There’s a long history of workplace satires on TV, but chances are you’ve never seen one quite like Corporate.
The new Comedy Central show, now midway through its first season, has generated acclaim for its silly, bleak, and often surreal exploration of contemporary corporate culture. Creators Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman also star in the series as junior executives slowly climbing the ladder at Hampton DeVille, a comically heartless and ever-expanding corporation helmed by steely CEO Christian DeVille (The Wire‘s Lance Reddick). Anne Dudek and Adam Lustick costar as Christian’s top lieutenants, while standup Aparna Nancherla appears as the head of Human Resources.
Corporate was conceived pre-President Trump and tackles a host of unpleasant real-world issues with unsparing focus. Yet the series has resonated nonetheless: In addition to strong reviews, its January premiere was ranked as the highest-rated basic cable comedy launch of the TV season.
EW caught up with Ingebretson and Weisman to get their thoughts on why the show is resonating, whether it reflects their worldview, and how they might change things up if they get the green light for season 2. Read on below, and also check out an exclusive clip from this week’s new episode (Wednesday, 10 p.m.) above.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you guys develop this idea?
MATT INGEBRETSON: The idea came from a lot of day jobs that I had when I first moved out here. When you’re starting in comedy, it’s impossible to make a living off of it. I’ve worked a lot of jobs at large corporations doing either digital marketing or social media or copyediting, and I found the environments there to be mercilessly suffocating — and needlessly so. It felt insane, like everyone was constantly confused as to how they ended up in these situations. Even talking to a lot of people who have jobs that they like, life is such a confusing thing where you end up living in a situation that you never expected — and it’s existential. So we wanted to make a show that reflected what it’s like living in capitalist America — late capitalist America in 2015, I guess, which is when we first pitched it.
Before the Trump era.
JAKE WEISMAN: Yeah, we wanted the show to make sense regardless of who was president. This isn’t a reaction to Trump; even if Hillary had made it, it would have been a very similar show.
There’s definitely a history of corporate satire, and watching this particular show, you seem to take it several steps further into surrealism and things like that. Were there any reference points that you were drawing from?
INGEBRETSON: One thing that was exciting to us about making what is sort of considered an “office comedy” — even though much shows, if you think about it, are workplace or office comedies — is one where it specifically feels like we are operating entirely within a corporate workplace. It offers these restrictions and boundaries that you have to work within, and it felt fun to jump into that world. There’s a tradition with these types of shows, and we were excited to make one that dove a little deeper into the existential despair of working. We wanted to explore that a little more visually than I think a lot of office comedies have in the past, and dip into more surrealism and try to extract the feelings of working these types of jobs. A lot of those other comedies fall into the trope of “We had a hard day at work, but at the end of the day, we’re still friends!” and we wanted to make something that was a little more emboldened, and try to not worry too much about those tropes — just be a little bit more adventurous and wild and take bigger swings.
WEISMAN: We’re also inspired by satires in filmmaking. We like Terry Gilliam and movies like Brazil. Stuff about Big Brother like Doctor Strangelove. We’re more interested in the Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Fincher — creative people who are telling stories that are similar to what have been told, but just in a more creative and cinematic way. We’re comedians, but we’re also film nerds, and that’s mainly what we wanted to make. We love comedy but we don’t think there’s any reason why it shouldn’t be attached to filmmaking. Most office workplace comedies are just like, “Look at these crazy coworkers!” We love Tarkovsky. We’re film nerds, so we wanted to bring that to the restriction of the office. We just think that comedy should be visual; we like that kind of stuff. We think visually, and that’s how we write.
INGEBRETSON: We’re a huge fan of many shows that Comedy Central has had, but a lot of our favorite comedies by many of the directors Jake listed operate in this sort of half drama, half comedy — or there’s kind of a mixture of the two. We wanted to push a little more in that direction, versus it being purely a lighthearted chuckle-fest; to be on Comedy Central but still push it in a more dramatic, cinematic direction.
You’re landing at just the right time, in that sense, given where TV is right now.
INGEBRETSON: It does feel like TV is now a place where people can take chances, and there’s now even a history. It’s been more and more, with networks. Because there will never be a Cheers or Seinfeld again. The new move is to try and just make something specific that is really good and will work for a specific audience, versus trying to hit some middle ground that hopefully everyone in America will like — because it doesn’t seem possible to do that. In attempting to do that, you’ll probably end up watering down your creation anyway.
