Jeff Hiller, who stars in HBO’s “Somebody, Somewhere,” shops for lamps in New York’s Lower East Side.
The chandeliers presented an unusual challenge for the actor and comedian Jeff Hiller.
At 6-foot-5, Mx. Hiller’s head grazed, surpassed and occasionally collided with the various light fixtures that dangled from the ceiling of A & E Bowery Lighting on New York’s Lower East Side.
As Mx. Hiller, 46, who uses a gender-neutral courtesy title, maneuvered around the store, he tugged a few pull cords, testing them. “How do you know which switch goes to what light?” Mx. Hiller asked Shelly Huang, the store’s proprietor, who responded with a hearty laugh. Ms. Huang seemed to have taken a liking to Mx. Hiller.
So, too, have viewers of HBO’s “Somebody, Somewhere,” the new HBO comedy in which Mx. Hiller plays Joel, a sweet, gay, church-loving 40-something living in Kansas.
Mx. Hiller, who hails from Texas, related to the character. “I know that guy: queer but also like, ‘I love my church!’” Mx. Hiller said. “And I like that guy.” Mx. Hiller himself was raised Lutheran and said he missed church “maybe three times” during the first 25 years of his life.
Today, Mx. Hiller was on the lookout for a light to hang over his work desk that would differentiate his office from his dining area, which, technically speaking, occupied the same room of his one-bedroom co-op on the Lower East Side. He also needed a new “harp,” which he learned was the name of the metal loop that supports the shade. He described the look he wanted as “sort of Simon Doonan and Jonathan Adler, but bootleg — some camp, but also chic.”
He lingered over a frosted glass globe on a silver base. “I actually wouldn’t mind some gold, but my husband is real anti-gold,” he said. “I think it reminds him of Donald Trump, which is fair. I don’t want a Melania lamp.” Mx. Hiller punctuated this with one of his many high-pitched laughs that would erupt during this excursion.
He snapped photos of other candidates he thought his husband, the artist Neil Goldberg, might like.
“What I should just be doing is taking pictures of things that I want,” he said. “But sometimes when I share pictures of the things I want and he doesn’t like them, it hurts my feelings, even though it’s irrational.”
Mx. Hiller said he was working on his urge to over-accommodate in therapy. “That’s why I have my Bea Arthur pin,” he said, pointing to an enamel pin of the actress on the lapel of his pea coat. “She ain’t no people pleaser!”
Ultimately, Mx. Hiller thought better of buying any fixtures without consulting his other half. But he was still in need of that harp. Ms. Huang didn’t sell them, but she recommended a lampshade store nearby.
As he walked up the Bowery, Mx. Hiller reflected on how the response from “Somebody, Somewhere” differentiated from his previous film and TV work.
“It doesn’t even slightly compare,” he said with another high-pitched laugh. Since the show started, he has amassed thousands of Instagram followers and is recognized by strangers. Just that morning, a fan from Manila sent him a direct message.
“Really, this show’s in Manila?” Mx. Hiller said.
Before the show, Mx. Hiller was a longtime staple of New York’s stages. He also taught comedy classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater for more than a decade.
In 2011, he moved to Los Angeles, where he enjoyed moderate success but didn’t work nearly as much as he wanted to. “If I got two jobs in a year and you saw both of them, you’d be like ‘Wow! Jeff’s everywhere!’” he said. “But that was only two days of work in a year.”
By 2015, his roles in Los Angeles had dried up, his manager wasn’t returning his calls and he could no longer afford to live on a separate coast from his husband. He returned to New York and taught improv again at Upright Citizens Brigade.
“I paid my dues,” he said with a particularly shrill laugh. “Do you know how many students in my level one class booked sitcoms?” Mx. Hiller had once counted the number of students who, in his estimation, had “made it” before he did. By the time he reached the upper 40s, he stopped.
In 2018, he took over for Drew Droege in the one-man, Off Broadway show, “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns.” The following year, he performed an original cabaret comedy show about the death of his mother called “Grief Bacon” at Joe’s Pub.
“That was the thing that made me feel like an artist again,” he said. Not long after, he was hired as Joel on “Somebody, Somewhere,” alongside Bridget Everett and Murray Hill, two other veteran New York stage performers.
The three shared an Airbnb in Lockport, Ill., for the duration of shooting. Each night, Mx. Hiller’s co-star Mr. Hill, who played Fred Rococo on the show, would run lines for them.
“He was actually kind of vicious about it,” said Mx. Hiller with a laugh. Still, beneath his gruff exterior, Mx. Hiller described Mr. Hill as a “secret mensch.”
After shooting wrapped, Mx. Hiller attended the Yaddo artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where he finished writing a play called “The Corazón,” a comedy set in a bed-and-breakfast about toxic relationships.
The topic is surprising, given how Mx. Hiller comes across as decidedly nontoxic. “I’m 46,” he said. “You didn’t know me when I was 22.”
Mx. Hiller stepped into the lampshade shop, which happened to be mere blocks from his co-op. He asked if it carried harps. The man behind the counter gestured to a wall lined with them.
Mx. Hiller was delighted to find just what he needed so close to home.
As he paid, he noticed that the harps had a gold finish rather than the silver that his husband preferred. “Oh well,” Mx. Hiller said. “He’s just going to have to deal.”