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Loving and listing real estate with Bajillion Dollar Properties’ Kulap Vilaysack

Photo Illustration: Nick Wanserski
Photo Illustration: Nick Wanserski

Podcast listeners know Kulap Vilaysack as the trusty chart keeper of Earwolf’s Who Charted?, while film and television audiences will recognize her from appearances in Childrens Hospital, Love, and I Love You, Man. During the process of completing her feature-length directorial debut—Origin Story, a documentary about the search for her biological father—Vilaysack experienced another first: Her series Bajillion Dollar Properties was picked up NBC Universal’s comedy-centric streaming service, Seeso. A parody of real-estate shows like Bravo’s Million Dollar Listings franchise, Bajillion Dollar Properties follows a group of cutthroat agents vying for a partnership in the prestigious firm Platinum Realty, all while selling houses to people played by the likes of Patton Oswalt, Adam Scott, Gillian Jacobs, and Cameron Esposito. Prior to the premiere of new Bajillion Dollar Properties episodes on Thursday, March 17, The A.V. Club spoke to Vilaysack about the show’s development, the anxiety of real-life real estate, and the potential for an expanded Bajillion Dollar universe.

Vilaysack (right), with Paul F. Tompkins and Jason Mantzoukas in the Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ episode “Uncle Jerry”

The A.V. Club: What were the origins of Bajillion Dollar Properties?

Kulap Vilaysack: My girlfriends, like Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael, they love the Housewives franchise on Bravo. And I just never really got into it. But Million Dollar Listings—that’s my Bravo show. And I love HGTV. I love all of those shows: Love It Or List It, House Hunters, House Hunters International, Island Hunters. If I don’t want to think, I just put that on. And Scott and I—Scott Aukerman, who is my husband—we would go to open houses, just for the fun of it. I think it was after Burning Love, someone at Paramount approached me and was like, “Hey, would you like to do something like this? A spoof?” And, naturally I thought, “Maybe if it’s about realtors or something like that.”

And then it was sort of on the back burner for a while. When Scott started Comedy Bang! Bang! Productions and was working with Dave Jargowsky, I don’t know if there was interest or I just started pursuing it harder, but that led to going back to Paramount and Tom Lennon and Ben Garant joining in as EPs. Initially, it was just going to be like seven minutes, 11 minutes, and then when Tom and Ben came in, it became this thing that I didn’t even consider, which was that it could be this 22-minute, half-hour show, bringing in a Reno 911! aspect to it. At that point in time, everything fell into place. Likening it to Reno 911! set in the world of Million Dollar Listings—that sentence opened up all the possibilities.

AVC: Did any of the personalities you encountered or experiences you had at those open houses make their way into the show?

KV: Going to the open houses was just the appetizer. We sold our condo and bought a home a little over a year ago, and yes, absolutely: The people that we met, the realtors that we met, but mainly my own behavior [Laughs.] because I wasn’t at my best, let’s just say that.

We did some research, and buying a home is up there with losing a loved one in terms of the most stressful things a human can go through. When you’re looking at homes, if you decide to put an offer in, you’ve already planned out five Christmases in the future. But if they don’t take your offer or other people want it—it’s just so high stress and it means so much. And there’s ego involved. If I’m selling my condo to, let’s say, some Koreans, and I feel like they’re low-balling me and I’m like “I think we can go higher. I know, this is what we do”— things like that are said, by people. [Laughs.] My realtor sometimes had to be like a therapist, and would sometimes have to be like a parent. I would be like “This is the one,” and he would say, “No, there’s this problem, this problem, this problem.”

I finally found a home, we’re happy—but my realtor, he continues on. And I wasn’t the only client he had. So that high-strung state, that frequency that people get on when they’re buying houses—for realtors, that’s their constant. And to me that is so fascinating. You have to deal with these crazy folks, and in L.A. I’m from Minnesota, and part of why I like House Hunters is because you see how much homes cost in other places. What you pay and what you get in L.A. is insanity. And the L.A. stuff colors it: Of course it’s like school districts and stuff, too, but like, “This house was formerly owned by this celebrity.” That just seems like this fertile ground to mine from.

