Kulap Vilaysack is best known for cohosting the comedy podcast Who Charted? and for creating the realty show parody Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, which ran for four seasons on Seeso. But her latest project, the documentary Origin Story, is a much more serious affair.
As a child, Vilaysack was told by her mother that the man who helped raise the comedian-in-the-making was not her biological father. Twenty years on, in 2014, she resolved to track down her birth father, who had returned from the U.S. to his homeland of Laos, and film the encounter.
“My relationship with my mom had gotten pretty bad, the worst its ever been,” Vilaysack tells EW, explaining her decision to embark on the journey. “Secondly, I had my first pregnancy and my first miscarriage. It didn’t work out for me being a mom at that time — it still hasn’t, by the way — but I felt like it was coming for me, and so this was like nesting, like mental nesting.”
While we won’t spoil the details of Vilaysack’s quest, it is fair to say that her trip to Laos was a highly emotional one.
“At times, it was awful,” she says. “It took me 20 years to decide to ask the question, and then I decided to do it with cameras. It felt like at times I was wearing multiple hats, and at times I wanted to not do it, even though all of this was my idea. I wanted to quit and the director in me was like, ‘We have to keep going!'”
Was this painful experience worthwhile? Vilaysack believes so.
“I’ve gotten a great reaction, and I’ve been able to meet a lot of other Lao-Americans, which has been really fulfilling,” she says. “I was terrified to show people, because I was worried about being so vulnerable, to air my dirty laundry, to air my family’s. In an Asian-American household, that’s just not done. I was worried that other Lao-Americans, especially people my parents’ age and older — the elders — they would be upset at me. That just wasn’t the case. If anything, people saw themselves up on the screen, warts and all.
“I feel if I hadn’t done it, if I hadn’t been bold enough to go to Laos and meet the father I’d never known, I wouldn’t have the confidence to have done what I’ve done since, which is Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, and all the opportunities I’ve been given,” Vilaysack adds. “I don’t know if I recommend [doing it exactly] how I did it, but it was worth it.”
Origin Story screens May 7 at the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival and will be released May 10 on Amazon. Watch the trailer above.