It’s the middle of the day on a Monday at a coffee shop in Hollywood and we are surrounded by people who do not have day jobs.
Jake Weisman and Matt Ingebretson, the two stars and creators of Comedy Central’s new workplace comedy Corporate, along with director and co-creator Pat Bishop, are seated around a table casually sipping black coffees and eating egg sandwiches. The unusual downpour of Los Angeles rain echoes the overcast mood of Corporate’s extremely dark view of American office culture.
“Look at these people,” Ingebretson’s onscreen alter ego (also named Matt) observes midway through the pilot, as he and Jake (played by Weisman) walk through a row of cubicles and try to diagnose their inhabitants. “Is everyone at this company clinically depressed?”
“Everyone here’s hanging by a thread,” Jake replies. “They could snap at any moment.”
“These were all children once. Happy, innocent children,” Matt adds as the camera pans over workers’ forlorn faces. One woman stares blankly into space. A man’s forehead rests dejectedly on his desk. Another looks shiftily to his right as he takes in a deep sniff of a permanent marker. “Now look at them. How did this happen?”
“They’re all just trying to fill the void,” Jake explains. “You know, the emptiness that exists inside all of us.”
Weisman concedes the show’s worldview may be grim, “but that’s just how we think,” he says. “It’s not dark to me, that’s just what funny is. Like, the fact that we’re going to die unfulfilled is really funny. Desperation is funny.”
“We didn’t want to be afraid to alienate some people, like all of your moms,” Ingebretson adds. “The reality about jobs is that there’s a reason that you’re being paid to do it and it’s that aspects of it are miserable and hard. Even when you’re doing your passion project, so much of it is banging your head against the wall in misery.”
Corporate may be a “passion project” for the show’s creators, but the Matt and Jake we see on screen—the type of “junior executives in training” who are in the big meetings but sit on the outer rim of the conference room—are not doing what they love. They simply don’t know what else to do. The rare moments of joy that they do discover—free cake in the break room, a successful PowerPoint presentation—are quickly crushed by an overriding sense of cynicism and despair.
“Most office shows are seen as kind of bright and giddy and goofy,” Weisman says. “And it’s like, when I’m at work at a job I don’t love, all I’m thinking about is the job being over and then my life being over. If you have to work in an office, you’re not happy about it.”
The Office—especially the American version—was viewed when it first premiered in 2005 as a darkly comedic look at worklife. Compared to Corporate, it now seems warm and cuddly, with its romantic arcs and fundamentally moral characters.
“Yeah, it’s like Candyland,” Weisman says of that show.
“We also wanted [Corporate] to have a different visual aesthetic for a comedy,” Bishop, who directed all 10 episodes of the first season, says. “We have that right from the start. It’s not going to look like The Office or other comedies that are bright and happy and you want to be there with the characters. It’s going to have this darker look that’s more used in dramas.”
“Like the silliest drama possible,” Weisman stresses.
Ingebretson, Weisman and Bishop met almost eight years ago when they were all struggling stand-ups in the burgeoning alternative comedy scene on the eastside of L.A. Eventually, they started collaborating on taped sketches.
“The only way we really knew how to do anything was to make YouTube videos and do stand-up and eventually, hopefully, someone would notice us and ask us, ‘Do you have any TV show ideas?’” Weisman says.
The first time the three of them worked together was on a YouTube video titled “Director’s Commentary” in which Bishop directed Weisman and Ingebretson doing a director’s commentary about a fake short film, followed by a director’s commentary on the director’s commentary.
As Ingebretson says, that video has a “psychotic darkness to it that I think is reflected in things that we continue to make together.” It also helped them get some meetings with interested producers. They came close to selling a Hollywood satire show based on “Director’s Commentary,” but after it fell through, they pivoted to the idea of Corporate.
Ingebretson had a good amount of experience working in the marketing departments of large corporations, using his business degree to pay the bills during the day as he pursued comedy by night. “I have multiple degrees, not to brag, by the way,” he jokes. “If you’ve ever had a shitty boss in any job, they have the capacity to ruin your life. You kind of sign your life over to these people, hoping that they are good people.”
In Corporate, they are not good people.
Lance Reddick, best known for playing Lieutenant Cedric Daniels on The Wire, plays Christian DeVille, the all-powerful CEO of mega-corporation Hampton DeVille—Slogan: “We make everything.” As Matt and Jake’s direct bosses John and Kate, Adam Lustick and Anne Dudek steal practically every scene they’re in by nailing a familiar brand of corporate sycophancy.
“We’re just lucky to have a few people on this show who are just so unbelievably talented and funnier than us,” Weisman says, referencing those actors along with comedians Baron Vaughn and Aparna Nancherla, who play supporting roles on the show.
Watching Reddick perform his first scene in the pilot, Weisman remembers thinking, “Oh, that’s acting.” It made them realize, “We should try harder.”
Beyond basing the show on their own experiences, the creators did their research, interviewing people who worked for massive companies like Amazon and Google. “It turns out it’s even worse than we thought and everyone’s in hell,” Ingebretson says, matter-of-factly.
One of the most crucial insights they gleaned is that “shit rolls down hill,” Weisman adds. “People just yell at the people below them and everyone’s in fear.” They consistently heard from real-life workers that “the job is to yell at the people below you and take shit from people above you.”
Stories about meetings and conference calls that would go on seemingly forever helped inspire a bottle episode later in the season that takes place entirely in one “never-ending” meeting and tries to answer the question, “Why are we here?” in both a literal and metaphysical sense.
“When you’re at a job in an office, there’s this fluorescent light that’s trippy and bizarre and you start to feel existential and crazy and confused as to why you’re there,” Weisman explains. “How did I end up here? I was like an innocent boy. And now I’m here locked in this prison.”
Corporate also strikes political undertones, including in episodes about the mutually beneficial relationships between large companies like the fictional Hampton DeVille and entities like the Defense Department or mega churches. The show’s season finale, titled “Remember Day,” is guaranteed to cause controversy with its nihilistic take on how big business has co-opted 9/11.
“We’re not trying to make a liberal or conservative show,” Weisman insists. “We’re just trying to talk about how corporations are ruining your life.”
The first four episodes of Corporate have been available to watch for free online for the better part of a month, but when the show starts airing on Comedy Central this Wednesday night, Weisman and Ingebretson will be thrust into the spotlight in a way they haven’t experienced up to this point in their careers.
The idea of being public figures, including everything that comes along with that, is still sinking in. For once, people might actually pay attention to what they have to say, for better or worse.
“It’s definitely worrisome,” Weisman says of their pending fame. “You’re always surprised to find out that people are taking what you say literally. But if you’re a public figure, the things you say can affect people and to have to be careful is nerve-wracking.”
“I’ve almost tweeted—not death threats—but just fantasies about murdering Trump so many times,” Ingebretson admits. “I have so many tweets about Donald Trump’s death in my drafts folder.” Now that he’s essentially working for Comedy Central parent company Viacom, he recognizes that they should probably stay there.
At the show’s premiere party, high above downtown Los Angeles at the OUE Skyspace, Comedy Central president Kent Alterman praised the “clear vision” that the creators had for Corporate, joking, “Fuck you for being so fucking talented at such a young age.” As if to emphasize just how unknown the creators are, Alterman did an extended bit in which he struggled to pronounce Ingebretson’s name.
Recently, Weisman says he was looking at the guide on his Tivo and was amazed to find their names listed in the show’s credits. “Actors: Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman,” it reads. “I mean, c’mon, we’re not actors,” he says. “We’re idiots.”