EXCLUSIVE: Billy Eichner on Emmy-Nominated 'Billy on the Street' and the Sketch That Went Badly
By Rande Iaboni
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Billy Eichner is taking Hollywood by storm one hit series at a time. While the comedian-actor is currently filming the upcoming season of American Horror Story: Cultand promoting the third season of Hulu’s Difficult People, Eichner is also celebrating an Emmy nomination for the show that started it all for him.
TruTV’s Billy on the Street, which finds Eichner roaming the streets of New York with celebrities and asking pedestrians outrageous pop-culture trivia questions, received its first Emmy nomination this year for Best Variety Sketch Series.
“We are a little show that really came a long way,” Eichner gushed when he sat down with ET’s Nischelle Turner at Tavern on the Green in New York City on Tuesday.
The series, which has been on for five seasons, is up against some serious heavy hitters in the category, including Saturday Night Live.
“I grew up watching Saturday Night Live,” Eichner commented. “I still think we should beat them,” he quipped.
It is that same unfiltered honesty that has made Eichner a household name over the last few years.
On the series, Eichner has hit the streets with the likes of Chris Pratt, Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell and even former first lady, Michelle Obama!
“That was crazy,” Eichner admitted. “That one is obviously the highlight.”
Still, even rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s most famous didn’t mean Eichner was expecting a nomination this year.
“I’m actually shooting American Horror Story right now and so we had a late night the night before [nominations were announced] and I thought the year before we might get nominated and we didn’t,” Eichner revealed.
“So I thought, this year, I’m just gonna sleep in and if there’s a reason to wake me up, someone will wake me up, and they did," he added.
Fans of the show each have their favorite sketches, whether it’s a Scientology adventure course with Rachel Dratch, or convincing pedestrians that Seth Rogen has died, all while Rogen is standing right there filming the whole thing.
Eichner has his own standouts.
“Amy Poehler and I once ambushed people and made them sing Christmas carols with us,” he quickly answered.
“We did one with Chris Pratt, where we just walked around and asked people to identify who he was…the average person can’t necessarily on the spot identify a really famous actor. I thought it was so funny,” Eichner said before adding, “Very few people said Chris Pratt and he was such a good sport and it was really funny.”
Not every celebrity is always game, though, especially if they aren’t familiar with Eichner’s antics.
“The rapper, Nas, did the show,” Eichner explained. “I think maybe Nas wasn’t properly prepared for me and he didn’t know who I was or what I was about.”
“He showed up expecting a traditional sort of interview, which is not what it is, and he didn’t immediately know where I was coming from,” Eichner revealed.
“I think he was offended,” Eichner added before admitting that many people involved with the show advised him not to air it.
“I said, ‘Oh no, I live for that moment. That’s real.' You know the show is real when you’re watching that. You can’t fake that.”
“We’ve had amazing people. They know that if they’re coming to do Billy on the Street, they have to be game,” Eichner explained. “You have to be open to anything. You literally don’t know what’s gonna happen on the street. It’s not rehearsed, it’s not staged, it’s completely spontaneous.”
The original charm of the show was Eichner, a relative unknown, ambushing everyday people on the street with a camera and microphone. Now that he is becoming more and more recognizable every day, the challenges for the show are growing.
“It has gotten harder,” Eichner confessed. “I think it’s a good mix of people who do recognize me and still people who don’t.”
“Luckily, the show has gotten very popular, but I stayed just under the radar enough," he added.
For those chomping at the bit for more Billy on the Street (the show last aired back in February), they may have to wait a lot longer than they were hoping to.
“I did American Horror Story this summer instead of Billy on the Street because we usually shoot over the summer,” Eichner admitted.