Billy Eichner Is Glad Hollywood Can 'Push Our Country Forward' on LGBTQ+ Rights: 'Helpful for People Like Me'

The Billy on the Street star and Funny or Die executives tell PEOPLE how comedy has the power to shape politics during White House Correspondents' Dinner weekend

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock (12916683ag) Billy Eichner Funny Or Die and PEOPLE - Washington's Funniest Party, Washington DC, USA - 29 Apr 2022
Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock

Billy Eichner is happy to be back at the "strange intersection of Hollywood and politics" that the White House Correspondents' Dinner inspires in Washington, D.C., where journalists, celebrities, and politicians mix during a weekend of parties, laughs and formal wear.

"It's all bizarre and absurd," Eichner says of the typically annual event, which took a two-year hiatus during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic but returns to the Washington Hilton Saturday.

Eichner, 43, arrived Friday in the nation's capital from Las Vegas, where he debuted the trailer for his upcoming movie Bros at CinemaCon.

"It's the first gay romcom ever made by a major studio," the Billy on the Street star told the crowd at a party thrown by Funny or Die and PEOPLE at The REACH at the Kennedy Center Friday night.

"All the roles are played by openly LGBTQ actors, even the straight roles," he added of the film, due out in September, which is produced by Judd Apatow.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock (12916683ab) (L-R) Henry R. Muñoz III and Billy Eichner Funny Or Die and PEOPLE - Washington's Funniest Party, Washington DC, USA - 29 Apr 2022
Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock

Like the expected jokes told at the White House Correspondents' Dinner — which this year will be hosted by The Daily Show's Trevor Noah and attended by President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, and more than 2,500 others — Eichner says Bros is meant to make people laugh but also has a political element — though the latter, he adds, wasn't intentional.

"The goal was just to make a funny, heartwarming movie," he says. "Yet something we couldn't have predicted is now happening, which is that we're seeing this whole new wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation. It's not just Florida. It's happening all over and it's targeting kids and teenagers and trans kids and trans teenagers."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed what opponents call the "Don't Say Gay" bill in late March to prohibit the discussion of certain LGBTQ topics in schools. Meanwhile, in Alabama, recent legislation makes it a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $15,000 for a doctor to prescribe puberty blockers and hormone therapies, or perform gender-affirming surgeries in people under age 19 (Other states have passed similar laws).

"These are the most vulnerable people in my community and some of the most vulnerable people in our country," Eichner said, calling Gov. DeSantis and others "dangerous" for their support of the legislation.

Though some conservative lawmakers have positioned themselves in opposition to the liberal elements of Hollywood, Eichner praised the entertainment industry for embracing progressive values.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Joy Asico/Shutterstock (12917735z) Mike Farah and Billy Eichner Funny Or Die and PEOPLE - Washington's Funniest Party, Washington DC, USA - 29 Apr 2022
Joy Asico/Shutterstock

"It's taken people in Hollywood and people who work in culture to push our country forward when our politics were a step behind," he said, though he acknowledged that "Hollywood is incredibly hypocritical."

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"For better or worse," he continued, "that's just how it's been especially when it comes to an issue that's very close to my heart, LGBTQ issues, right? Hollywood and the culture have always been a step ahead of what the politics were. And that's been very, very helpful for people like me."

The way entertainment can shape politics — and reach audiences who might not be interested in, say, health care policy — was a popular topic at the party Friday, which Funny or Die owner Henry Muñoz III and CEO Mike Farah also attended along with stars like Gayle King, Brooke Shields, Harry Hamlin and his daughter Amelia Gray Hamlin.

"When President Obama needed to explain the Affordable Care Act, he enlisted Funny or Die and sat Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis," said Muñoz, an activist and former finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who acquired the comedy brand last year.

"Comedy as escapism is so important right now," Farah told PEOPLE of how humorous content can soothe during a time of divisive politics. "Comedy always wants to speak truth to power so if you can find a way to entertain people, let them forget about what's going on but also never forget the power of great comedy and a great show and the visibility — I think that's what most comedians are working to balance right now."

They aren't the only ones. President Biden's attendance at the Correspondents' Dinner is meant to "showcase his support for the free press," the White House said earlier this week. However, he's also expected to make the journalists, celebrities, and comedians in the audience laugh with a few jokes of his own.

Muñoz, whose 2017 wedding to Kyle Ferari-Muñoz was officiated by then-Vice President Biden, assured PEOPLE that the commander-in-chief is capable of pulling it off.

"Joe Biden is funny," he said. "I don't know exactly what he's going to say. I went to the White House today and got a little bit of a sneak peek but I'm not going to tell you."

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