Billy Eichner: An Inside Look At The Funnyman's Life And Career

Most TV viewers became aware of Billy Eichner via a two-pronged comedy attack. Firstly, via his hilariously manic sidewalk interviews for "Billy on the Street." Secondly, in his brief-but-memorable turn as an irrationally angry civil servant on the hit NBC sitcom, "Parks and Recreation." 

Since then, Eichner's star has risen considerably. As his IMDb indicates, he went on to appear alongside Julie Klausner in the TV comedy, "Difficult People," voiced not one but two characters in "The Angry Birds Movie," became a series regular in the deliriously bonkers "Apocalypse" season of "American Horror Story," and played right-wing Internet personality Matt Drudge in the second season of "American Crime Story." In addition, he voiced Timon the meerkat in Disney's 2019 live-action remake of "The Lion King," was part of the ensemble cast of Netflix comedy, "Friends From College," and even played poet, Walt Whitman in an episode of Apple TV+ comedy, "Dickenson." 

Eichner made a big stride in his showbiz career in the fall of 2022 when he starred in the big-screen comedy, "Bros," heralded as Hollywood's first-ever big-budget rom-com. Featuring the meet-cute romance between two gay male characters, the film was as critically acclaimed as it was controversial. Still, there's no denying that the actor's fame has catapulted to the next level. Here's everything you didn't realize you needed to know about Billy Eichner's life and career.

His bar mitzvah celebrated Madonna and Broadway

As a child, Billy Eichner became obsessed with Broadway. How obsessed? According to a profile in The New Yorker, at 13, his parents took him to see a Broadway revival of "Guys and Dolls." When it was announced that star Faith Prince's role, Adelaide, would be played by an understudy for that performance, he had a meltdown in the theater lobby.

That same year, his parents celebrated Eichner's birthday with a lavish bar mitzvah celebration, in which the youngster's interests were integrated into the party. "I could not decide whether the theme should be Broadway, which I was very into at the time and still am, or pop music, which I was very into at the time and still am," he explained during an appearance on comedian Pete Holmes' "You Make it Weird" podcast. Torn between the two, he decided to smush them both together. "So, the theme became Broadway meets pop music," he said.

While some parents may have balked at such a theme, Eichner has credited his with continually buoying him with their unyielding support. "The way they encouraged me and just believed in me, that gave me a confidence to feel like I could go after my dreams," Eichner told People. "Their support meant everything, really. And I think it's carried me through to this day."

He appeared on SNL when he as a kid

Billy Eichner's acting ambitions were evident as a child. As The New Yorker pointed out, in the fourth grade he sang a solo on "It's All Right to Cry" from the musical, "Free to Be ... You and Me," and even took vocal lessons with the voice coach who taught pop star, Debbie Gibson, to sing. In 1993, when he was just 13, he landed a small role in a "Saturday Night Live" sketch. 

Reviewing his career highlights in a Vanity Fair video, Eichner reminisced about how he came to "SNL." "I grew up in New York City and I really wanted to be on Broadway — which never happened," he said. However, he wound up being called in to audition for other acting gigs, and he still clearly remembers receiving the call from his manager. "She said, 'Guess what show that you watch every Saturday night you're gonna be on this week?' And I kid you not, I responded, 'The Golden Girls?'" Eichner recalled. "And she said, 'No, 'SNL.' And I was thrilled."

Eichner was one of many kids who appeared in a sketch with host, John Goodman (pictured above). However, his real regret was that he wasn't called the previous week when Madonna was a musical guest — Garth Brooks held the spot during the week Eichner was featured. "I just kept walking around thinking, 'Madonna walked in this hallway five days ago, and now I have to deal with Garth Brooks?'" he quipped.

He was college roommates with Gotham's Penguin

After graduating high school, Billy Eichner attended Northwestern University. It was there that he met fellow acting student, Robin Lord Taylor. As fans of Fox's Batman prequel series, "Gotham," will recall, the star sprang to fame on the TV show with his visceral portrayal of ambitious criminal, Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin.

As the two explained in a joint interview with The New York Times, they formed an instant connection. "He was this quiet closeted gay boy in Iowa, and I was this louder closeted gay guy in New York City, but we were both locked in our rooms watching cable TV and sucking it all in," Eichner said of Taylor. "When we found each other, it was like, "Wait, you're interested in —— ?" After graduation, the two moved to New York, where they became roommates, as well as the co-creators of and performers in their stage show, "Creation Nation." The outlet notes, that in the early days of "Billy on the Street," Taylor would often be the one behind the camera, filming the insanity. 

