Billy Eichner on 9 Great ‘Billy on the Street’ Moments – Rolling Stone
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Billy Eichner on 9 Great ‘Billy on the Street’ Moments

From Michelle Obama’s shopping-cart ride to Lindsay Lohan’s auto destruction, comedian gives us the scoop on nine memorable ‘Billy’ bits

Billy Eichner on 10 Great 'Billy on the Street' Moments

Art Strieber/truTV

It used to be that man-on-the-street shows were a dime a dozen — that was, at least, until Billy Eichner came along. The host of cult sensation Billy on the Street is known for his signature interview style, which falls somewhere between the gossipy best friend you just met and a rabid attack dog. Each episode of Tru TV's comedy game show features Eichner running up to strangers on the sidewalks of Manhattan and asking them questions like, "Are you jealous of Beyoncé's success?" or "Who's weirder: Tom Cruise or John Travolta?" If he agrees with the answer, he'll give them a dollar; if he doesn't, he'll scream at them and storm away. (Don't even ask about "Quizzed in the Face.") Sometimes, a celebrity – Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Chris Pratt – or his sidekick, a cranky sixtysomething named Elena, tag along while he does his his disruptive shenanigans. Other times, he’ll just let Lindsay Lohan takes a sledgehammer to a car covered with pictures of the How I Met Your Mother cast.

With the show's fifth season kicking off tonight, we caught up with Eichner to get the backstories behind some of Billy on the Street's most memorable moments – from a Shonda Rhimes–themed obstacle course to a supermarket outing with First Lady Michelle Obama.

Art Strieber/truTV

Shondaland With Amy Sedaris

Shondaland is the name of Shonda Rhimes' company, and I thought, what if it was an actual destination? That was the germ of the idea, and then we decided that we could make that into an obstacle course. All the writers took a look at the various tropes that you find running through Shonda's work, and then thought about how we could turn those into these ridiculous obstacles. And we got Amy Sedaris, who I've always loved, to run it.

We were beginning to dip our toes into more socially conscious commentary – there's one obstacle where she has to run through a bunch of white people patting themselves on the back for embracing a black lead. It's still a bit gentle … or not, I guess, depending on your perspective. Aesthetically, it still fits into the very silly aesthetic of the show. I grew up obsessed with Double Dare and Pee-wee's Playhouse. So a lot of those games are inspired by the things I loved as a kid.

Art Strieber/truTV

Christmas Carol Ambush With Amy Poehler

I'm one of those Jewish kids who always wanted to be able to celebrate Christmas, so I'm a big sucker for Christmastime. We always do some holiday segment. Amy, of course, was as game as ever. Amy and I are obviously close because of Parks and Recreation and Difficult People — though Difficult People wasn't around in those days.

That became a running theme of Billy on the Street: bringing these very famous performers out onto the street, shoving them in people's faces and getting real-time reactions to them. The assumption being, of course, that people are gonna scream and go crazy at the prospect of meeting a famous person. And there's a little bit of that. But usually it's New Yorkers going about their day who just couldn't give a shit, which I think is so great.

And it's shocking sometimes to the actors themselves. One of the first versions of that we did was with Zachary Quinto, and I ran up to people and pointed to him and said, "Miss! It's Spock! Do you care?" Some people were happy and some people didn't care. Other people didn't believe it was him. There was one guy who kept repeating, "That's not Spock. That's not Spock." And Zach looked at me after we shot it and said, "Every actor should have to do this." I think it's healthy for people to see that the average person isn't really thinking about actors very much.

Art Strieber/truTV

‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ or ‘Django Unchained’?

We shot another game that day with Will Ferrell called "Scream for an American Girl Doll," and it was Will versus all these little girls to see who could scream the loudest. We had brought this girl [named] Annelise there to play that game – but we realized we had one too many girls, so we cut her out of it. I said, "Alright, let's make her feel better. I feel bad. Let's play a game with her." So I chose "Weekend at Bernie's or Django Unchained?", and she bizarrely answers everything correctly. I don't know if she was able to just figure it out through context, or whether she just guessed. But she was very charming.

I never want the show to be about exploiting people – you know, exploiting children, or people who are not mentally all there. There are a lot of other man-on-the-street things where you can find people doing that, and I like to think that we don't spend the majority of our time making fun of less intelligent people. But this year on the show, we have Jacob Tremblay, the little boy from Room, who is honestly one of the most intelligent guests we've ever had. He's brilliant. It's like walking around with a 45-year-old man.

Art Strieber/truTV

Mr. Singh Gets Quizzed in the Face

Other than the Elena segments, my favorite "Quizzed in the Face" was one early on with this Indian man named Mr. Singh. Billy on the Street is often a case study in: Don't judge a book by its cover. If someone is dressed in a certain way, I think, Oh, they're going to be really loud and opinionated. But then they have nothing to offer and they completely shy away from the camera. Then you walk up to people who seem like they might be shy or boring, and we have a really funny interaction and they end up being very opinionated. Or there might be an elderly person who you don't think is gonna know a certain pop culture reference, but it turns out they saw that singer on Good Morning America that morning and they have a ton to say about them. So that's really the fun of it.

Mr. Singh was this middle-aged Indian man wearing a turban, and I did not expect him to know much about pop culture. But he knew a ton about Lindsay Lohan and Tara Reid and Shannen Doherty. He said such funny things about them, and he's so charming and so likable. It sounds cheesy, but it really is one of those "only in New York" moments. It's something that you want to happen, but you don't think will actually happen.

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