Billy Eichner is tall, gay, Jewish, from Queens, with a hairline somewhere between receding and disappearing. All of these qualities fuel his comedy. They also make the act of watching him run around the streets of New York, offering ordinary people $1 to answer questions like, “Who’s better, Meryl Streep or Glenn Close?” (and then erupting into a heated and irrational fury when the answer is Glenn Close “by far,” to which he yells back, neck veins bulging cartoonishly, “No, that is not the truth!”) one of the most exhilarating comic experiences there is. These moments, when Billy turns on his “contestant,” almost make you believe that the game show was invented just so Billy could savage it. You at least want to believe it.
Structurally, “Billy on the Street,” which just ended its second season on Fuse, is an ordinary game show: Billy asks trivia questions, and contestants win money for answering them correctly. There are obstacle courses for people to complete, lightning rounds and special games where you have to give a certain number of answers in a limited amount of time.
But structure is where the resemblances between this and any other game show end. The third round of the main trivia game, “Quizzed in the Face,” is entirely subjective. In order to win, the contestant has to share Billy’s opinion. Lightning rounds devolve into Billy frantically shouting shards of language. “Miss,” he stops a woman, “Judd Apatow?” Her face can barely contain her scornful indifference and he dashes down the street, his voice trailing “Judd Apatoooowwwww????” Or, in Tel Aviv, on his way to see Madonna open her world tour, the question, “Miss, do you love a gay dancer?” hangs in the air unanswered just long enough for Billy to run to the next person and then the next, shouting “Gay dancers! Gay dancers!” all while offering people around him his microphone to respond. No one seems to know whether or not to take “Gay dancers” as an ominous warning or as a joke.