Burning Love

Birmingham native, Erica Oyama,  blurs the line between reality and reality TV with her new hit comedy.

Interview by Tom Wofford      Photos by Robyn Von Swank

Erica Oyama, Birmingham native and Alabama School of Fine Arts alum, created one of last year’s most buzz-worthy comedy series, Burning Love, spoofing The Bachelor and its spin-offs, reality shows in general, and the state of current American pop culture, using a deft touch, razor-sharp writing and spot-on satirical performances by comedy heavyweights and top-drawer actors.

With Ben Stiller among its producers (and appearing in one of the show’s many cameo roles), Burning Love packs biting satire and belly laughs as densely as it does appearances by an amazing list of talent, including Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Christine Taylor (Dodgeball and The Brady Bunch movies), Michael Cera (Juno and Arrested Development), Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation), Mo Gaffney (The Kathy and Mo Show), Kerri Kenney-Silver (Reno 911!), Joe Lo Truglio (The State and Reno 911!), Jerry O’Connell (Scream 2 and Stand by Me), Colin Hanks (Orange County), Paul Rudd, and also Jennifer Aniston, as a contestant who wears a panda costume so that her looks won’t become an unfair distraction (spoofing a Bachelorette contestant who wore a mask for the same reasons.)

Veteran comedian Michael Ian Black plays the series host.

The first season of Burning Love follows Firefighter Mark Orlando (Oyama’s husband, writer-director Ken Marino) as he tries to find love (“Sure, I’ve had girlfriends before, but now I’m ready to settle down, with a stranger.”) Mark must choose from among a collection of odd-ball women, including a homeless woman, a stalker, a sex freak who never wears anything below the waist, a pregnant woman, a lesbian, a septuagenarian, an “exotic” named Ballerina (Mr. Chow from The Hangover in drag), and a woman with a monkey’s heart. The second season follows first-season reject Julie Gristlewhite as she chooses between an equally strange lot of men including a good–looking bad boy who regularly disappears, a single dad who can’t stop crying for his son, a self–proclaimed Prince, a Nashville cell phone salesman who repeatedly sings the same two lines of a country song, and a handsome guy who happens to already have three other wives. The third season brings back competitors from the first two seasons in a Survivor–meets–Big Brother contest called Burning Love: Burning Down the House, vying for a grand price of $900.

Burning Love debuted last year as a web series on Yahoo!, where the third season premiered last month. Expanded episodes of the first two seasons began airing on E! in February. Oyama talks with B-Metro’s Tom Wofford:

Tom Wofford: Where are you right now?

Erica Oyama: I’m on set right now, shooting outside of L.A. I’m working on a show called NTSF:SD:SUV for Adult Swim. It’s an episode set on an airplane, and we’ve got this entire airplane mock up. It’s a busy, stunt-heavy week.

TW: Did you intend to act when you went to Los Angeles, or did you always plan to write?

EO: I came out to Los Angeles with the intention to act. I was auditioning while I was in school at Loyola Marymount University, but I started leaning toward the film classes. I was a screen writing major, and then I went into the industry. I worked in production before getting work as a screenwriter.

TW: It certainly helps when working in the industry if it’s a family affair.

EO: It’s been great to work with my husband on Burning Love and our other projects. Ken directed all the episodes and played the Bachelor in season one. We’ve also collaborated on several episodes for the Adult Swim show Childrens Hospital.

TW: Where did you get the idea for Burning Love?

EO: I’m a huge fan of The Bachelor. I remember watching one finale, when Brad Womack didn’t choose either girl. It was just so dramatic, I was instantly hooked. I watched for several seasons before writing a short based on the show. I thought we would just shoot the short, but then it quickly turned into, “What if we expanded it,” if we could delve deeper into it. I pitched it, and we shot a “sizzle reel,” which is like a commercial for the series, then about a year later it came together with the producers.

TW: How did you come to be obsessed with The Bachelor?

EO: I just love the drama of watching a bunch of people compete over a potential husband. It’s such a great show.

TW: What did you choose to do differently?

EO: We tried to keep it more about the characters. For instance, there was a girl [on The Bachelor] who supposedly had a relationship with one of the producers, so we exaggerated that idea, that she was hooking up with like 20 people.

TW: It’s hysterical that Jennifer Aniston’s character spends most of her time in a panda suit. Did you use a stand-in for the scenes when the character is in full costume?

EO: We had a double for the mansion scenes.

TW: Is that the same house they used in The Bachelor?

EO: No, but we chose our mansion because it had the same vibe.

TW: You’ve had so many amazing performers on your show. Do you ever find yourself a little star-struck?

EO: I’m star-struck when it comes to reality stars. One time I saw [Season 14 Bachelor] Jake Pavelka eating lunch, and I literally came through the bushes to say hello to him. He was a little scared. Then I had him on my show, and that helped take away my shame of harassing him while he was eating.

TW: I guess when Ben Stiller is your co-worker, it’s always a fun day at work.

EO: Ben is obviously busy being a huge movie star and director, and he lives in New York. We shot his scenes for the show in New York, so I didn’t get to meet him at the time. For seasons two and three he did visit our set in LA one day. He was so supportive and encouraging. He was joking around that he’s enjoying lots of compliments from people in regards to Burning Love, so that was nice to hear.

TW: What can we expect from season three?

EO: Season three is our competition season, where we bring past contestants back to compete for $900. We had a lot of fun creating dumb challenges and schemes for them. They’re really willing to ruin each other’s lives for less than a thousand dollars.

TW: What’s going to be next for you?

EO: I’m working right now as co-executive produce and writer on this show NTSF:SD:SUV. It’s created, produced and stars Paul Scheer who appears in Burning Love as Robbie Z. I’m also writing and pitching other projects.

TW: What does that title stand for?

EO: [laughing] It stands for “National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego: Sports Utility Vehicle.”

TW: Do you get back to Birmingham very often?

EO: My parents and sister are in Birmingham, and I try to come back once or twice a year.

TW: What do you miss about it?

EO: I miss my family, family meals, grandparents, sweet tea, southern cooking. Wal– Mart.

TW: But surely you have Target close by you in L.A.

EO: Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Target, but it’s a little too classy. There’s no place like Wal–Mart.

TW: I guess ASFA was a great launching pad for a career such as yours.

EO: I had a great time at ASFA. I loved doing plays and being around like–minded people. I think the theatre arts program helped me understand character development, which has helped a lot in my writing.

TW: Sounds like you’re having a lot of fun.

EO: I’m so glad I get to do this. I’m really appreciative of where we are right now. We’re busy, we get stressed out, but we are very lucky.

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