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Billy Eichner hopes for box office smash with gaymance Bros

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Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

Billy Eichner, the openly Gay comedian, is usually the one asking the questions. He came to fame with his award-winning, 2011—17 truTV show Billy on the Street, in which he would accost strangers on the streets of Manhattan, often with an A-list celebrity at his side, interrupting someone in the middle of a jog, errand, or commute, only to ask a groan-inducing question or play a silly game. Most New Yorkers did not recognize either Eichner or celebrity sidekicks like Chris Evans, Will Ferrell, Mariah Carey, or Sarah Jessica Parker.

The tides have turned. Eichner, in a few short years, has gone from video class clown to a polished (dare I say very good) actor, writer, and all-around mensch — and ascended to celebrity A-list status himself. In 2019, he starred as the voice of Timon in the Disney live-action remake of The Lion King; he also voices the character in the upcoming live-action sequel Mufasa: The Lion King.

But that's not all. Currently, Eichner is writer, producer, and co-star of Bros, a new romantic comedy about two commitment-phobic Gay guys in a relationship: himself and co-star Luke Macfarlane. Macfarlane, who came to fame in schmaltzy Hallmark Channel movies, is another openly Gay (not to mention very good-looking) actor; indeed, all of Bros' writers, producers, and all of the lead and supporting actors (including Amanda Bearse) identify as LGBTQ, with the exceptions of director Nicolas Stoller and producer Judd Apatow. Bros is therefore the first "almost" all-Gay, Lesbian, or Trans major motion picture.

Times have changed
"My day hasn't even begun," says Eichner, who has just arrived in San Francisco, and where it's the ungodly hour of 7:45 a.m. He's just back from the Toronto International Film Festival, where Bros debuted to great acclaim.

At 44, he is old enough to remember growing up during a time when Gay-themed movies had limited releases and smallish audiences. "I went to see a lot of them: All Over the Guy, Jeffrey, Trick, Edge of Seventeen, Go," Eichner recalled. "But it felt like it was something I did in private. It felt like it did when I was hiding a magazine [at home]."

Bros, on the other hand, is written for contemporary audiences — straight, Gay, and everything in between (my words) — who are unfazed by scenes and situations that would have seemed controversial even ten years ago. And, given the talent behind the project and the early buzz, Bros could be the first Gay rom-com to become a mainstream box office smash.

Particularly with Stoller and Apatow on board. "The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Bridesmaids, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Neighbors... Judd and/or Nick are responsible for some of the funniest movies during the past two decades," Eichner enthused.

"The goal was to make the funniest, [most] laugh-out-loud movie as possible, that just happens to be about a Gay couple," he added.

When I asked him for a funny story about a first date he himself had, he laughed and said, "I'm still waiting to go on one. But seriously, I met a guy that worked for a cannabis company. He showed up as high as could be. And of course he was hungry. I should have just called it a night then. But we went out and all he could do was eat. There wasn't any conversation. But I don't know if that is funny, or just weird."

Charm and surprise
One of the most charming aspects of Bros is a pivotal scene filmed in Provincetown, Mass., a community with deep Gay roots. "Provincetown is maybe my favorite place on earth," said Eichner. "It's as far out on Cape Cod as you can get. Being able to film in Provincetown added so much style to the [classic] romantic story. The town has a rich Gay history but is beautiful, sexy, and fun. It is so welcoming to everyone that Nick [Stoller], who is straight and married with three kids, takes his family there every summer. It is also the first place that we began filming."

(The production was shut down in between filming for over a year and a half due to the pandemic.)

There's a musical moment in Bros that may surprise some Eichner fans but shouldn't; he's a great singer and studied musical theater in college. His love of music predates his bar mitzvah, which he describes as "Broadway meets pop music... I had a life-sized, airbrushed Madonna standee from her Blonde Ambition tour. And a standee from [the Broadway musical] The Phantom of the Opera. I even sang 'Lean On Me.'"

Eichner's singing talents are displayed in Bros, but very briefly. "I don't want people to think Bros is a musical, though," Eichner wants readers to know.

And let me add my two cents: Bros is not a musical at all. It is a comedy that is going to go down in history, in a great way.

Bros is in theaters starting on September 30, 2022.

Tim Nasson is a contributing editor at the Boston Globe and publisher of https://www.wildaboutmovies.com.