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Comedic couple Kulap Vilaysack and Scott Aukerman partner up for 'Bajillion Dollar Propertie$'

by Michelle Lanz | The Frame

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Kulap Vilaysack and Scott Aukerman (right) after their interview with John Horn on The Frame. Michelle Lanz/KPCC

Married couple Kulap Vilaysack and Scott Aukerman are both comedians, writers, podcasters and producers collaborating on the original series "Bajillion Dollar Propertie$," which can be seen on NBC's new digital comedy platform, Seeso. 

The show is a fake reality show about high-end Los Angeles real estate agents, kind of a comedy version of all those house-hunting shows on networks such as HGTV and Bravo. Vilaysack created the show out of a personal love for programs like "Million Dollar Listing," and she insists it's not meant as a takedown of the shows, but an ode. 

"People seem to be disappointed by that. I am a bona fide fan," Vilaysack says. "There's no irony in it, at all. I really saw [the show] as a perfect place for people to misbehave."

The show is Vilaysack's creation, but Aukerman serves as executive producer and even has a cameo in episode five. Vilaysack shows up in episode one as a photographer's assistant with a penchant for doling out prescription drugs. 

Vilaysack and Aukerman came by The Frame's studio to talk about their show, what they love about Los Angeles, and Vilaysack's very personal documentary project, "Origin Story."

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

Kulap, you're the creator of this show. How many hours were you spending watching HGTV? "Top Chef"? What were you kicking around when you decided to put the show together?

Vilaysack: With so much pleasure, I've lost many hours to HGTV [and] "Million Dollar Listing," specifically Los Angeles, but also New York.

You seem very enamored of these shows. "Bajillion Dollar Propertie$" isn't really a takedown, it's more of an homage.

Vilaysack: Yes! People seem to be disappointed by that. I am a bona fide fan. There's no irony in it, at all. I really saw [the show] as a perfect place for people to misbehave.

You are very specific in terms of how you shoot and edit, and I'd say, add sound effects. There's a sound effect track that reality shows have, in terms of the about-face or the twist ...

Vilaysack: The rattle. The scrape.

Exactly. So, where does all of that come from?

Vilaysack: "Million Dollar Listing," for the most part.

Aukerman: We had an editor who worked in reality TV who brought her sound effects from [there], which was very illuminating to us. Because we were watching and saying, This isn't exactly right. And we had the cymbal, which we were using a lot — she brought [the sound effects] in, and the moment we put those snake rattles and scrapes in there, it was perfect.

Vilaysack: And we somehow got all the camera settings and lenses from "Million Dollar Listing," so that explains the look.

When you went around pitching this show, what were the reactions and how did you end up on Seeso? 

Aukerman: I'd say Seeso was the most enthusiastic. We got a couple of offers from places, but Seeso wanted to make two seasons of it and gave us an order for a lot of episodes. [They] didn't want to make a pilot, just said, Go off and make it. It was really exciting, the passion they had for it.

Just this morning you were renewed for one more season.

Aukerman: The second season, yeah.

What will happen in the second season?

Aukerman: Well, there is an entirely new storyline. At the end of this season we find out who makes partner. And next season we see the fallout from that and the ramifications of it. Also, we have a new storyline where the realtors are vying for a specific award.

Vilaysack: We've created an awards show akin to the Oscars, but for Los Angeles real estate.

I mean, the joke is that that's not a joke. This is probably around the corner.

Vilaysack: We had Madison Hildebrand from the real show, "Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles," [say] there are awards like this. I was like, Oh, really? So this isn't a stretch?

I want to talk about casting. You have an ability on this show to bring in a lot of your comedy friends. You have Cameron Esposito playing a — how would you describe her?

Vilaysack: A celesbian — celebrity lesbian. Along with her real wife, Rhea Butcher. They play two lesbians who are stars of a Western period drama.

Aukerman: They're celebrity lesbians who are very famous in certain circles, and the realtor doesn't recognize them because he's not a lesbian. So they have very rabid fans in Los Angeles.

Vilaysack: And their concern is security, to keep those fans out and away from them. 

What kind of leeway do you give the people coming on the show? Do you have specific characters in mind or do you work collaboratively with them?

Vilaysack: We will go to a friend [and say], Do you respond to these ideas? If they do, then we collaborate. Some people just do the ideas straightforward. Some people have their own ideas and then we work with them. It's very, very flexible.

Aukerman: It's kind of a mixture. If you go to someone like Adam Scott, and you say, We have this idea for you where your character is a stereotypical Hollywood actor, and you do this and this, they'll then add to it a lot. And then some people have total characters on their own that they want to do. They'll come to us with an idea.

Vilaysack: The show is semi-scripted.

When you're putting the show together and Scott has his experiences with Comedy Bang! Bang! and IFC, is there any common ground in terms of Seeso and IFC, the way in which you work with a streaming service as opposed to a network?

Aukerman: I think the things that Seeso and IFC have in common are they're very supportive of the artists. They really allowed us to do what we wanted, both with this show and "Comedy Bang! Bang!" We don't get a lot of notes. We kind of just do it to our specifications. Because comedy is supposed to be specific to a person's taste. They don't really want to tinker around with our visions for the shows.

Vilaysack: A lot of our editing in "Bajillion" is trying to cut as close before somebody completely breaks. They're laughing because someone has made them laugh, and that's such a genuine moment. We're having such a good time on set, you really want that to come through.

Kulap, I want to ask about another project you're working on right now, "Origin Story." This is a documentary project. Could you talk about the inspiration for this story and what you are finding along the way?

Vilaysack: I think it was, now, probably a few years back, a really talented and popular graphic novelist, Gail Simone, created a DC comic book character named after me. Her vigilante cape name was "Katharsis." She asked me to help with the back story, the origin story. And the irony for me was that I didn't know my back story fully. Because when I was 14 I found out that my dad wasn't my real dad. 

I didn't know. And I sort of put it away for a while, until I turned 33. That was when I began the process of deciding that I wanted to uncover some family history. And it took me to Laos, where my family's from, and where I met my birth father for the first time.

Where is the film now? How far along are you?

Vilaysack: We have a two-hour rough cut. It was put on hold for a little bit because of "Bajillion," but we're going to dive into it pretty soon.

And Scott, what has it been like watching your wife go through this?

Aukerman: To sort of copy her character's name in the comic book, it's been very cathartic for her. I know Kulap was trying to figure out how to tell this story for a while. What's interesting about the film to me is it becomes about the stories that we tell to ourselves and the stories that we tell to our family members. So I think that documenting it was very important for her in order to accurately depict what she found out her story was. 

I want to ask you about Los Angeles. The comedian's life in L.A. is typically complicated in that he or she is acting, writing, doing standup, maybe putting together a documentary, a TV show, doing a commercial. Is that typical for the both of you, that on any given day you have to look at your calendar and say, Who am I today and what is it that I'm doing to make ends meet?

Aukerman: Using today as an example, I'm doing this interview as executive producer of ["Bajillion Dollar Propertie$"], I'm doing three episodes of my podcast, I'm meeting for a game show that I'm producing. Meanwhile, yesterday I was acting all day on my own show. So it gets very interesting. There's a lot of opportunity out here which is great, but it's [difficult] to try to figure out what you're doing at any given time.

Vilaysack: Yeah, and I think you just hustle. You just keep moving. I want to be creative, and if one avenue isn't leading me there then I'm gonna build some more roads. Today, I have this interview, and then I'm going to go edit "Bajillion," the second season. But it's exciting. It's never boring, and I'm happy.

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