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Billy Eichner is the guy who rails, loudly and freely, against all the things you always wanted to shout about—be it vapid Fashion Week, political hypocrites or the passing of Proposition 8. But when Eichner rants, it's with such deliciously wicked humor that you might actually forget what you were so pissed off about to begin with.
First thrust into the comic spotlight with his Creation Nation—a weekly live talk show in which Eichner (with costar Robin Taylor) was the character Billy Willing and interviewed celebs from Cynthia Nixon to Joan Rivers with a no-holds-barred wit—he's since cohosted Bravo's A-List Awards Red Carpet Show and written for Logo's upcoming season of the Big Gay Sketch Show. And this week Eichner, 30, returns to the stage with his first solo show, Billy Eichner: Gay, White and Terrified. We spoke to the Queens native by phone to get a sneak preview.
What inspired the new show?
Two things: me watching a lot of Chris Rock and the whole Prop 8 thing. I looked around and I said, Okay, we have this great President who was more than anything a symbol of the progression of civil rights in our country. And even this great civil rights symbol could not actually come out and give us the word marriage. Even now that we've started to get marriage rights in all these different states, still it's been mum's the word from Obama. As long as he remains silent about it, it's frustrating for people in the gay community who support him.
How does Chris Rock figure in?
I just looked around and I thought, Where is the gay Chris Rock? Where is the gay Richard Pryor? For years there's been this huge presence in the black community in terms of edgy comics who were willing to go out on the line and say what they really feel about race relations, and the gay community has no answer. I'm not comparing myself to Chris Rock, because I think he's like the greatest stand-up that we have, but I think that if there is a gay Chris Rock, there's a decent chance that it's me.
What about gay Hollywood has you in such a tizzy?
For some reason, the thing you can't talk about is gay celebrities. It's the last taboo. I mean, Perez Hilton talks about it, but no one actually stands up onstage. Even Kathy Griffin, who I like and who is, like, the great gay-friendly comic on Bravo, talks about how she has this crush on Anderson Cooper and we're back to Rosie having a crush on Tom Cruise on her talk show! I mean, it's, like, such bullshit, and no one just comes out and says it! [Yelling] I'm sorry, it's like, Hugh Jackman, I know people who you know! And you are gay! You know? He was just on with Oprah, the great irony, talking about how it's okay to be gay, he just happens not to be gay. He's singing about Harvey Milk on the Oscars. I mean, grow up! [Yelling] Why? Like, why is everything up for grabs? You can go onstage and say anything, but you cannot say that actors are gay!
Why do you think?
Because it's completely based on fear—by the publicists, the agents, the managers, the lawyers, the movie studios. Because there's so much money at stake in their minds. And simply because there's never been anyone like Hugh Jackman to come out of the closet and say he's gay and still maintain a career as this romantic leading-man action hero. I mean, it's like going back to Montgomery Clift. It's the same bullshit.
How did you get in trouble with Bravo while hosting the Red Carpet Show?
The cast of 30 Rock came out. It was sort of like the B-list cast—Jack McBrayer and Judah Friedlander and Katrina Bowden—and I, as a big fan of 30 Rock, and also looking to have some cheeky fun on the red carpet, asked Jack McBrayer when is Kenneth, the character that he plays, going to come out of the closet? Like, as a joke, because Kenneth is clearly gay! And Jack McBrayer literally looked at me like I just shot his dog. I was like, What the hell did I do? So I get an e-mail from my friend who works at Bravo in the morning saying, "You have to call me," and I was like, Oh [Laughing], they're going to offer me my own show! And of course they're calling to yell at me. My agents at William Morris were calling me! Jack McBrayer's publicist is freaked out! There were e-mails sent to my agent from Marci Klein, the executive producer of 30 Rock, saying, "How could you do this?" I mean, it went so high up. I was like, What did I do? I asked if a fictional character—who, by the way, is a huge flaming homo—was gay, and this is what happens!
Billy Eichner: Gay, White and Terrified opens Monday 25 at Joe's Pub.