Why Comedian Kulap Vilaysack Got Deeply Personal for Documentary About Finding Her Birth Father

Comedians often mine their own lives for a good joke, but Kulap Vilaysack bared her soul for a very different purpose.

The actress and director set out to explore her family history in her new documentary Origin Story, available on VOD now. The film, which just won the Special Jury award at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Fest, follows as she finally decides to seek out her birth father after decades of pushing the hard truth down.

“I found out my dad wasn’t my real dad when I was 14 and I just didn’t ask any questions after that,” Vilaysack, now 39, tells PEOPLE. “I really just did put it away. And once I said that I wanted to have a family, that just changed for me.”

Vilaysack decided to bring a camera along as she asked these questions, which became more urgent after she and fellow comedian husband Scott Aukerman started trying to have a family.

“I think having a camera was like having an unbiased witness to kind of be my second pair of eyes, because memory is so tricky and a lot of the film is about that,” she explains.

Vilaysack also says the cameras helped her family open up, including her mother and father, who had never talked about the past while she was growing up.

The documentary eventually took her back to her native Laos, where her family is from. Her parents fled the war-torn country during the Vietnam War, when the U.S. military dropped countless bombs into the bordering country. Vilaysack was conceived in a refugee camp and born in Washington D.C. before a Minnesota family sponsored hers and relocated them to the northern state.

Decades later, Vilaysack returned as an adult and finally found her past. Though it wasn’t an easy journey, and the documentary shows how much she went through emotionally, Vilaysack says she’s glad she went through it and found the answers she’s always craved.

“I do have a sense of a weight being lifted off of me,” she admits. “I feel a sense of freedom that I didn’t have before because I’m not defining myself by a story that wasn’t true or not complete. I really am better off that I was at the beginning of that journey because I have so much more information. And while I thought it was going to go a different way, the way it went was the way it was supposed to.”

She continues, “Growing up I always thought I wanted the past to be different than it was, and going through this process, I realized you can’t cherry pick the things that happen to you. You can’t pick the good stuff. You, as a person, are the sum of all that has ever happened to you and you can’t deny certain parts of it just because they’re unpleasant. The type of person who I am, and I am proud of who I’ve become, is somebody who has been tested and I’m stronger for it.”

Origin Story is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

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