AVC: What was the most ridiculous celebrity-based selling point you came across?

KV: We went to this open house in the Hollywood Hills. It was [guitarist] Steve Vai’s house. And so the big part of it was that there was a recording studio. I was like, “Oh cool: Scott and I are on podcasts, maybe that’s something we could think about.” And then you hear, “People would rent the house to record.” “And the neighborhood’s cool with that?” “No, they’re not.” So we’re like, “Is it licensed?” “No, no, no. One time there was this rapper and the neighbors complained.” [Steve Vai] smoothed it over, but it’s one thing for a famous guitarist to knock on your door and give you wine—but anybody else, this is going to be a problem.

AVC: So it’s not difficult to take these situations and make them the premise of a comedy show.

KV: And we have license to take it even further. That’s something Tom, Ben, and Scott brought up: These people are already eccentric. Where can we go? And much like Reno 911!, it becomes its own thing. It really is just a sketch show. And we have so many hilarious friends, and who doesn’t love to play somebody who’s self-centered and demanding, to play these buyers and sellers? So it’s just kind of this perfect match of factors.

AVC: The sales on Bajillion Dollar Properties are fictional, but the houses are real—and really nice. How did you find them?

KV: I think it’s just an L.A. phenomenon of bare locations basically. These are people who have made their homes available for shooting in. I think rich people know how to make money. [Laughs.]

We had an amazing locations manager who has great relationships and has shot in big houses before, and he reached out to people and cast a wide net. Beautiful homes that oftentimes were up for sale—so why not make some money between the sale? And more than not there’s a family who is actually living there, and it’s just renting it out for a few days.

AVC: When the location manager brought these properties to you, did it feel like the process of buying a house all over again? Did that cause any stressful flashbacks?

KV: It is kind of like that. Our locations manager would see a bunch of houses, narrow it down—much like a realtor—and then we would hop in a van and see places. In a way it was stressful, but what I was looking for now was like, “How could the house be divided and look different enough for five stories? How could we stay here for two days and make eight stories? Can Paul Scheer play a conman minister here and can Gillian Jacobs play a corrupt inspector who is grifting a realtor over there?”

AVC: What was the highest number of stories that you were able to get out of one location?

KV: The highest number of days we were in one place was three. Pacific Palisades. Ocean view, so crazy. We had Kerri Kenney and Brian Huskey—Kerri was playing Mrs. Gulliver, a Norma Desmond-type character. We had Horatio Sanz playing El Osito, which is basically El Chapo. Betsy Sodaro played a homeless woman camping out in one of the rooms, Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher played cele-lesbians, the improv troupe Convoy did a bunch of stuff there as well—so that’s six. We had another small story out front—that’s seven. Eight—yes eight: We had a story where one of the realtors lies to the other, makes her think that she’s learning a Rosetta Stone of Farsi and it just ends up being swear words and embarrassing things.

Oh! We created a restaurant on the back patio, so that’s way more. It’s a restaurant that all the realtors come through, so that was even more there. So we’re looking at over a dozen.

AVC: Let’s talk about the realtors themselves. What personality types from the real estate shows did you want to capture in these characters?

KV: Victoria King [Mandell Maughan] is Josh Altman from Million Dollar Listings Los Angeles, but in Louboutins. And then I threw in a healthy dose of daddy issues, which is kind of like Ivanka Trump—she has a Donald Trump type father who is named Xavier King, and he has an Apprentice-like show, called The Kingmaker. Instead of firing contestants, he “sires” them, and then they join the family, which Victoria hates because she’s an only child and he pays very little attention to her. Xavier is played by Dave Foley, who plays it pitch perfect.

We have a new-school character who’s name is Chelsea Leight-Leigh [Tawny Newsome], who does her business mainly online. She is more of a free spirit, she thinks everyone else is a dinosaur. She’s very cool, but yet she’s still selling and selling hard, because they’re all so competitive with each other.

