Did you hear the one about the three gay guys who walked into a piano bar? On a recent June night in New York City, we tagged along with a trio of Hollywood’s most out-and-proud stars, Billy on the Street and Difficult People‘s Billy Eichner, 36, Looking‘s Jonathan Groff, 30, and Girls‘ Andrew Rannells, 36. Over a few boozy rounds at Sid Gold’s Request Room, the real-life friends shared their coming-out stories, what they really think of closeted actors in Hollywood, and—naturally—which Golden Girl they identify with.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve all been friends for years. Is there really such a thing as the gay mafia in Hollywood?
BILLY EICHNER: No, but we all kind of know each other because there aren’t that many of us. It’s a unique experience, you kind of cling to each other. I mean, it makes sense.
ANDREW RANNELLS: And you see each other at the same events.
EICHNER: If you do three Trevor Projects, you’ve met everyone. [Laughs]
I used to decoupage in my parents’ garage and they didn’t know I was gay. Do you have moments like that looking back?
EICHNER: When I came out to my parents, I knew that they knew. My father was like, “Are you sure?” I literally said, “You took me to see Barbra Streisand at Madison Square Garden.” I grew up in New York. We saw everything. I saw Love! Valour! Compassion! with my parents in high school with, like, eight naked gay men on stage and it was, like, fine. I was very lucky.
RANNELLS: Same thing. My parents knew. I used to dance in front of the TV during Solid Gold.
EICHNER: I loved Solid Gold!
RANNELLS: I wanted to fully be a Solid Gold dancer. I would be drenched with sweat, dancing my ass off. My father actually referenced that when I came out to him.
JONATHAN GROFF: No way!
RANNELLS: Yeah, he was like, “Looking back, I guess [I knew] when you were dancing as fast as you could…”
GROFF: I was Mary Poppins for Halloween when I was 3, with lipstick and a carpetbag. And I was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz in a production in my dad’s barn.
EICHNER: Like in classic Shakespearean times! Men played all the women’s roles. [Laughs]
What age did you each come out?
GROFF: I was 23. It wasn’t the greatest news on the planet when I came out to my parents. They were confused. They’re from Pennsylvania, and even though it was 2008 and there were so many more references [in pop culture], my dad was still like, “What’s Will & Grace?”
RANNELLS: I was 18. Just graduated from high school. I was about to move to New York, and I figured I should just get it done before I moved. [My parents] weren’t [casual] enough to be flippant about it, but if there was any confusion or hesitation, it was pretty short-lived.
EICHNER: I came out to my parents when I was a junior in college. And it was pretty fine. They were more concerned with why I wasn’t dating anyone. But now I’m 36 and I still don’t date anyone.
Who was your first crush growing up?
EICHNER: I have a vivid memory of loving Keith Hernandez, the first baseman for the ’86 Mets. I grew up in Queens, so when the Mets won the World Series that year, it was a big deal. I still like guys that look like he did at that moment. It was a kind of daddy situation. He had a ‘stache. [Laughs]
RANNELLS: Maxwell Caulfield. At, like, 4 years old. I was like, “What’s happening?” And I thought, “That’s it!”
GROFF: Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell!
EICHNER: He would be shirtless sometimes.
RANNELLS: Mario Lopez too.
GROFF: Zack was so charming. And he’s aged so well.
How do you date as celebrities? Can you use sites like OKCupid or Tinder?
GROFF: I don’t hate dating people, but I’m not on social media or anything. Dating can be painful, can be great, can be confusing, can be weird, but I don’t do it online because I’m not really an online person.
EICHNER: I’m on Tinder, Grindr, Scruff. I don’t give a f—!
Does it bother you that there are some actors in Hollywood who aren’t out?
RANNELLS: It’s only a problem if they create a problem. Everybody has to do their own thing and come out on their own time.
EICHNER: I think if someone’s a private person, and they don’t talk about who they’re dating, I’m fine with that. But there are some actors who are like, “I don’t talk about my private life” and then you see them in Architectural Digest and it’s like, “Here’s a tour of my home!”
JONATHAN: It doesn’t [bother me]. I guess because I was closeted and if I had been dragged out of the closet, or someone had forced me to come out, it would have been really painful. On the other side, it feels so much better. In Spring Awakening, I wasn’t out until the show was over. I came out a month after it ended. But when we were in rehearsal, that show was about sex, and I would [use] so much energy dodging questions [about it]. I never lied, but I was always figuring out ways to get around it. Everyone comes out at their own time and has their own process. It’s so much better to be out, obviously. But I can’t judge the people who are in the closet because I was in the closet seven years ago.
Does being out affect the roles you’re offered? Did it change things in terms of people’s view of you?
RANNELLS: I’m sure it has in some ways.
EICHNER: But how would I know? They’re not gonna tell you, so you really don’t know.
JONATHAN: When I decided to come out, I thought, “I’m gonna have to put away the idea of doing a Nicholas Sparks movie someday.” But in retrospect, Looking has been the most amazing experience I’ve ever had creatively, and that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t out. So it probably has affected my life and my career—but in ways that I feel good about.
When straight actors land gay roles, do you get annoyed?
RANNELLS: The only thing that gets annoying is when people say, “He’s so brave that he’s doing this.” The brave thing gets a big eye roll. It really isn’t brave!
What do you think of Americans’ attitudes toward gay characters now?
EICHNER: As a society we’ve moved past gay shows. If you talk to young gay people, younger than us, they don’t want to watch a show about seven gay guys who don’t integrate with the world. They don’t go to gay bars. They actually make fun of gay bars!
Most important question of the night: Which Golden Girl are you?
EICHNER: I’m definitely a Dorothy. Though sometimes I feel like a Stan Zbornak. And I’m so glad this question hasn’t stereotyped us.
GROFF: I feel like I gravitate most to Betty White.
EICHNER: Say no more. [To Andrew] You have a bit of Blanche in you, too, I think.
RANNELLS: Oh, really? A bit of Blanche rising.
EICHNER: Dorothy with a Blanche rising. Gayest thing that’s ever been said anywhere!