Vox populi, or vox pop, is Latin for "voice of the people". It's a commonly used format used in talk shows where a host will ask questions of regular people walking around, usually to find out what the general public think about a subject.
On Billy on the Street, Billy Eichner takes the concept, supercharges it and terrifies people with it. Billy already knows the answers to the questions he's asking and if you don't agree with him you're wrong. How will you know? He'll yell at you.
But he didn't invent the concept. Here are a few other people that did it really well...
Norman Gunston at The Dismissal
Norman Gunston, played by Aussie legend Garry McDonald, was best known for his satirical interviews with celebrities. Occasionally though, McDonald took his alter ego to places where celebrity and the public intersected – such as the Dismissal of the ALP government in 1975, where he shares the stage with Gough Whitlam - and the results were always hilarious.
Tony Martin and Mick Molloy
This inclusion is possibly the result of bias, as I was a T-shirt-wearing fan of the post-D-generation, pre-Frontline variety comedy show, The Late Show. Either way, this classic string of questions on Sydney’s streets in 1993 after the Olympic bid always gets me, and if you enjoy it make sure you check out the still-relevant clip on ABC funding.
Drake in disguise asks the public about... Drake
Wordy rapper Drake might end up the butt of many a joke, but this clip from Jimmy Kimmel's TV show proves he’s a fairly switched-on guy and able to poke fun at his reputation as gangster-lite. One can easily see Drake’s hip-hop persona could be just as much of an act as this bearded alter-ego.
Jimmy Kimmel, the public and gluten
Another entry from Kimmel’s show. Part of a regular series, "Pedestrian Question", where he sends a staffer onto the streets to ask randoms a random question, only to pause prior to the answer and ask his audience whether the random will be correct. This segment addressed a burning question: can anyone who’s gluten-free actually describe gluten?
Sacha Baron Cohen takes to the street as himself
A brief, one-off Conan sketch that’s worthy of inclusion, primarily as it reinforces that an unassuming commuter will say anything when put on the spot, as well as the fact that Sacha Baron Cohen, whatever you may think of him, really is a master of disguise.
Jay Leno on Americans' knowledge of geography
This is painful. While this compilation makes you wonder how many correct replies made the cutting room floor, the complete lack of awareness from these passers-by is still baffling to behold.
A YouTuber chats to people in Surry Hills
Though a relative unknown heads this video (and makes us wonder how removed she is from the subject she’s satirising), this succession of questions turn up the cringe dial to wait-I-need-to-pause-and-regroup. Holy mother of trite!
John Safran in Jerusalem
Showing a clip from Race around the World may be cheating, but thanks to this vid’s hilarity I’ll gladly wear the label. Granted, Safran isn’t zipping down the pavement bleating questions to strangers, but he was once synonymous with taking to the streets and f***ing s*** up, as he does here in the holy land.
Billy on the Street airs Thursdays at 8pm (AEST) on SBS 2. All of season 1 is currently available on SBS On Demand.
Watch the first episode right here: