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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, September 13, 2017 1:00 am

'Horror Story' caps street interviewer's rise to actor

FRAZIER MOORE | Associated Press

LOS ANGELES – Many viewers first met Billy Eichner in his guise as a manic quizmaster hammering pedestrians with cockamamie pop-culture queries like “When Matt Damon daydreams he's running for the Senate, what state does he imagine he's in?” and “Where were you when Kelly Osbourne left 'Fashion Police'''?

Eichner's breathless “Billy on the Street” premiered on Fuse in 2011, then moved to truTV.

Along the way, Eichner's career as an actor has blossomed. Now he can be as hard to miss in his TV acting roles as he was on the street accosting puzzled passers-by.

He's co-starring in the third season of “Difficult People,” the Hulu comedy where he and Julie Klausner play 30-somethings bonding in a snark attack on New York and the entertainment world they are trying to break into.

In Netflix's comedy series “Friends from College,” he plays a grumpy gynecologist.

And for something a little different, this week he bows as a supporting player on the second episode of “American Horror Story: Cult.” Eichner plays a quirky neighbor of series star Sarah Paulson who keeps bees and likes guns.

“Cult” takes its cue from the election of Donald Trump, which itself constitutes an American horror story in the eyes of the series.

Trump's presidency “is a topic that everybody's talking about every single day,” says Eichner, “but it certainly hasn't been talked about in this way. To combine political commentary with the horror and gore that 'American Horror Story' is known for is, I think, really cool.”

To discover Eichner off the “Street,” is to be surprised. And impressed. He has much more to offer than his hysteric “Street” performance.

“I'm not sure people knew that acting was in my bag of tricks,” the 38-year-old Eichner says. “But no one grows up saying 'I want to do “Billy on the Street.'” That was just a funny idea I had, and thank God it got me in the door. But when I was growing up, I wanted to be some combination of Nathan Lane and John Malkovich.”

For him, the seeds were planted growing up in New York, the son of parents who loved the arts and show biz.

He headed for Northwestern University's legendary drama school. After graduation, back in New York, Eichner's scramble began.

He set about writing his own stage show, called “Creation Nation.” It took the form of a late-night TV talk show – he played the excitable host – and it was staged all over town to increasing popularity. As one of the evening's bits, he introduced a pre-taped segment called “Billy on the Street.”

A TV series version naturally followed, which led to “Difficult People.”

When time allows, he hopes to be back on the street as Billy.

“He was commenting on pop culture before, but now he's part of pop culture,” Eichner says. “I'm very proud of that. And I never in a million years would have thought that he would be my entry into acting.”

Even so, Eichner feels like he's just getting started.

“Now I'm trying to become the guy that I always intended to become prior to 'Billy on the Street.'”

Where does he want to be?

“A lot of places. But I'm very aware of the work it's gonna take to get there.”