" at anyone who will listen, Eichner is known more for his celebrity obsessions than anything else — but while for most people, that unabashed worship would act as a deterrent in making it in Hollywood, for Eichner, it's the reason for his considerable success. He's a talk show host just as, if not more, obsessed with his guests as the millions of fans who tune in to Billy on the Street every week, and because of that, his schtick feels sincere.
So it's telling that of all the people featured on his show, Eichner's favorites aren't the celebrities, but the strangers.
"The heart of the show is the real people that I meet on the street," he said. "We got all kinds of lunatics and crazies, and some of them not so crazy, just smart New Yorkers who really give as good as they get... those are always my favorites."
As fans of Billy on the Street know, there've been plenty of memorable guests, but a few in particular stand out. There was Elena, a contestant on Season 1 whose annoyance with Eichner, as well as her acerbic personality, made her one of the show's most famous faces. At last week's season three premiere, Eichner brought Elena, who's featured again on the show this year, out as a surprise guest, and the New Yorker received a standing ovation.
"Billy on the Street, if it's about anything at all, it's about people like Elena," Eichner said. "She's brilliantly funny, although she doesn’t really comprehend why... she was one of my favorite contestants ever, and she deserved that standing ovation at the Beacon."
And then there was the woman Eichner met last year who was dead-set on convincing him that Denzel Washington (wrongly) starred in Phantom of the Opera.
"That woman just killed me," Eichner said. "As a Broadway fan, that was like, the height of absurdity for me."
Or the woman last season who misunderstood the "For a Dollar" portion of the show and tried to give him a dollar, because she thought he felt bad that the show Weeds was ending.
"I told her, I’m gonna send it to Mary Louise Parker," he said, laughing at the memory.
This season, Eichner promises even higher levels of craziness on Billy on the Street, with antics that include a "destructive" episode with Lindsay Lohan and some "really bizarre games" that make the show's tone "a little edgier."
"It's not gonna be, you know, Real Time with Bill Maher," he said. "But I'm injecting my point of view where I can, and in a way that works for the show. I’m excited because the show needs to evolve, and I can’t wait to see what people say."
With ever-increasing ratings and major promotion, including a glowing recent profile in the New York Times, Eichner will certainly not lack for public opinion.
"Even people on other shows that are not affiliated with Fuse or Funny or Die have been so supportive of this show," Eichner said. "Conan O'Brien sending me around the world, Andy Cohen having me on his show all the time... I’m doing The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon next week, and we’re gonna play a game with him and the audience, and you know, the whole thing, it’s wild. So much of the success of the show can be attributed to great comic talents like that embracing it, and as a comedian trying to make it, nothing means more to me than that."
One of Eichner's biggest and earliest supporters is Joan Rivers, who attended Eichner's live shows in 2005 and 2006 and befriended the young comedian. At the time, Rivers hadn't yet experienced the "renaissance" of Fashion Police and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, and, together, along with a pre-Watch What Happens Live Andy Cohen, they co-hosted a Bravo talk show pilot. While the series didn't get picked up, the trio stayed close.
"Joan's like my show business godmother," Eichner said.
Recently, Eichner ran into Rivers on plane from Los Angeles ("if the plane crashes literally no one will mention me," he tweeted) and the two engaged in a (fake) Twitter war, taking photos of each other and posting snide comments.
"Jennie Garth was also sitting behind us, but we didn’t really care about her," Eichner said, laughing.
A few years ago, Eichner might not have been able to getting away with saying that — or, for that matter, posting unapproved photos of Joan Rivers' plane attire — but today, anything's fair game. And three years into Billy, some of the very stars Eichner so often jokes about on the show are instead choosing to take part in the fun themselves. This season, Olivia Wilde, Lena Dunham, Neil Patrick Harris, and plenty of others all show up, doing everything from sprinting down 5th Ave to, in Dunham's case, (almost) milking a cow.
"I’m just trying to keep people on their toes," Eichner said. "I think the show remains pretty unpredictable in a way that it needs to be."
The host's dream way of shaking things up? Getting his ultimate obsession, Meryl Streep herself, to appear on the show.
"To have her in my world and my natural habitat — I think it's something the fans want to see," Eichner said.
And the crazy thing is, with the success of Billy and Eichner's already impressive roster of celebrity guests, that's not so far off a possibility.
"Hopefully, one day," Eichner said, wistfully. "We’re working on it."