It’s a good time to be satirizing reality television shows, if the modern comedy landscape can be believed. For every Bachelor, there’s now a Burning Love; for every Real World, a Sex House, and for every Wahlburgers…a, well, Wahlburgers. The Kroll Show, which had its final season last year, managed to mashup and spoof genres of unscripted television that most of us probably only knew about from commercials, or times we stayed home from work so sick we couldn’t even lift the remote to turn off Bravo’s Gallery Girls or Flipping Out.
The latest in this reality-spoofing legacy comes courtesy of NBC’s new streaming content platform Seeso, and the minds of comedian Scott Aukerman (Between Two Ferns, Comedy Bang! Bang!) and his wife, Kulap Vilaysack. Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, created by Vilaysack (she’s also the showrunner) and executive produced by Aukerman, follows seven high-strung, Los Angeles real estate brokers as they compete in increasingly bizarre challenges to appease the whims of their eccentric boss Dean Rosedragon (Paul F. Tompkins). We got on the phone with Aukerman to discuss the inspiration behind Bajillion, and what the future of alt comedy might look like.
Observer: So where did this idea come from?
Aukerman: My wife and I were buying a house, and I think we saw 200 places before we finally found the one we wanted to live in. It was sort of a stressful situation. I remember one conversation, when she said about a place I didn’t like: “If this isn’t the place, then you’re never going to be satisfied!”
She was going insane. I won’t say I was going insane, but she was going insane. And our poor broker was having to deal with us. And in the meantime, we were still fascinated in watching those type of shows like Million Dollar Listing and Property Brothers.
So when we were talking about shows that she might want to do, originally we were talking about a smaller web show…like six minutes long. Naturally, we just started thinking about the type of people who buy and sell houses. So that’s how the whole idea sort of started. We were thinking smaller in scope, and reached out to Tom Lennon and Ben Garant, and they encouraged us to take it in more of a Reno 911 direction and being a longer show.
Observer: It’s so funny: I don’t watch ANY reality TV…except for the first few seasons of Million Dollar Properties, which my husband and I started taping for probably the same reason as you guys. I even did a profile on one of their brokers.
Aukerman: Ooh, which one?
Observer: Ryan Serhant, from the New York spin-off.
Aukerman: Yes! That’s the guy who thinks he’s soooo funny!
Observer: That’s the one. But taking the show in a more narrative direction instead of just a one-joke parody is kind of brilliant. It’s not limited to just spoofing a certain brand of reality television, that wouldn’t really be accessible to anyone who doesn’t already watch that kind of TV. I love that the first episode, we find out that Paul F. Tompkins’ character has a secret son working in the office.
Aukerman: That was something that was really important to Kulap. We didn’t just want to do something that was too much like Reno 911, where the question would always be “Who are they arresting?” We certainly have a lot of great guest stars coming to the show, but she really wanted to do something a little more narrative. And as the show progresses, it just gets more and more sad about these brokers’ actual lives; how they are living in a panic. The show becomes not about houses anymore, but people who work in an office together, and are very competitive with each other, but also have no one to hang out with but themselves. Reno 911, where the question would always be “Who are they arresting?” We certainly have a lot of great guest stars coming to the show, but she really wanted to do something a little more narrative. And as the show progresses, it just gets more and more sad about these brokers’ actual lives; how they are living in a panic. The show becomes not about houses anymore, but people who work in an office together, and are very competitive with each other, but also have no one to hang out with but themselves.
Observer: There’s a space for that now in comedy, I think. You’ve been working in alt-comedy for a long time, but it was really with the web series Between Two Ferns, and then Comedy Bang! Bang! that you became well-known, and neither show can really be reduced to an “elevator concept pitch.”
“It’s an exciting time in comedy when you can do something that’s a little left of center. Or right of center. Or left. I mean, if you go left around the Earth, eventually you’ll end up being right of center once you hit the halfway point.” –Scott Aukerman
Aukerman: I think there’s a great opportunity for shows that are slightly more niche, now. We pitched this to a lot of different places, and Seeso was one of the places that really wanted to step up and make the show. It’s an exciting time in comedy when you can do something that’s a little left of center. Or right of center. Or left. I mean, if you go left around the Earth, eventually you’ll end up being right of center once you hit the halfway point.
Observer: Wow, you should really write political speeches, Scott.
Aukerman: It’s really fun to be able to do something that when I started writing 20 years ago, we wouldn’t be able to sell to a place. Seeso really trusted us to do it and they’re really happy with how it turned out.
Observer: Do you have any new projects lined up?
Aukerman: I’m definitely doing another project with Seeso in a few months, it’s called Take My Wife. It’s based on the real relationship of Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher, who are two comedians who just got married. It’s more of a Louie-type narrative look at their lives. They have a very interesting life: they’re both in the family business, which is comedy, and they’re both newlyweds, married to each other, but with different experience levels in comedy. Rhea is a little more new and Cameron is a little more established.
I have a few other shows in development; one of which wasn’t picked up in the states, so Sky Atlantic is doing it in a couple of months.
Observer: Your on-screen persona on Comedy Bang! Bang! is so irreverent and funny: you’re playing the straight man, but in a very bizarre way. Do you find it more fulfilling to work in front of a camera or behind it?
Aukerman: As long as I’ve been working, I’ve had bands and comedians that I’ve wanted to champion to get them shows. And what’s cool about the position I’m in now with the TV show, now that I’ve made 110 episodes of TV, I have a lot of experience doing it and people are able to trust the product. And because Bajillion turned out so well, I also have that good experience producing. It’s always fun to do, to take someone like Cameron and Rhea and say, “Okay, if you guys had a show, what is it?” and figuring it out.
Though there’s nothing like having a show and have people watch you, and point at you and making fun of your teeth. So…that’s pretty fun.