Then there’s the bros, Andrew Wright (Ryan Gaul) and Baxter Reynolds (Drew Tarver). They’re the only duo in the office and they’re very co-dependent. They live together in like a two-bedroom house: One bedroom is for their suits and then they have two twin beds in the other room. They’re our Bert and Ernie.

We have sort of a villain, and his name is Amir Yaghoob, played by the very talented Dan Ahdoot, and this is sort of the guy who—how does Dan put it? How he’s different from Victoria is she’s an alpha female and he’s an omega male. I like to think that Victoria would like to get through a door by ramming it open, and Amir would put poison underneath the gap. But Dan does an amazing thing where he’ll be so disgusting and sleazy and then he’ll start crying on the flip of a dime. You’ll see why he’s acting like such a dick. I mean it’s an amazing, amazing thing.

And then we have Glen [Tim Baltz], who is just the office manager who is kind of plucked out of nowhere and has this interesting backstory. He’s the boss’ housekeeper’s son, and he’s really awkward and nobody respects him or understands why he’s around, and he’s a little naïve, doesn’t know much about the business—but he did go to business school so he has a lot of ideas, which are not received in any way.

And then finally, the big boss, played by Paul F. Tompkins, whose name is Dean Rosedragon. He’s this eccentric billionaire, who sees real estate and the city of Los Angeles as a game of risk. He moves people in and out as he pleases, he does things just because he’s bored, he has a chess board with his realtors’ heads on it, and people both fear him and love him.

AVC: You’re writing a show that has so many huge, absurd characters. Did you want to have someone like Glen in the cast to insert a more relatable perspective?

KV: Yes. But you will find that he’s not that relatable pretty quick. He’s such a big weirdo, but he means well.

But I think there was that element, for the pilot especially, of like, “Yeah, let’s do the tried-and-true, bring someone in as the eyes of the audience.” He’s a little dumb, but all of our characters are varying amounts of dumb. But for all the characters it was really important to me that you got to see their soft underbelly, and you see Victoria is this way, but then you get to see what her dad is like. And you see she has a crush on Dean and it’s so unrequited and it’s sad that she doesn’t see it but she still persists. As big as they are, you see what makes them tick.

AVC: Do you think there’s an opportunity to do Bajillion Dollar Properties in a different setting? Or to spin The Kingmaker into its own show? Is there a potential Bajillion Dollar Properties expanded universe?

KV: I love this. Yes, please. I mean, I’m so short-sighted: We’re cutting episode 105 right now, getting into 106 and 108. I’m like, “Okay, we’ve got to get this out.” But, you know, if two people believe in it, me and you, it’ll happen, right?

AVC: It’s like The Secret. We’ve put it out in the world now. And the precedent exists: NTSF and Newsreaders came out of Childrens Hospital; Hotwives did one season in Orlando, then it moved to Las Vegas for season two.

KV: [Laughs.] I’m so greedy: Before the show even comes out, I’m like, “Yeah, I hope we get a pick-up.” [Laughs.] I don’t know if there’s a cap to this story. Rich people act awful and want to buy houses. There’s no bottom to that. And there’s no top. [Laughs.] There’s so many ways to play that.

And we try to break it like Childrens Hospital, too. Like genre: We have one story where it’s essentially The Descent. And we get to play with stuff like that. We have one episode coming out in the second block that reveals that Predator was based on Dean’s life. So Glen throws him a Predator party and Dean has PTSD. It gets to those places, because why not? And as you said, the source material is already ridiculous enough—let’s see where we can go.

AVC: And the source material is infinite. They’re going to keep on making House Hunters until there are no more houses to hunt.

KV: Yeah. You talking apocalypse?

AVC: Pretty much. But then even then—

KV: You’re still going to be house hunting.

AVC: Post-apocalyptic, agrarian House Hunters.

KV: I mean that’s a show right there. You want to pitch it?

AVC: Absolutely. As long as I get the story-by credit.

KV: All right, all right. Okay, okay, okay. On the record, on the record. [Laughs.]