Billy Eichner has emerged as one of the most brilliant vox pops comedians television has seen. Often accompanied by a celebrity and a ridiculous trivia game he runs up to people and shouts in their face with a microphone and that’s pretty much the whole shtick. But wow does it work.
Eichner first received his first real dose of attention as he was introduced in the twilight years to the cast of the brilliant sitcom Parks And Recreation. The show’s large ensemble cast didn’t alter that much after some shuffles in the first couple of seasons, but Eichner’s character Craig Middlebrooks really gave the department a personality boost right when we getting to the point of being a little too familiar with the exploits of our favourite characters. Amy Pohler cast Eichner based on the performance in his show Billy On The Street, clearly recognising that chucking this guy in basically any kind of situation is going to result in unmatched hilarity.
Even though he’s supported by a cast of proper A-list celebrities on Billy On The Street, they really do play a supporting role. Often barely able to keep up to his brisk angry walking pace let alone his wit, especially when it comes to his quizzes and games, some of which include ‘Racist or Vegetarian’, ‘Would this disappoint Bill Cosby’ and ‘It’s Spock! Do You Care?’
One outstanding segment had Billy help Rachel Dratch (who is pretending to be Leah Remini) escape from Scientology by freeing the men trapped in John Travolta’s shed and rescuing her children from Sea Org.
While it may be a cheap trick, getting someone out on the street with a microphone and pointing it in the faces of the unsuspecting public can be a great source of champagne comedy. In Australia we’ve got a pretty good history of this. Generation Xers will cackle with joy at the mention of Stacks of Slacks (Stacks of Slacks on racks even) or the Muffler Doctor as Mick Molloy and Tony Martin wandered around Melbourne being brilliantly hilarious with nothing even close to a script or really even an idea beyond ‘let’s go and talk to people on the street’ or, after a tad more conceptual brainstorming, ‘let’s talk to people about interesting shops’.
Likewise, anyone old enough to remember will never forget the incredibly creepy Crikey The Clown from Agro’s Cartoon Connection quizzing people and generally being a nuisance in the post-apocalyptic landscape of Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall circa early 90s.
You’ll see from comparing these two performances that if you’ve got the right people on the job, the results are hilarious decades later. If you’re just a sad clown harassing squares in the mall, maybe your legacy will not be celebrated with quite the same level of enthusiasm.
Although often a source of genuinely heart-warming moments and tearful interactions, SBS’s classic Front Up regularly provided many an unscripted hilarious moment.
Jimmy Kimmel’s Lie Witness News takes this off another tangent, obnoxiously lying to innocent bystanders to make the feel stupid about themselves. It’s smug as hell but people love it.
Even more recently we’ve got Eric Andre taking this stuff to absurd new limits - his gross out humour and attempts to actually terrify people in the street can be a difficult watch, yet obscenely funny. His segment Bird Up! which he describes as the worst show on television is incredible.
The absolute best man on the street, Billy On The Street, is streaming now on SBS On Demand: