Hot Vax Summer, The Great Reopening, Post-Pandemic America — whatever you want to call it, it’s officially underway. As COVID-19 restrictions across the country continue to be eased up and in some cases lifted entirely, the time has finally come for us to make our triumphant return to regular life. But after more than a year of isolation where the majority of our interpersonal interactions took place over Zoom, are we ready? Or have our social skills completely atrophied?
If you’re worried you might be a little rusty, who better than comedian and actor Billy Eichner — aka the guy who literally made his name accosting strangers on the street — to offer up some help?
Eichner stars in a new campaign for Neon Zebra cocktail mixers called “IRL Again” in which he doles out some (questionable) advice on how to ease the awkward transition back to in-person interactions. (“Bring a first date to a family reunion, then a half hour in, tell them it’s not your family,” he suggests in one of the ads. “Ask them to marry you the second the date’s over via text, and then text them again and tell them you actually really need an answer.”)
On top of encouraging people to “take all that toilet paper you selfishly hoarded and wear it as a sexy sheer top” and navigating his own return to post-pandemic life, Eichner’s got a lot on his plate this summer: he’s currently working on a romantic comedy he wrote and will star in — the first rom-com centered around two gay men ever produced by a major studio — and he’s also getting ready to appear as blogger Matt Drudge in Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story: Impeachment, which will focus on the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal. We caught up with Eichner to hear about those upcoming projects, find out whether he has any plans to bring back Billy on the Street and, of course, get a few tips on how to get back out there now that the world has reopened.
InsideHook: How has your transition back to normal life been going, Billy?
Billy Eichner: Well, so far so good. Like many other people, I’m very grateful that we get to transition back into normal life and just very excited to get out there and see people and have some fun. Which is a big part of the reason that this campaign made sense for me, because it wasn’t something I had to fake. It’s something that I think we’re all honestly feeling, and that’s just a need to live it up a little bit. Get out there, get back in the world and see people we love and have fun. And that’s why I’m here. So I’m very excited.
I think we’ve all been feeling a little feral lately, like we’re sort of struggling how to remember to be a person in society. Do you have any advice for people on how to ease that transition?
Oh boy. Well, I am as socially awkward as anyone, even under normal circumstances. And so I think you don’t have to jump in full steam ahead immediately. You can dip your toes back in. And it’s also, I know I’m feeling … I was immediately hit with a lot of invites for things. And this also happens to be Pride Month. So for LGBTQ people, it’s a particularly insane time for the world to open up, because it’s just — it’s a lot. There are a lot of places you could go, and people to see, and do this, and go here, and it’s a lot. And so I also have to still function as a human being with many jobs. And so everything in moderation, I would say, is the way to go. Certainly you want to get back out there, have fun, have a drink or two if that’s something that you do, but you don’t have to go out. You don’t have to go to every event just because the world is reopening again.
Do you have a go-to cocktail?
I love a margarita during the summer, as many people do. And I’ve also, in my old age, become a whiskey person. So I do enjoy a whiskey occasionally. Again, everything in moderation, but the Neon Zebra mixers are really cool because there’s four different ones. There’s margarita, and mojito, and whiskey sour, and a daiquiri. So no matter what your taste is, there’s something there for you, and it’s super simple, very easy. You just mix it with whatever the corresponding liquor is, and there you go. But yeah, I’m a margarita guy and a whiskey guy.
During quarantine, a lot of people were revisiting or bingeing Billy on the Street because they were feeling nostalgic for New York City and human interaction in general while they were stuck in isolation. Have you thought about shooting more of it, given this resurgence it’s had?
Yeah, I was very touched by that, especially early in quarantine. Those first few months, I was just seeing people on social media talking about Billy on the Street so much. And posting clips of themselves and their families and their children and grandparents and everyone watching it. And it made me nostalgic too. I’m a New Yorker. I’m a native New Yorker. I spent most of my life there. It’s my hometown. And so I was very touched to see that. And Billy on the Street‘s kind of got a very unusual, wonderful, but odd trajectory. It’s been around a very long time, so people don’t realize that sometimes because it started off on smaller platforms, but I think six months or so before quarantine started, it went on Netflix for the first time. And it had this whole resurgence because of Netflix, as things often do. And then people will start to take the clips and put them on TikTok. People think it’s me doing it. I don’t even have a TikTok page. And so it’s just fans doing it, and some of these clips have like 20, 30 million views, and it’s just crazy to me. So I love that people keep loving it. In terms of doing more of it, I don’t really do it that much anymore. But occasionally we’ll do a segment if we get a fun guest and the timing is right. I want to give New York a little time to come back, be sensitive to that, let people live their lives before I start running down the street, shouting at them. But we’ll see. A lot of people are asking me that, and we’ll see. Maybe somewhere down the road.
