It’s Kulap Vilaysack’s Party, and You’re Invited
Season 3 of the TV high-end real estate parody show Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ premieres today on Seeso. The show is created and executive produced by the multi-faceted Kulap Vilaysack, who spent many years embedded in the tight-knit LA improv and alt comedy scene that grew out of UCB and the early embodiments of Largo and Meltdown. Known for her weekly podcast Who Charted? and appearances on shows like Children’s Hospital and The Hotwives of Orlando, Vilaysack has settled comfortably into her latest role as creator and showrunner of Bajillion. I talked with Kulap about the series, her upcoming documentary, and how odd showbiz gigs prepared her for the job of executive producer.
Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ came from your own personal obsession with real estate reality shows combined with some of your own experiences in the housing market. When did the idea for the show hit you?
I was inspired by Children’s Hospital and Burning Love. I loved HGTV and thought, “This could be a thing.” Then I got distracted, as I often do. When my husband, Scott Aukerman, started his production company we kind of revisited the idea. At that time these types of shows, like Million Dollar Listing, had become more popular. I dove back in and started taking it more seriously. We first got together with our studio, Paramount, and then Tom Lennon and Ben Garant of Reno 911! fame — among other things, they basically run Hollywood — joined as executive producers. From that point it just took off. It was like relative hyperspeed compared to its origins. We caravanned around for two days going to multiple networks and outlets. Two places wanted it and Seeso gave us the better offer. I think we made the right choice in every way.
I’m fascinated with how to go about measuring success on a newer platform like Seeso. Do you get reports, metrics, or data about how many people are watching?
No, I have no idea other than what people have said to me on social media. Seeso hasn’t shared that information with us. I know that they get metrics, but I think it’s like Netflix. They don’t share numbers right?
Right. You can find out what is trending, but exact numbers are not published.
Yeah, so I’m in the dark other than what people tweet at me or tell me in person. I think I want to know though. It reminds me of the early days of podcasting where you’re kind of being creative in a vacuum. We are doing well in that it was well-reviewed and the people who watch it seem to like it. But I know that not everybody’s watching it.
The comparison to the early days of podcasting is good. There are so many ways for people to find niche shows and films, but at the same time a lot of people don’t even know where to look to find what they might like.
There are so many options. I remember one Saturday I stayed in and watched all of Tig Notaro’s show One Mississippi on Amazon Prime. I don’t even know when it came out, but it was that thing of, “I need to see it. I need to see it,” and then I had the wherewithal to be like, “Oh, we connected the Roku so now I can watch Amazon easier.” I still haven’t fully cut the cord yet so my first instinct is to turn on the DVR and see what is saved there. But I love that I can go to my Roku or Apple TV and basically get caught up on all of my friends’ shows. There is so much to watch. I was talking to Paul Scheer about how we are at a point — and I’m grateful for it — but we are at a point where we can’t watch all of our friends’ stuff anymore and that’s got to be okay.
That comparison to podcasts continues to make a lot of sense in that situation. It used to be that people would say, “Hey, have you checked out my podcast?” Now there are so many podcasts and the question has become, “Hey, will you be on my podcast? I don’t even care if you’ve never heard of it.” It’s assumed that pretty much everyone has one and no one can actually keep up with it all, but at some point everyone will do each others’ show.
I think that’s basically where we’re at. For me, and I think for Scott as well, we’ve been in this particular community in LA for so long now. We’re doing what we used to do at UCB, El Cid, Meltdown, Largo. Like, “Hey, do you want to be in this sketch with me? Do you want to do this bit?” We used to do it live and now we’re doing it with cameras. It’s the same community that has basically grown up together. For the most part everybody knows everybody, so it’s easy to say, “Hey, you’d be great for this.”
One thing your show and others like it have done is introduce people to really funny talent that you may not have seen anywhere else. There’s also that thing where you’ll kind of recognize a face or voice and play the degree of separation game, like, “Where do I know them from?”
That to me is so exciting. As a performer you want to do fun stuff and be seen being funny. For me, when I only did acting I would get bits here and there, but by and large they were under-five roles where you’re not really being funny as a hostess saying, “Your table is right here. Follow me.” When there was only network TV there were large stages, but there weren’t many of them. But now there are so many outlets to be seen in. Because they’re so new they’re not going to expect that everyone on their show is going to have this massive resume. The people at Seeso are the kind of people who go to UCB shows, listen to WFMU, know all the podcasts. They know that there are comedy superstars in the making right now. I’ve found that they’re more willing to be diverse in every sense of the word when it comes to their shows. They trust the creators, know that they’re funny, and know that they know funny people.
You have so many improv people on Bajillion. How much of the show is improvised?
It’s a semi-scripted show akin to Reno 911! Our scenes all have a road map with, to use a UCB term, the “game of the scene” with dialogue examples to use or discard at the actors’ discretion. Because of how quickly we shoot, oftentimes a lot of the stuff that we write ends up being used because it’s already been thought out. But we have talented improvisers who often take it to heights that we couldn’t have anticipated. We always have a starting point and everyone knows what I’m looking for, so from that point on it’s just about having fun.
Is this your first time creating and running a show?
It’s crazy how this project has taken off for you. Usually you have to get a couple under your belt before you find the one that really fits and works.
In my mind I think every job or temp job I’ve ever done has prepared me for this. All those weirdo jobs really helped me get ready. I worked at UCB, I was in an associate producer for America’s Got Talent, I was a transcriber for reality TV back in the day. I really truly use all of that knowledge for this job. Luckily being a showrunner suits me. All I want to do is throw a party and make sure everyone is having a good time. I like to work hard and I like to play hard. I think that type of personality lends itself well to this job.
I found an old article that came out when the first season of Bajillion premiered. It described you and Scott as a “comedy power couple.” I don’t know if you would use that label, but how would you describe your working relationship?
I love working with Scott. He is, I guess… [whispers] a comedic genius. If you’re going to print that could you print it in a smaller font in parentheses so everyone knows I said it quietly? I’m a huge fan of my husband. He’s the best and he’s the shit. He’s an awesome collaborator and a good resource, especially if you find yourself in a rut or a bind. He’s great at turning the Boggle game around so you can look at it in a different direction. There are times when we butt heads. We have strong personalities. The word “bossy” has come up. He’s called me that and I’ve called him that. But we’re both super passionate about our work and it’s been a joy to work with him — and to be married to him.
You also have a documentary in the works.
A very personal documentary called Origin Story. I’m working on completing the film with the hope of submitting it to various festivals by fall.
I’ve been following your progress with the documentary through your podcast. You put so much work into shooting it, but you were only halfway done at that point.
After shooting it I kind of thought, “Okay, now we’ll edit it.” But clearly the story wasn’t done. It was emotionally taxing. It was heavy for a while. I keep having this image of lifting up rocks and seeing what’s underneath. There’s a reason why some things have been hidden and it’s no small feat to look at what’s in the dirt. So…then I did he pee-pee poo-poo jokes on Bajillion and felt better. I needed Bajillion.