Billy Eichner: ‘Fully Formed’ LGBT Characters, Stories Needed (Guest Column)

Billy Eichner Actors on Actors GLAAD
Shayan Asgharnia for Variety

We have seen a ton of progress on television. If you compare things to when I was a kid, things have drastically changed. Thankfully, I get to take advantage of that. I’m on multiple shows this year of all different genres from “Billy on the Street” and “Difficult People” and “Friends From College” to “American Horror Story” and “Bob’s Burgers” and other things. The great thing
is that’s not that unusual.

When it comes to film, it seems like movie studios have a lot of work to do. We had “Moonlight” this year, which is proof that a tiny movie about not only a gay man, but a gay man of color, can win the Academy Award for best picture over a lot of more high-profile films.

“Moonlight” is a step in the right direction, but we want to [also] be seen in big-budget movies. And we want to be seen in action films. It’s nice that Deadpool is bisexual, but I want to see some action then, you know? Ryan Reynolds even came out and said he’d love to see Deadpool have a boyfriend at some point. We need to see those things. You can write it off as a silly super hero movie, but those things have a huge impact.

source: GLAAD

LGBT characters and story lines have to be good: The quality of works really does matter. People saw “Moonlight” because it was excellent. I’m sure there are some great little indie movies out there about gay people that don’t necessarily get the wide release that they deserve, but I think we’re moving toward that day. We’re certainly not going to get there if we’re not telling those stories — and you also have a responsibility to make it good.

Fully formed characters are key: One thing that I love about “Difficult People” is that Julie Klausner and our showrunner, Scott King, have written the lead character I play as a fully formed man. I’m not neutered in any way, and I’m not just the wacky neighbor or some angel-martyr figure that’s giving everyone else advice. But at the same time I’m not some cartoonishly horny friend of a friend that pops in every once in a while, you know, because gay men love sex so much. I’m all of those things and I’m also sad, and I’m also struggling with my family, struggling with my career, struggling with a lack of self-awareness and narcissism, while also trying to be funny and enjoy life at the same time. In other words, it’s a fully formed person.

On whether LGBT characters can be punchlines: Saying gay people shouldn’t be the punchline is basically saying don’t make people the punch line, which I think is ridiculous. The whole point of comedy is on some level to make fun of ourselves and put everything into an absurdist context. To me, all facets of life are completely absurd. It’s all about context, and bottom line: Is it funny? You can make a mean joke and it’s fine if it’s funny. If it’s not funny, then it’s just purely mean.

On the importance of showing up for films with LGBT characters: It’s not enough for Hollywood to make a bunch of gay movies. That’s obviously a big part of the equation, but then gay people have to show up for those movies. When something good does happen — when a “Moonlight” comes along — we have to go and see it. We have to spend our money on it because, ultimately, it’s a numbers game. You can laugh at Tyler Perry or not laugh at Tyler Perry, but they’re going to keep making those Tyler Perry movies because his audience shows up for them consistently. We have to show up for each other. I’m not sure we are just yet. — As told to Ricardo Lopez

Writer-actor-comedian Billy Eichner appears in the new season of “American Horror Story.”