Billy Eichner Is Making a Case to Be the Contemporary David Sedaris. We Should Let Him See It Through
People have had all sorts of boring criticisms of Billy Eichner’s Bros, like it’s nothing new, or that it’s cringe, or that it’s too sentimental. But those people, many of whom didn’t even see Bros when it first arrived in theaters back in September — I can only imagine they were busy with the pressing issues of everyday life, like trying to figure out whether or not Chris Pine spit on Harry Styles, or trying to express themselves authentically via BeReal (god, remember September?) — would be wrong.
Bros, which is now streaming on Peacock, is a spirited nod to the good times, smart dialogue golden age of the Nora Ephron romantic comedies. Better yet, it approaches queer life with the lived-in familiarity of any other big-budget comedy, an attitude that lets queer people feel in on the jokes, while still allowing the straights to follow along. And so, when the subversive meets the mainstream in Bros, it’s acknowledged with humor — for instance, a twinkly Randy Newman moment in the score playing underneath a romcom-style scene set within a group sex meet-up. It’s vibrant, fresh and funny.
Our protagonist, Bobby Lieber, who is played by Eichner but is totally and completely different than comedian Billy Eichner (this guy’s last name is Lieber!), is equal parts pathos and searingly mean observations. A forty-something lifelong single, gay New Yorker, it’s clear that Bobby is used to silently (if judgingly) observing a situation and then explaining the wry truth of it all. From Billy on the Street to Difficult People, Eichner has built a career on bringing this archetype to broad audiences. He has what I like to call the GAS: He’s gay, he’s annoyed and he’s spectacular.
Which, for me at least, continues to put him in strong contention for being the contemporary David Sedaris.
Whereas Eichner chose digital sketch comedy as the avenue for his ascent, Sedaris came up via public radio, a group somehow wholly opposite but equally as dorky as digital sketch comedians. I, like many other canvas-tote millennials with shameful stacks of unread copies of the New Yorker hidden under my bed, found out about his essays through his appearances on This American Life. In his piece “Santaland Diaries,” Sedaris narrates his personal essay about finding work at Macy’s as a Christmas Elf, getting through a holiday season at Santaland by thinking mean thoughts about entitled Manhattanite parents and generally not giving a shit. This is very much the same vibe as an episode of Difficult People, in which Eichner’s serially underemployed actor comedian character (this time Billy Epstein) takes a job as a live actor in a staged couple’s bus tour dispute to an audience of gaping-maw tourists.
Eichner’s and Sedaris’ work both acknowledge the absurdity of living in the thankless/humiliating creative fringes of modern life with casual wit and cutting truth, serving as outspoken observers of the absurd and moral-less.
Eichner’s true tour de force in this regard is Billy on the Street. In it, he searches for meaning in a meaningless world with urgent interrogations of innocent New Yorkers minding their own business, sometimes offering a dollar for their participation. In one episode, he completes a game with Chris Pratt, holding him close as he whispers in a microphone, “One day you’re going to play gay and you’re gonna win an Oscar, and I’m still gonna be here on the street doing this bullshit,” before gifting the actor a diorama of Chrissy Teigen and John Legend at home watching Bad Boys on TBS.
What Sedaris and Eichner maybe share the most, though, is their accessibility (perhaps that’s what the “a” in GAS should stand for?). Sedaris’ collections Me Talk Pretty One Day or When You Are Engulfed in Flames are enlightening without being punishingly challenging. It’s more like talking shit with a friend than reading. Difficult People, Billy on the Street and Bros (“from the makers of Superbad” no less) go down equally as smooth.
Based on Bros disappointing box-office returns, it’s unclear if such a movie will be released again any time soon. But there’s no doubt that we’ll see a lot more from Eichner in the future. In a world full of straight absurdities, like espresso martinis and themed engagement photo shoots, it’s important to have a discerning voice like his out there properly putting this kind of inanity in its place.
We could always use another David Sedaris. Let’s give Eichner a shot.