Despite both being actors in a cutthroat and competitive profession, both insisted they were never anything but supportive of the other's career. "Our careers also never were a source of tension between us, ever. There was no friction," said Eichner, jokingly adding, "Maybe friction because I didn't clean the apartment." 

He was told he was 'too gay' to be on TV

As a child actor, getting cast in roles did not come easily for Billy Eichner. "I was too tall. I was too this. I was too that," he told NPR's "Fresh Air." After graduating from college, he threw himself into acting and launched "Creation Nation," a stage show that garnered a lot of attention, and even a rave review in The New York Times. However, Eichner was baffled when all that acclaim didn't lead to any significant acting work. "I mean, I would get little gigs here and there but nothing substantial," he said.

He reflected on his struggle to land TV roles during an appearance on the "Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend" podcast. "It was always, 'We don't know what to do with you.' Or, 'You're very New York,'" Eichner said. "And a lot of times, in both overt and subtle ways, I was sent the message that I was just too gay."

It was only when he began posting his videos online and they began racking up millions of views, that he began to garner the attention that had been eluding him until then. "These views aren't coming exclusively from gay people, watching in New York City," Eichner said. "Look at the comments, they're coming from all over the country and all over the world. That's when they finally put me on TV."

A Twitter DM led him to be cast in Parks and Rec

When Billy Eichner finally did land a network television role, he made a huge impression on viewers as the ridiculously intense staffer, Craig Middlebrooks in "Parks and Recreation." The actor landed the role, not via a casting call and audition process, but thanks to a social media DM he received from the show's co-creator, Mike Schur. The sitcom maestro told the rising comedy star there was a role that would be ideal for him and asked if he was interested in doing it. "Literally, that's how that happened," Eichner told Vanity Fair. "I have agents, and lawyers, and managers, but Twitter, ultimately, is how the deal went down." 

In that interview, he explained how his "Parks and Recs" character is both inspired by yet different from his "Billy on the Street" persona. "I got to play Craig Middlebrooks, who was almost a more intense and extreme version of 'Billy on the Street,' which is hard to imagine," he said.

While "Billy on the Street" had attracted him significant attention, "Parks and Recreation" was his first experience with scripted television. As a result, he faced a pretty steep learning curve regarding the ins and outs of working on a sitcom set. "I was so green when I did 'Parks and Rec,'" Eichner admitted in an interview with Pardon My Take. "... I mean, like, there were very basic things I did not understand."

Billy on the Street was spawned by his stage show

It was "Billy on the Street" that led Billy Eichner to be cast on "Parks and Recreation," but how exactly did Billy wind up on the street?  As Vulture recalled, the guerrilla-style TV show, in which he accosts unsuspecting passersby on the streets of Manhattan, initially sprang from the live stage show, "Creation Nation" — which he co-created and starred in with his roommate, Robin Lord Taylor. Describing the show to The New York Times, Eichner explained, "It's a land ruled by artists, celebrities, and people who like to talk about pop culture without necessarily contributing to it." 

In another interview with Vulture, Eichner explained that he'd begun incorporating videos into the stage show back in 2004. He eventually began posting these videos to YouTube, and their online success gained momentum. "['Billy on the Street' has] been a really slow burn in a way, but it's been really satisfying because, I mean, I'm pretty proud of the fact that we started so long ago, and yet there are still so many people discovering it ... for the first time."

In fact, Eichner was proud yet incredulous regarding the impressive list of A-list celebs who had joined him to yell at NYC pedestrians for "Billy on the Street." "People like Tina Fey and Will Ferrell and Sarah Jessica Parker, we did a video with the First Lady this year, Letterman — it's kind of outrageous and unbelievable," he marveled.

He credits social media for launching his career

Billy Eichner has made no secret of the fact that he'd be nowhere nearly as successful as he's become had it not been for his use of social media. That, he explained in an interview with Vanity Fair, was particularly true of Twitter. "Twitter can be, you know, a horrible, anxiety-inducing war zone," he conceded. "But in many ways, it's also helped me." As of 2022, the star boasted over 2.3 million followers on the platform. 

For Eichner, the videos he shot for the cult TV show, "Billy on the Street," found a keen following on social media. And having access to these feeds was a game-changer — people who may have had no idea there even was a TV show were now able to watch quick clips from it on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter. "I always say I would not have a career without social media in general," he told Vanity Fair.

