Rashida Jones joined Billy Eichner for a taping in midtown Manhattan for “Billy on the Street” this past August. The show is back for a second season on Fuse. | Angela Cranford/MSG Photos
It’s like no game show you’ve ever seen. But if you’re watching a taping, it’s entirely by accident.
Funny or Die’s “Billy on the Street,” a pop-culture trivia contest starring comedian Billy Eichner, is back for a second season (9 p.m. Fridays) on Fuse, a small cable channel with outsize influence: This season brings guest stars Maya Rudolph, Debra Messing, Zachary Quinto, Will Ferrell (a partner in the “Funny or Die” humor Web site) and others.
Many are fans of Eichner, 34, who has a burgeoning presence on Twitter, as a guest correspondent for Conan and on Billy, where he chases would-be players down Manhattan streets to shout frequently absurd questions about celebrities and their work.
In one game, they have 30 seconds to quickly distinguish Train songs from mommy blogs, or Chris Brown lyrics from serial-killer quotations. A multiple-choice round, always delivered breathlessly, offers added pressure: “According to Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks’ wife, what has she not touched in 20 years? A) A straightening iron; B) her sons; C) caffeine; D) spinach pie.”
For other queries, the correct answer is simply the one he agrees with. Offering a $1 prize, he’ll ask if they prefer Charlize Theron or Anne Hathaway (Theron), Rihanna or Beyonce (the latter).
Eichner says his fascination with pop culture began in early childhood, as “a big fat Jewish gay kid in Queens who really liked watching TV. My parents would buy me oak tag and I would write out my list of Oscar predictions for that year.”
He acted briefly, appearing in an off-Broadway play as John Goodman’s son (“because I was fat”). He studied theater at Northwestern University and eventually starred in his own live show, taping video segments that spawned his aggressively comical Street persona, prone to “absurdly angry rants about celebrities with an insane amount of passion and urgency about pop culture,” he says.
YouTube videos were later posted on Funny or Die, which inquired about new projects that led to the game show. (In addition to Fuse, segments from the show are available on billyonthestreet.com, and entire episodes can be purchased on iTunes a day after they first air.)
Eichner adores Madonna and Meryl Streep, dismissing any contestant who begs to differ, and is most easily annoyed by what he calls the “inauthentic” Taylor Swift, who also loses points for having dated John Mayer.
In one episode, Ferrell participates in a screaming contest with three little girls to win an American Girl doll, and in a game called “Would Drew Barrymore Like This?” in which he’s asked whether the actress has affection for grapes, salad and going to movies.
Some everyday New Yorkers seem to recognize Eichner and happily play along, even with extremely low-stakes prizes (a stack of copy paper, a used comforter); others are visibly frightened, fleeing the scene. And “sometimes I scream at someone and they have literally no reaction,” he says. “They just keep walking, and that is so New York for me.”
Gannett News Service