Billy Eichner says it's a 'miracle' he's made it in Hollywood as an openly gay man: 'I feel very lucky to be working'

Comedian and producer Billy Eichner (Photo: Getty images)
Comedian and producer Billy Eichner (Photo: Getty images)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Comedian Billy Eichner has been everywhere, and yet the world can’t get enough of him. The funnyman with a heart of gold earned a name for himself with his award-winning Billy on the Street, which made him a household name (at least for comedy nerds). It didn’t take long for him to win over the rest of America with notable roles in Parks and Recreation, Difficult People, American Horror Story: Apocalypse and Disney’s live action The Lion King as the lovable Timon.

Recently, the comedian teamed up with non-alcoholic cocktail mixer Neon Zebra for its “IRL again” campaign to help fans cope with the anxieties many of us feel about going out in the real world again. Sharing his own advice and words of wisdom — ranging from fashion tips to icebreakers when meeting new people — Eichner makes returning to the real world as easy as shaking a great cocktail. Of course, he can't help but seep in his signature charm and humor. Here, Eichner opens up even further about what he’s learned about life, himself, and the world at large after spending almost a year in deep introspection.

How has life been for you in the last year?

Oh it's been wonderful! No, I'm just kidding. I mean, I've had the same types of challenges that I'm sure a lot of other people have been dealing with. I'm very lucky. I managed to stay healthy and I was pretty cautious, just trying to get through it all and stay relatively sane and all that. But I'm very glad that we're coming out of it, obviously, like everyone else. I'm thrilled to get out there again and see people, see friends, have some fun. What can I say? We've been waiting for it and we're here, so I'm very grateful.

Life has certainly been up and down during the pandemic. Through it all, though, what has brought you the most joy?

That’s an interesting question. Well, it's always the same answer. I mean, I'm lucky I have a lot of friends and we were obviously very cautious. I kept a tight group, but I do live alone. I'm a single person. I needed at some point to create a small bubble of people that I did see occasionally and so that was really the answer. I mean, it was other people, all of us going through it together and just helping each other get through it. When COVID shut everything down, I was four weeks away from shooting this big comedy rom-com I've been working on for years [Bros]. It gave me some time to stop and reflect on that project and the script and also life in general, for better or worse. That did give us time to sit and think about our lives and what you how you want to spend your time.

Did you have any personal discoveries about yourself during lockdown?

It gave me time to sit and reflect on how I want to spend my time professionally and personally, once it's over — what really is important to me creatively and in life in general. In the industry that I'm in, you feel lucky to be working. Honestly, most of the time it's such a miracle, my career, especially as an openly gay male comedian. I didn't start three years ago, when Hollywood was, you know, at least pretending to be LGBTQ friendly. No one was even pretending 20 years ago. They just said, "Oh, you're an openly gay man in comedy. Well, good luck on a gay cruise." The options were very limited. There's nothing wrong with performing on a gay cruise, but there just weren't as many options.

The idea of being able to make this very LGBTQ-centric rom-com and to really have my vision respected and appreciated, that seemed like a very foreign concept at the time. So [lockdown] does allow you to reflect on that and how far you've come, but also what you want to do next. It was good to have that time. I went back and I watched a lot of old movies I haven't watched ever, or things I haven't watched since I was a kid, and the types of things that really inspired me to do this.

Now that you’ve had the time to reflect, what does Billy 2.0 look like for you?

You never really changed. It's always a combination of constantly evolving but also, in many ways, I'm the same person that I was at 12 years old. It’s a weird combination. I don’t do many branded partnerships, but when I was approached by Neon Zebra for this campaign, it made sense to me. It felt organic because it's called IRL again. It's all about getting back to real life and seeing people and having fun and doing joyful things. So this made sense to me and that's why I jumped on board.

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What better way to step into real life than utilizing your favorite cocktail recipes and fun little mixers?

Oh, yes. Well, it certainly helps me ease the transition. I mean, I do like a cocktail. I have many friends who don't drink [but] I am not one of them, so I enjoy my Margarita especially over the summer and one of the mixers that Neon Zebra has is a margarita mix. Also in my old age, I tend to enjoy a whiskey. But you know, in the summer months, I try to keep it more light and refreshing:.

What are you most excited about once the pandemic is sort of done and we're everything's back to normal?

So many things, obviously. Professionally, we're going to finally be able to shoot Bros. [Production] was shut down and I didn't know what was gonna happen. Now it looks like we are shooting it this fall and that it’s coming out next summer. That's obviously a huge deal for me. I've been working on the script for many years with Nick Stoller and it's been constantly evolving and developing. Now we're in the middle of casting it again. I'm just very excited to actually be able to put that on at speed and put that out in the world. Personally, I just want to see friends and travel around. I'm a native New Yorker. I spent most of COVID in L.A. because I had been working a little bit out here… but I am so excited to be in New York. I was there a few weeks ago and I've never felt the energy that I felt right now.

There are a lot of people who are feeling anxious about going back into the world. What’s your advice for them?

I hear a lot of my friends saying, “We’re feeling like FOMO [fear of missing out].” Like, there are so many events. Also, if you're LGBTQ, the world is reopening up in the middle of Pride month, which is crazy. It’s just too much at once, and so, as much as you want to get out there — and you should! We've been waiting for this moment — you don't have to do everything. You should pace yourself because we're still humans. We still have to function and we have jobs and responsibilities. We want to stay healthy in any number of ways. So, you know, absolutely go out and have fun. I'm going to. I'm not saying you shouldn't have a late night or two occasionally, but you don't have to run around constantly because that'll just make you exhausted and insane.

Speaking of going out and having fun, what is your favorite summer getaway?

Oh, God. Well, I mean, who doesn't love the south of France? You know what I mean? I mean, I would love to be able to do that, like spend a significant amount of time in Italy or the South of France over the summer. But I also love a gay getaway with my friends. I love Provincetown. Provincetown, to me, is really magical. It's probably my favorite place — other than New York City. And Provincetown is really unique. I hesitate to plug it too much, because I don't want it to be overrun with tourists, but also I realized that especially after last summer, when they couldn't really fully operate, that they probably need every visitor that they can. So Provincetown, whether you're LGBTQ or straight, is a really wonderful and almost utopian place.

What are some travel tips you have for people gearing up for their next getaway?

It’s already happening! I hear flights are booked and hotels are booked. Well, I encourage people to travel. I especially encourage people to travel to New York City. I keep seeing all these articles about crime and this and that. I'm not saying there are not challenges that New York City is going through right now, but like I said, it's also the most vibrant and optimistic I've ever felt. People need to visit New York. Broadway is going to reopen — off Broadway, off-off Broadway. Those are some of my favorite things. I encourage people go to New York and see a show. Don't be scared to get out there again and don't believe all this crazy nonsense that you read. Everyone's trying to share these click-baity articles about how scary things are. There are challenges, but again, it's the most vibrant I've ever seen it.

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