This show is very bleak. To what extent would you say it reflects your own worldview?
WEISMAN: The thing for me is it’s bleak but it’s also real. The reason why I don’t think it’s as bleak as people might describe it is it’s funny. There are jokes constantly, so we’re definitely not bleak, because we’re making you laugh; we think it’s a comedy. But also, we live in this completely privileged society where our country is dropping drones on people and making deals to hurt people in other countries, and we’re just watching Netflix at home. It’s bleak if you don’t want to look at it. But people should already know about this stuff, and the fact that we’re not doing anything about it is way bleaker than the fact that we’re reflecting it and adding jokes.
INGEBRETSON: At least my experience, living in current-day America, is a feeling of constant discomfort. I think it’s good that we live in a state of constant discomfort because it means that we’re thinking about things. We wanted to make a show that leaned into that and try to have a sense of humor about it, dealing with that discomfort, so that at least we can start to feel okay — or at least be able to operate a little — because I think it can feel paralyzing to live in America right now. The best you can do is embrace it and have a sense of humor about what’s going on so that you can start to live a life again.
How did you map out and construct the first season?
WEISMAN: The first thing that was important for us was that every episode felt like it stood alone. We want it all to feel like the same show, but we thought of it a little bit like 10 mini-movies with the same characters and tone and point of view. But it’s extremely important to us that each episode could be anyone’s favorite. I think so many episodes of so many office dramas are like, “Are they going to kiss? Let’s find out after three seasons!” We’re not that concerned with that. We really wanted to make a lot of different points about how corporations are winning, and that the best you can do is just exist in that ecosystem. We have a lot of different things we want to talk about — the different ways your life is affected by adulthood, by jobs, by corporations — and if you think of each thing like a mini-movie, there are certain jokes that we wanted to tell over the course of 20 minutes.
INGEBRETSON: Structurally, it’s not a show where each episode follows the other; it’s more like once you’ve seen the whole season, you will have a fuller idea of each character and where they’re going and where they’re at and how they move in the world. But towards the end of writing season 1, we had 10 episode concepts, and we asked ourselves the question of, “Could each of these episodes possibly be someone’s favorite?” There were a couple that felt like we were falling into a formula or choosing tropes and ideas we’d already covered before, so we tossed those out and tried to stretch a little further and make 10 distinct short films that exist in the same world, and build the characters with each one.
The ensemble fits into their roles as if they were made for them. Were any written specifically for an actor?
WEISMAN: Baron [played by Baron Vaughn] was. That’s why his name’s Baron: We’s been fans of his for a long time. But in general, you write the script and you’re like, “God, I hope that I can find someone that not only nails it, but also brings more to the character than we can possibly fit on the page.” I think we got very lucky. I think we were smart about not being scared to take people from the dramatic world, like Lance Reddick and Anne Dudek. Well, Lance Reddick wasn’t our first choice, but we wrote it, and then thought about it, and then he was our first choice — but we didn’t write it from him. We wanted to take a combination of people from the dramatic world because we think of our comedy as a very silly drama. We wanted dramatic actors who could really sell it, and who would play it straight as we give them silly stuff to say. And then we wanted extremely funny comedians that hadn’t quite broken yet; we wanted that combination.
INGEBRETSON: It was such a relief when some people came along like Aparna [Nancherla]. She’s someone who has such a well-rounded and fully-developed comedic persona, where you can sort of drop her in anywhere and she feels so distinct and unique. And if you know anything about Aparna’s comedy, there is a depression streak to it, so she really fit in here. I think all of our actors understand, on a deep level, the sadness of the world, so they were able to understand where the comedy was coming from.
Is there anything in a potential season 2 that you’d want to do differently or more of?
WEISMAN: I think we would want to talk more about gender politics. It’s touched on throughout the season and is inherent to the world, but half the room is female writers — we only hired women, for the most part — and I think we would want to step into talking about that a little bit more. The inequalities inherent there are a huge part of that world.
INGEBRETSON: In another season, one thing that we’d like to do is dig a little deeper into each of the characters and continue to make this a full ensemble show. We have such talent in this cast and such weird, interesting characters that we want to continue to put them at the focal point of it and dig into their points of view.
Corporate airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central.