One of the standout moments from this year’s Emmys was undeniably the taped segment in which comedian Billy Eichner and host Seth Meyers ran around the streets of New York quizzing (or simply yelling at) people about the awards. And it wouldn’t have happened if Eichner had not decided to send a “ballsy” (his word) email to Meyers’ producer, Mike Shoemaker.
But thanks to Eichner’s initiative, the evening had a refreshing dose of absurdity. In the segment, which mimicked the structure of the recurring games on Eichner’s Billy on the Street, Eichner called out the Academy’s snubbing of Tatiana Maslany, Elisabeth Moss, The Mindy Project, and The Good Wife, screamed about the ceremony’s hottest races (“Dinklage versus Patinkin!”), and pushed someone who didn’t want to talk about Judging Amy aside.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the reaction in the room?
BILLY EICHNER: It was pretty amazing. I stood right off to the side and watched the video with Seth after we introduced it. I was nervous as hell. I’ve done these videos for years, but I was obviously in front of a much bigger audience… everyone in television, not to mention the 16 million people at home or more, but the reaction was incredible. There were just huge laughs. You know, I have a TV show and I do Internet videos, but it’s rare that I get to hear 5,000 people react to the video at once. So when all of those people are laughing, and it was just consistent laughter, thankfully, you really feel it.
What was the response after?
Everyone was really nice about it. A lot of my friends in the comedy world that were there were really supportive—Amy Poehler and Seth, of course. I was sitting right next to Retta, who is on Parks and Rec with me and our characters interact a lot, so that was really fun. Adam Levine came up to me, who I’ve never met, and he said he really liked it. It’s all kind of a blur right now. I’m trying to focus on two hours of sleep. I spoke to Ryan Murphy and he loved it. (I was a huge fan of The Normal Heart, so that meant a lot to me.) I think he’s really extraordinary.
How did you plan out the bit? Did you film it while you were filming the season of Billy on the Street?
No, Billy on the Street ended its season back in May, so we haven’t been shooting. Like two weeks ago, I think, it was Seth’s last day in New York before he left to start working on the Emmys and we shot for a few hours. We kind of did it under the radar. We were obviously out in public doing it, but we used my normal Billy on the Street crew, and they’re incredible. We tried not telling the people that it was for the Emmys. We wanted people to think maybe it was for Seth’s show or something like that, because we wanted it to be a surprise. I think we were successful in doing that.
Had you met Seth before?
As a matter of fact, I’m friends with Seth—he had done Billy on the Street this past season. With a lot of the celebrity guests we run around and do a lightning round type of game, but with some of them we don’t because we like to mix it up. Seth happened to film with us on a rainy day back in November or something like that, and we never got to run around. I also did Seth’s show back in April, I believe.
Did Seth approach you with the concept for the Emmys?
The idea actually started with me. It was kind of a ballsy email I sent. When I heard he was doing the Emmys, I actually emailed his showrunner Mike Shoemaker, who was working on the Emmys with Seth. And I almost didn’t send the email because it was a bit forward—it was a bit presumptuous of me to think this might be a good idea. This guy is hosting the Emmys. I’m sure he wasn’t thinking about me at the moment. I emailed Mike, and I said, “Hey, I was just thinking, maybe it would be fun to do some type of lightning round-type segment with Seth about the Emmys for the Emmys.” Mike liked the idea, and he brought it to Seth; Seth liked the idea; we started to talk about exactly it what could be, the types of questions we might ask; and then I guess Seth and Mike presented it to Emmys producer Don Mischer and his team, and they liked it. I can’t believe it went as smoothly as it did. Seth and Mike were so generous and so supportive, and it turned out really well. It was just one of those magical things that happen once every so often. It’s very rare that things go like that in this business, but that’s one of the moments that it did.
There were so many great reactions during the segment; was there any one that was your favorite?
There are a lot. I was really glad that we got the reference to Judging Amy into the video. I really like that joke that Yahoo just picked up Community and Hotmail picked up 12 episodes of Judging Amy. Because that’s kind of a weird, semi-obscure reference, and that’s very much in my wheelhouse of things I like to talk about and obsess over—I like asking people about obscure things and the minutiae of pop culture and not just what exactly is in the zeitgeist of the moment. I was happy that everyone got on board with allowing me to keep that segment—which is obviously going to play for millions and millions of people—real in terms of how a normal Billy on the Street segment would be and the types of things I would ask. I’m sure a lot of people out there in the world maybe don’t recognize the name Tatiana Maslany. One thing Seth and I talked about when putting it together was that we were not going to allow the fact that this is quote, unquote a mainstream show to dictate what we should and shouldn’t ask people, because we’re interested in all types of pop culture. We didn’t just want to stick with the usual suspects in terms of the people and the types of shows and the themes we were asking about. And Tatiana Maslany was snubbed, and if you’re a real TV fan and you’re a fan of quality TV, that was a big story when the nominations came out. I was glad they let me be me and didn’t force me to ask questions about, you know, NCIS or something that’s maybe more well known.
Getting people to give money to the cast of The Big Bang Theory was pretty hilarious.
I loved that idea, and I was really glad that people reacted to it. Actually Mayim Bialik was one of the first people to come up to me as I was walking off stage after the video had played (and she’s obviously on Big Bang and was nominated). She just loved it. So I think they got a kick out of it themselves. I saw Johnny Galecki afterwards, too, and I had specifically referenced him in that moment, and he loved it. I was happy they took it the right way.
What is it like to go to work on Parks the next day after the Emmys?
I’m not one to complain about having a job, especially a job on Parks and Recreation, which is the greatest show with the greatest people. That said, I’m not at my peppiest today. This is actually my first day back on Parks and Rec. They’ve been shooting for two weeks, but the episode that we’re shooting this week is the first episode that I’m in. It’s the first time I’ve seen these guys since whenever we wrapped back in March. So it’s great to be back with them today. They’re super fun. Everyone had a long weekend of parties and Emmy celebrations, so we’re all feeling it and getting through it together.
Any big plans for your character, Craig, next season?
I’m sworn to secrecy, and it doesn’t air until next year. There’s a lot of time, so they don’t want things getting out just yet. Obviously, with them fast-forwarding the show three years there’s a huge evolution taking place with everyone. Craig gets to do some really fun things, and he gets to pal around with his friend Donna in a very specific way I’ll say, and I think people who are fans of the Donna-Craig relationship will really enjoy it.