You have a romantic comedy coming out next summer. What can you tell me about that experience?
Well, we haven’t shot it yet. When quarantine started we were four weeks away, and then we got shut down. We now are going to shoot it in the fall. So we have an official plan to start shooting it, and it comes out next summer, and I’m very excited about it. It’s called Bros. It’s a very LGBTQ-centric comedy, but it’s for everyone, and I’ve been writing it with Nick Stoller for years now. And of course COVID gave us an extra year and a half to obsess over it, for better or worse, pros and cons to that. Judd Apatow’s producing it, Universal is distributing it, and I’m just very excited. I poured everything I have into the script, and we continue to work on it. We’re in the middle of casting it now. And from what I hear, it’s the first of its kind in several ways, and that’s both thrilling and daunting. But at the end of the day, we just want to make a really funny movie, and I’m excited that we finally get to shoot it. And I think the cast, I can’t say specifically yet who’s in the cast, but I think the cast is going to be really unique and really extraordinary.
And you’re also playing Matt Drudge in the new season of American Crime Story about the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. What has it been like to sort of revisit that period in history through a modern lens?
Yeah, it’s fascinating, and I’m so excited to see how that show comes together. I’ve been shooting it, but I haven’t seen any of it yet. And yeah, I spent a lot of time doing as much research on Drudge as possible. He’s a bit of an enigma. There isn’t a ton about Drudge because, especially the past several years, he lives like a recluse, essentially, and then occasionally pops up random places. But I read a lot about him, and I was one of those people who ran home to check the Drudge Report every day. As someone who’s always been obsessed with culture and what’s trending and news, I’ve always been a news junkie. I was in college during those years of the Clinton-Lewinsky years, and then in the years following that, really would check Drudge religiously every day in that period of time. I don’t anymore. Our politics don’t really overlap, but he’s a fascinating figure. And setting his politics aside, which are also a little hard to track sometimes, he was really the first homegrown, self-made, internet mega superstar. I mean, Matt Drudge started out working in the gift shop at CBS Studios, on the CBS Studios lot in LA, and that’s where he would hear things. And he would literally go through the trash, of documents that the CBS execs would throw out. And that’s how he would find out all of the secret, insider industry info, which he would put on the Drudge Report in those early days on his website. And I think you can draw a direct line between Drudge and the emergence of Fox News and Ann Coulter, who he was friends with back in the day. I mean, it really is fascinating. And Crime Story doesn’t focus on that, it focuses on the Clintons and Monica Lewinsky, and seeing that story through Monica’s eyes for the first time. But the Drudge thread in it really is very fascinating, I can’t wait for people to see it.
Beyond those projects, what’s next for you? Is there anything else in the pipeline you’re working on?
Oh, I have a bunch of things. There’s Crime Story and of course the focus has been on Bros for a while now, we are really ramping up to that. So there are other things, but that’s my focus for now. I mean honestly, like other people, I just want to have fun over the summer and see people. Travel a bit, get back to normal, have a Neon Zebra, and just kick back and have some fun.
I know that a lot of people have a checklist, now that everything’s finally reopening, of places they’ve got to go, people they’ve got to see, restaurants they want to hit. What’s on the top of your list of things you want to make sure you go do and see?
Well, of course I have a ton of friends that I want to see and some traveling I want to do. One thing I’m really looking forward to that I missed so much is theater reopening. Broadway and off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway in New York, which is one of my favorite things to go do. And I grew up in New York City. Theater has always been a huge part of my life, and I have so many friends who work on Broadway and off Broadway and work in the theater world. And that has just been just incredibly challenging for that entire industry to have to shut down for over a year. But thankfully, it’s reopening. The first plays, I think, are opening in August and September. So as soon as theater opens up again in New York, I will be there. That’s the main thing I’m looking forward to, and I hope other people also make a point of doing that.
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