In fact, had Eichner been 20 years older, coming of age in an era before social media existed, he believes that his life would have turned out significantly different. "I would have been one of those elderly, bitter gay ushers at a Broadway theater, holding a flashlight if you come in late to 'An American in Paris,' yelling at you that you can't bring the sodas in," he quipped in another Vanity Fair interview.

Starring in The Lion King fulfilled his circle of life

Billy Eichner hit the mainstream with a vengeance when he was cast as the voice of Timon, the meerkat, in Disney's live-action remake of its animated classic, "The Lion King." Taking on the voice role originally played by Nathan Lane in the 1994 animated feature, the actor was partnered with Seth Rogen's warthog, Pumbaa. 

As he told Us Weekly, Eichner had another connection with "The Lion King" that preceded his role in the 2019 movie, divulging, "I was a bartender at 'The Lion King' on Broadway." During an appearance on "Good Morning America," the "Bros" star elaborated, "This is a true full-circle moment." He noted that his bartending role was back in 2002 before he had yet to hit it big. "Circle of life!" he declared.

According to Eichner, the experience isn't one he's particularly proud of — from a drink-slinging perspective, at least. "I studied to be a bartender, but I couldn't get a real bartending job. So I started bartending at ... Broadway shows, and they moved me to 'The Lion King,' which is not a sign that you're a great bartender," Eichner told GQ. "... No one's drinking martinis at 'The Lion King' because it's all parents and their kids and so all you end up doing is pouring sodas and selling candy."

He's been kicked off Tinder — twice

In addition to such social media platforms as Twitter and YouTube, Billy Eichner has also been quite active on the dating app, Tinder. Interestingly, the comedy star's success on Twitter has been in direct disproportion to his failure on Tinder. "No joke, this is true, I was banned from Tinder," he revealed during an appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" "They banned me all of a sudden. And I say, 'Why?' They didn't give me an explanation, they just said, 'You violated the terms of use.' And I said, 'I've been single for seven years, you violated the terms of use!' I didn't violate anything!"

The reason for his banishment from Tinder, he theorized, was that somebody came across his profile and reported him, believing it was a fake impersonator even though he was legitimately on there. Eichner was eventually reinstated. To apologize, Tinder sent him a gift basket that included such well-intentioned treats as a t-shirt that read, "World's greatest single." "It was honestly the most depressing gift I've ever received," he quipped during a "Late Night with Seth Meyers" appearance.

However, several years after his first ban, he revealed he'd been ousted from Tinder a second time, telling Variety that his account had been deleted. This time, he wasn't intending to be welcomed back into the fold. "I can't book a late-night talk show appearance just to get reinstated on Tinder," he said. "I'll stick to Hinge and Grindr and everything else."

An angry rant scored him the Angry Birds gig

In addition to voicing Timon in the "Lion King" remake, Billy Eichner also lent his voice to "The Angry Birds Movie," based on the insanely popular mobile game. Interestingly enough, just as social media led him to be cast in "Parks and Recreation," he landed his "Angry Birds" role in a similarly unorthodox manner. 

He told Vanity Fair that it all started when he welcomed "Ted Lasso" star, Jason Sudeikis, to "Billy on the Street." When his guest told him about his upcoming role in the animated "Angry Birds" movie, Eichner did some digging and saw the lengthy list of actors that had been tapped for the film — and was ticked off that he was not one of them. "Every actor in Hollywood was in the 'Angry Birds' movie," Eichner griped. "I was the only f***ing person not asked to be in 'The Angry Birds Movie,' and I'm known for basically being an angry bird."

He unleashed his disappointment in an epic "Billy on the Street" rant, explaining why he should have been cast in the movie. According to Eichner, the film's director saw his comedy bit, and said, "You know what, you're right, you should be in the 'Angry Birds' movie." They called and threw a couple of minor roles his way — Chef Pig and a bird called Phillip. Eichner subsequently confirmed the casting on Twitter, writing, "Justice at last!!"

Joan Rivers was his mentor

Some of Billy Eichner's fans may be surprised to learn that one of his biggest supporters was the late Joan Rivers. During an appearance on the "Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend" podcast, Eichner discussed the important role that the legendary comedian played in both his career and his life. "She was the greatest," he proclaimed, revealing that he first got to know her when they worked together with Andy Cohen on a Bravo pilot that didn't get picked up. "She really became like a mentor to me," he said. "I could go on and on about how insanely supportive she was for no reason."

