Meet the comedy power couple of Scott Aukerman and Kulap Vilaysack, a couple for almost 17 years, married for 8, and two people responsible for some very funny TV. After Aukerman turned his hit podcast Comedy Bang Bang into the most surreal talk show on TV, he used those creds to start Comedy Bang Productions. Like his podcast network Earwolf, he’s looking to produce TV from talented alternative comedians to create original series. And Kulap, who also has a show on Earwolf (Who Charted with co-host Howard Kremer), was the first person to develop a show that fit Aukerman’s description.
Bajillion Dollar Properties is a parody of some of the more extreme lifestyle shows which focus on real-estate shopping, dealings, and staging currently on TV. Like Reno 911 (created by Bajilliion’s co-executive producers Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant), commitment to their inspirations’ style is key to selling their over the top show. Aukerman and Vilaysack, who were at SXSW last week to promote the show, admit that their own personal obsession with real-estate reality inspired the shows, with Aukerman even admitting to buying the Trading Spaces book in hopes of using some of that show’s decorating tips on their condo, but claims “I just don’t have an eye for that type of thing.” However Aukerman and Vilaysack have studied all the great reality shows saying “We were really big into House Hunters and Love it or List It. There is one show where they buy an island (Island Hunters). A whole TV show where they just went to different Islands decided which ones they wanted to buy. We were really into those shows. But then we got into Million Dollar Listings, which is sort of the template for this show.”
But it wasn’t just their TV tastes which inspired Vilaysack, but their own experiences as home buyers and sellers. Kulip laughs that “We were watching those shows before, but when we bought the place we’re in now, we saw about 200 places and got really into those shows. Our poor realtor had to put up with me coming in thinking I know what’s what because I’ve watched these shows.” And when there are millions at stake and a home on the line, the pressure starts to have an effect, as Aukerman, who comes across as the most relaxed guy in the room recalls “You really start to see the insane people trying to sell their places, which can drive the buyers insane, which kind of happened to us.” The giggly Kulap, who happily admits to being a bit bossy (according to her husband) that the buying-selling process got the best of her sometimes, recalling “When we sold our condo I was a little insane. I’d get angry that they were going to go under the asking price, so I’d say “well then they won’t get our washer/dryer.” But I went insane when we bought the house too. It’s such a huge, emotional purchase. It’s a lot of money AND it’s going to be your home.”
When Vilaysack originally conceived the show, she thought it would be a two-hander for female comedians, which Aukerman suggested she name “Two Broker Girls.” Then she decided to expand the show to the series they have now, with 7 main characters. The characters of the younger brokers Kulap concived of as being a bit like shop-girls in the real-estate world, youngsters posing as high class to sell their expensive properties, a phenomenon of the real-estate world both Aukerman and Vilaysack noticed and thought it rip for a bit of satire. “You watch those shows, especially Million Dollar Listenings because it focuses on the realtors” explains Vilaysack “And you see how high strung they all are. It’s just that their clients are even more high strung than they are. But when they make a sale, the clients get to stop the insanity, but the brokers just have to go off and try to make another sale. So they’re constantly high strung and working on a constant, stressful frequency. But to me, high stress equals high comedy. They all have to look the part. They need the right watches and shoes and cars, but ultimately, they will only make a small percentage of the sale. They will never make close to what their clients make, but they still have to be their peers. There is something about the appearance of taste. They are basically shopgirls.”
Even before they were on their own house hunt, Aukerman remembers seeing the same, recalling “I remember back when a friend of ours was looking at houses, before we ever bought ours, and his broker had a Toyota Corolla, but he wanted to upgrade to the Camry. And I just thought, you are so much broker than me, why would I trust you to sell me my house? And that is the position these brokers are put in, they have to look as successful as their clients, otherwise they won’t be trusted, even though they aren’t making the same kind of money.”
As these driven youngsters, Vilaysack found six newcomers in the improv world. Although she’s a UCB veteran (and co-founder of UCB Corp), they didn’t cast the main roles from their inner-circle and instead found her team from auditions: Dan Ahdoot, Tim Baltz, Mandell Maughan, Tawny Newsome, Ryan Gaul and Drew Tarver. “I knew Drew Tarver a little bit because of my UCB connection” says Vilaysack, “but he was the only person we knew before the auditions.”
“I’d been hearing about Drew for a while” adds Aukerman “And I know in my office, right before the auditions, they were playing some video of a guy singing really high, over and over again, and they were laughing really loud, while I was trying to get work done. And I said, “What are you guys laughing at?” And they said Drew Tarver, he’s so funny. And I thought, shut up, get back to work. So that’s what I knew about Drew. And Ryan (Gaul), I’d seen Ryan do improv once and thought he was really funny. But everyone else was new to us, but they were all such incredible finds.”
And fortunately for them, the team jelled immediately. Vilaysack remembers starting the first day of rehearsals with a day to try improv and after just one prompt and completed a full scene. The show is what Aukerman describes as “improv based on scripts” which is the same method Aukerman employs on Comedy Bang Bang. They write up scripts with sample dialogue and the plot, so the actors don’t get lost, and allow them to use or throw away the script while working (whatever they feel most comfortable with).
Along with their six newcomers, the show also stars Paul F. Tompkins, one of the busiest comics working today (““We got him for a limited time because he’s so busy, but he’s so great” says Aukerman), and longtime friend of the couple. Kulip describes this as the project she “pulled out the rolladex for. We’ve been in the alternative comedy scene in LA for years, and for me, this was the project I was cashing in all my favors.” And she did, asking a collection of her closest friends in the comedy world to appear on the show as guests. In the first episode, a temperamental house seller is played by Adam Scott, Aukerman’s cohost on the punchy podcast “You Talking U2 To Me” where their relationship is best described as “pissy, like little boys” by Vilaysack. In the second episode, comic actor Jason Mantzoukas appears as a weird photographer taking promotional pictures in the office, written specifically for him by Kulap, who also plays his druggy assistant (“it’s so fun to be able to play inside the show” says Vilaysack, “But the heels were high, I didn’t enjoy that”).
Aukerman, who has had plenty of his own friends on Comedy Bang Bang, says that while they ask for favors, not all comics see it as a favor to be on their show. He explains that “sometimes you don’t think of them as favors. The comedy community is really tight knit and we like to do each other’s projects. So a lot of time it doesn’t feel like a favor. Most of the people we asked to be in it had a good time and were in and out. I heard consistently it was a great set to be on.”
That great set is something Vilaysack can take great pride in as a first time show creator and show-runner. “Doing the podcast gave me so much confidence to be myself, worts and all” says Vilaysack on her show with Kremer. “And then to take that and make that documentary Origin Story, about me finding out about my roots and meeting my birth father in Laos. Going through that I was a little beaten down, but I was made stronger for it and I survived that. And then beyond surviving, I could take full ownership of who I am and what I can do next, and that morphed into this. And when Tom Lennon asked, “So you’re going to show run?” I could say yes. And then I found the confidence to also direct episodes.”
Vilaysack hired her DP from Origin Story to work on the show, and while show running observed the show’s directors Ben Garant, Alex Fernie (Children’s Hospital, Hotwives), and Brad Morris (Cougar Town) before taking the helm herself. As for Aukerman, besides running the production company (which will also release the upcoming Take My Wife by Carmen Esposito and Rhea Butcher), he describes his role as being there to offer his expertise and make suggestions. But fortunately they have had any marital tensions, largely because Vilaysack is already running a high functioning set “It’s good because if I were worried about the show, I would be more hands on” Says Aukerman. “But she’s doing a great job so there is very little for me to do, other than lend support where I can.”