In his show, "Billy on the Street," Billy Eichner runs around the streets of New York asking passers-by trivial questions related to Hollywood. (Courtesy Turner)

‘Billy on the Street’ pokes fun at celebrity culture

The season five premiere of “Billy on the Street” (2011-present) takes off with host/comedian Billy Eichner sprinting around the streets of New York alongside “Mad Men” (2007-2015) star Jon Hamm, asking people a fairly straightforward question: “Would you have a threesome with me and Jon Hamm?” The segment is hilarious, as many take the question too seriously. A person named Liz wryly answers, “No … I don’t know them.” When Eichner boasts about Hamm’s Emmy win, Liz’s answer still does not change, leading Eichner to amusingly lose his temper. In Eichner’s mind, a person refusing to have a threesome with a star is incomprehensible.

As bizarre as the segment is, “Would you have a threesome with me and Jon Hamm?” is a brilliant commentary on the celebrity culture today. Stars are objectified to the extent that they become our sexual fantasies, whether we know them or not. Ageism plays a large role, too. When a woman protests that she has a husband and kids, Eichner revises his initial question by asking “Would you have sex with 2016 Billy Eichner or 2009 Jon Hamm?” Male or female, it seems like attractiveness is a far more valued quality than talent in Hollywood.

“Billy on the Street” has a very simple premise: it’s a half-hour variety/game show in which Eichner asks people trivial questions related to Hollywood. By asking these ridiculous questions, Eichner points fingers at how much unnecessary celebrity trivia the general public knows. It’s truly frightening how a random passerby is able to talk about the Kardashian family non-stop for 10 minutes, or a person is able to comment on Kelly Osbourne’s departure from “Fashion Police” (2002-present) in complete seriousness. Yet in an era when celebrity gossip and pop culture are of vital importance, the reactions are expected.

Until recently, late night shows were a platform in which celebrities chatted with hosts and shamelessly promoted their latest projects. Today, competition among these shows has led to the introduction of “games” inspired by the minds of four-year-olds. In “The Late Late Show with James Corden” (2015-present) for example, celebrities take part in “Spill Your Guts or Fill Your Guts,” a game in which celebrities have to decide between answering sometimes scandalous personal questions and eating things like cow tongue and grasshoppers.

The games and challenges Eichner plays with celebrities are plainer by comparison. In the premiere episode, Eichner plays a game called “Man or Woman” with Tina Fey. Fey has to guess whether the list of accomplishments read by Eichner was done by a woman or a man. Surprisingly, men accomplish each item on the list, which includes facts like “founder of Sarah Lawrence College” and “creator of Desperate Housewives.” In a sense, Eichner parodies the challenges featured in late night shows by adding cynical social commentary in them.

The premiere episode also features a game called “Immigrant or Real American?” with a contestant named Kevin, who is able to stand up to Eichner’s condescending comments by announcing to Eichner he has a boyfriend that loves him. Eichner reads a list of famous people, and Kevin has to guess whether each person was born in the United States or another country. If the person was born in the United States, Kevin has to answer “real American,” while if they were born elsewhere he has to answer “immigrant.” Amusingly, each immigrant is an influential figure in his or her respective fields while each American is a notorious murderer or alleged murderer. Airing a week after the election results, Eichner was able to express his opinion on the hotly-debated topic of immigration by cleverly blending celebrity culture and entertainment with politics.

Perhaps intentionally, “Billy on the Street” airs during the same period that “awards season” starts. Seeing Eichner poking fun of celebrity culture while stars desperately appear on talk shows as part of their “press tour” is particularly entertaining. That said, there’s also something awfully meta about “Billy on the Street,” as it parodies the culture by featuring celebrity guest stars and airing on-cable TV. Celebrities are able to promote their projects on Eichner’s show as much as they promote their projects on talk shows. It is safe to say that the show is actually contributing to the celebrity culture by parodying it. This contradiction is what essentially makes “Billy on the Street” an outstanding show.

“Billy on the Street” airs on Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. on truTV.

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