In a tribute he wrote for Entertainment Weekly, Eichner shared what is perhaps his most illustrative memory about Rivers' magnanimous nature – the comedy legend would leave DVDs of his videos with producers of David Letterman's and Jimmy Kimmel's late-night shows. He recalled that about a week before Rivers' death in 2014 at age 81, he was invited to "The Late Show with David Letterman" for the very first time. "Would Joan be proud?" he wrote. "I think so."

Interviewed by Us Weekly, he offered another memory, this one demonstrating Rivers' thoughtfulness. "I once ran into my friend, the late, great Joan Rivers on a plane," he said. "I forgot my garment bag when we landed, and she walked me into the Admirals Club and had them escort me back to the plane to make sure I got it back."

Billy Eicher thinks culture can support activism

In 2022, Billy Eichner debuted "Bros," Hollywood's first mainstream, big-budget gay romantic comedy. Starring alongside Hallmark Channel favorite, Luke McFarlane, Eichner also co-wrote the screenplay, while Hollywood heavyweight Judd Apatow produced it. Speaking with Variety, Eichner insisted he was well aware of what's involved with blazing new trails to produce the first of anything. "I feel a responsibility for it to do well," he said. "I've worked so hard on it, I care so much about it, and I want it to do well for the sake of the LGBTQ stories getting greenlit. So there's a burden I feel..."

He was also keenly cognizant of the risks he was taking. "I want people to love [the movie]," he told GQ. "I want the box office to be decent. I don't know how much control I have over that. I'm doing the best I can. I'm not Ryan Reynolds."

As for his hopes for what "Bros" can achieve on a cultural level, he suggested his film could further push the envelope that "Will & Grace" had unsealed 20 years earlier. "I remember [President] Biden, years ago, saying that 'Will & Grace' probably did more for gay rights in America than certain activists — and activists obviously did a ton and they did the hard work — but there's also some truth in that [sentiment], too," Eichner explained, reasoning that culture is capable of influencing incredible change.

Backlash for his 'Bros' box office comments

When "Bros" was released in theaters in September 2022, it did not achieve the box office success that was anticipated. Per IndieWire, it raked in just $4.8 million in its opening weekend, falling well short of the $10 million that had been predicted. In response to the lackluster ticket sales, Eichner turned to his favorite medium to share his two cents via a since-deleted Twitter thread (via Los Angeles Times), which culminated with the tweet, "Everyone who isn't a homophobic weirdo should go see 'Bros' tonight!"

Eichner's tweet was immediately hit with backlash, with many pointing out that there are a lot of factors involved in why a movie doesn't experience a strong opening. Speaking with People, Eichner responded to the backlash and agreed that it wasn't necessarily fair to blame the film's earnings on homophobia when various other things had also contributed to the sluggish box office. Discussing how a confluence of factors ranging from the pandemic to the increasing number of comedy movies premiering on streaming services worked against "Bros," he conceded, "Obviously things change over time, and the way we consume culture evolved." 

However, Eichner explained that prior to the film's release, just the trailer alone had received homophobic backlash in certain parts of the country. However, he also noted that there was a reason Hollywood's biggest comedy stars have sidestepped the big screen for streaming deals. "That seems to be where people want to watch these movies," Eichner reasoned. 

He was blocked by Carrie Underwood -- and loved it

Given how active Billy Eichner has always been on Twitter, there's no denying that he's become a formidable foe when entering into a Twitter feud. That came through loud and clear when he was a guest on "Watch What Happens Live" in 2022, and a viewer asked why country music superstar, Carrie Underwood had blocked him on Twitter.  A year earlier, Eichner had tweeted a screenshot of the social media platform's evidence that he'd been blocked by the "Jesus Take the Wheel" singer, adding the caption, "Iconic."

Anyone who thought that Eichner would be chagrined to be dissed by the "American Idol" alum can guess again. "It was one of the great thrills of my life," Eichner proudly declared to host, Andy Cohen before explaining how he came to incur the wrath of Underwood. "There was a thing where during the height of COVID, she retweeted a speech by some Republican guy saying that kids shouldn't have to wear masks in schools," he explained. "... I guess I made some jokes about that that went viral on Twitter. And I guess she didn't like that."

However, Eichner had already been yanking Underwood's chain on Twitter for years prior to that particular incident. The many jibes that he'd shared on Twitter concerning the singer included a 2012 tweet, where he quipped, "Which is worse, Carrie Underwood remaking 'The Sound of Music' or dying alone?"