Creating and Owning with Kulap Vilaysack

In recent years Kulap Vilaysack has been adding a lot of tags to her name. She’s an actor, writer, co-host of Who Charted podcast (with Howard Kremer) on the Earwolf network, and created/directed/produced the crowdfunded documentary Origin Story (now in post-production) based on her family roots. With the premiere of Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ she is combining creator, producer, writer, showrunner and occasional director and actor too. It is a lot for one person, but she’s tackling it with friends and family by her side.

I spoke to Kulap about the show’s creation, cashing in friend favors, and her late friend Harris Wittels.

Can you guide me through the development process, where did the initial idea for Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ come from?

Initially a few years back when Burning Love happened and before Hot Wives, a friend suggested I come in and think about ideas for other spoof shows. One of the ones I pitched was about real estate, they said it was great but it kinda got put on the back burner. I guess I didn’t lean in while I was caught up in other projects. When my husband Scott [Aukerman] started his production company with David Jargowsky we brought up the idea again and flushed it out. We went back to Paramount, they loved the idea and soon after that like beginning of last year Tom Lennon and Ben Garant joined and brought a wealth of knowledge from Reno 911! With Tom and Ben’s involvement it became this project that could go on forever, not just a quick web series thing but a real show. From there we kept working, pitched it to a bunch of networks and Seeso chose us and we chose them. We ironed out the details in early April, got the green light end of May and I started writing end of August. We started shooting in November and just wrapped last week.

How has the collaboration process been during such a creative project?

Pretty great. My comedy home is the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and that’s where all my best friends are from. A lot of my friends in LA have been through Groundlings or UCB or Chicago. On a show like this the conception was always that it would be like Reno 911!, it would be improv and able to use different people from different styles of comedy. In our writer’s room there was a huge mix of people from different backgrounds. Alex Fernie who’s in Convoy at UCB wrote and directed and my head writer is Brad Morris who comes from Chicago Second City mainstage. It was just a wealth of skills that translated into people we hired who came from all walks of comedy.

Even in the teaser for the season you can see a bit of everyone from the comedy world.

Yeah I moved here from Minnesota right after high school in 1998, seriously five days after graduating. Came out here to go to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in LA and within the first month I met Scott at a Mr. Show taping. I’ve been here for a long time and when this project came along I started cashing in all the favors I’ve had over the years…most people said yes!

It must make it easier to cast the show.

Aside from our main cast of realtors – those were the only auditions we had. The rest were friends, asking through a call or email and having the business people iron it out. It’s just pure relationships.

Is it more rewarding and exciting because it’s a combination of your life and personal friends?

This project has been the most satisfying and most fulfilling for me. Not only did I create it, I’m the showrunner and directed a few episodes and all I wanna do now is throw a party and invite people. Let me feed you, have a dance party, and then use the karaoke machine and see where the night goes. I was so lucky to find the cast we have and the crew we have. It was hard work but a really strong school of fish we went this way or that way.

It sounds like every worker’s dream to have a rewarding job or project like that. Were you inspired by the LA real estate market? A lot of the big name shows take place there.

Yeah, yeah I mean Scott and I were looking for a house over a year ago. We saw about 200 houses before we found ours and bid on three before this one. It’s awesome now but it was super stressful and I wasn’t on my best behavior…I said things. My poor realtor tried to handle me; he had to manage me at times because I was at this high frequency. When you start to really picture yourself living in a place, you think you’re going to die there. That’s how much weight that decision had for me. We weren’t the only couple he was working with but to be in that all the time is totally crazy. On top of it, LA has the cars and what you look like and where you live is a big deal. It’s just ripe for bad behavior.

It sounds like a good excuse to binge watch all those HGTV reality shows as “research.”

Oh I did that prior, that is my entertainment! At first I started with HGTV and all of the House Hunters shows, Love it or List it and now I’m wondering about income properties. I love houses, we used to go to open houses for the fun of it and just pretend. I didn’t know about Million Dollar Listings until later and it hit me like that. Bravo does what Bravo does, they serialize it and make it dramatic and focus it on the realtors. That was it, that was the show.

I’m like that, I just like houses. If I’m coming to your place I will ask you for a tour cause I wanna see how you decorate and how you arrange things!

Exactly! How people live, the choices that they make, the feeling of the house. I don’t know, maybe because my parents are immigrants there is nothing more stable than having your own space.

It’s always interesting to see how people’s careers came to be too, the path can be so wild while you find what you’re interested in or supposed to do. 

After fashion school I started working immediately as a sales rep and then was the first rep for Ed Hardy before Christian Audigier took it. I met Ed Hardy in this small operation and at the same time took classes at Second City LA. I was working on Melrose but knew comedy was something I really wanted to do but also, you change a lot. I started dating Scott when I was 19, we had a break when I was 21 when I guess I got too old and then we got back together and now I’m going to be 36 in May. The many revelations I’ve had since then, just biologically since my brain stopped growing on top of personally learning, groups of friends change or remain. My dear friend Harris Wittels passed away last year and I’m just very contemplative about things like that.

Podcasts are a big part of my life and many other fans as well. I related when my friend passed this Christmas, I dove into them headfirst to keep my mind busy and Who Charted is so upbeat and fun.

Thank you. Podcasting maybe more than anything has changed my life. I’ve said it many times before but it doesn’t mean I mean it any less. Having a place to be every week and to do the show with Howard and be accepted for who I am is a huge, huge gift. I honor how intimate it is as a medium. Even with Harris, people knew him from podcasts and that was him, you knew him.

When you catch someone being totally themselves with no persona and no added pressure it makes for a great podcast.

He was so supportive and supernaturally talented too. We did level three and four together at UCB and he tried out for a Harold team and hung back and only ended up saying two words and just fucking nailed it. I’m so lucky we have recordings of him and of everything. Even the documentary I’m working on is 100% funded by podcasting. Being accepted for who I am through Who Charted and trying to go above and beyond with myself and that lead to Bajillion Dollar Properties too. It all comes full circle!

Kaitlynn E-A Smith is a copywriter by day, writer by night, MA fashion grad and (mostly) creative mind. Follow her on Twitter to read her thoughts or Instagram to see her cats.

Creating and Owning with Kulap Vilaysack