I became absolutely hooked on Corporate, Comedy Central’s disturbing but absolutely hilarious dark view of corporate life, during episode 7 of Season 1. It is called “The Long Meeting” and honestly, you’ve been in this meeting. It’s one of those times in your life where you begin to question not only why this meeting is even occurring but you’re whole existence in general. Who are you? Will you ever breathe fresh air again? Why do they call them donut holes?
You have been cut off from the outside world and are now in this prison/conference room with people trapped in an existentialist nightmare and honestly, you may not make it out alive. During the episode, someone in the meeting ends up making themselves vomit to escape, another does physical harm to himself in order to get an exit. And yes, this is a comedy.
Welcome to the world of Hampton DeVille. It’s a lot like your workplace except the lights are even darker, the cubicles are even smaller, there is even staler office cake around (for no real reason), the cynicism is at an all-time high and your boss is so evil he formerly had a role on Oz (Lance Reddick) that unnerving show about prison inmates that still haunts your dreams regularly (also we aren’t really sure what Hampton DeVille does but they produce everything from weapons of mass destructions to comically large iPads.) Except once again, I want to emphasize that what creators and stars Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman and creator/director Pat Bishop have given the world, is funny. After all, self-loathing as well as just loathing something, especially your job, is one of the ultimate human bonders.
“My personal belief about life is that people bond about what they hate. Ideally we all bond over what we love but if you listen to most conversations it’s people hating things back and forth,” Weisman told Ladders in an interview. “That’s what we wanted to capture. The more honest way in which people are unhappy. Even if they are happy, they are unhappy about something and it’s the thing that makes them feel the same way.”
Ingebretson added, “We wanted to give ourselves and give other people permission to laugh about themselves. That’s the entertainment we gravitate towards.”
And though this comedy duo is now hitting it big in Hollywood, they once had terrible jobs themselves as they pursued their real passion. These jobs were soul-sucking but they gave way to something brilliant.
Ingebretson talked about a job he had in a new division of a company where the stakes were very high and his boss believed it was her sole duty to make him feel as bad as possible every day.
“She used to question my motives for everything that I did which made me feel like a broken down human. We based the cold open of the first episode on this,” Ingebretson recalled. “For about 40 minutes she was questioning my entire existence and eventually I had to tell her you’re hurting my feelings. We have to stop this. I wanted to make something funny out of the misery I was feeling and that was part of the genesis I think.”
Are we all just cogs in the machine?
Even if you love where you work because it has awesome perks like beer on tap and pool and ping-pong tables everywhere, Corporate may also make you question the purpose of those perks.
Bishop told Ladders, “There is a sinister motive behind all that. My sister who works in the corporate world was working with a company and their tagline was ‘Living in the gray,’ so you don’t have a work life and a home life. Everything is a gray area. That sounds like an absolute nightmare. Companies try too hard to make work fun. You’re just trying to trap people at work.”
The show executes all the weird social mores that develop when you are trapped in a building all day with hundreds of other people including crossing the line between boss and friendship, bonding over TV shows, proximity crushes on coworkers (which was explored in last night’s Season Two premiere), corporate retreats and Casual Fridays (another brilliant episode that results in a short-lived nudist colony at the office.) The opening intro to the show even makes fun of those stock images of corporate life you see (do people really put their arms up with joy at work that much?)
But as it is a television show, it (hopefully) pushes more absurdist boundaries than your office like obsessing over the font for a PowerPoint presentation that will result in an actual war in another country and office opioid rings and people almost committing suicide in order to get out of a meeting. With the meeting episode, Weisman said the goal was truly to make an “existentialist nightmare” in the style of Sartre’s No Exit. “Anyone who has worked any job has found themselves in meetings going, ‘Why are we here?’ ‘Nothing is getting accomplished,’ ‘Why can’t we leave?’ ” said Ingebretson.
Of course, there have been plenty of shows about office life, namely The Office and the short-lived Better Off Ted, a similar show to this one but nowhere near as dark. And though there were very realistic aspects of the mundane existence of working in an office every day on The Office, overall that show, at least the American version, was very positive when it came to the people working for Dunder-Mifflin.
But Corporate is not that show. The people are for the most part truly awful. And even the not totally awful ones are still pretty disturbing.
“The Office is an amazing show. Often times a good way to create things is a reaction to things. You see things going a certain way and you see things that are missing and you have to make that thing. We wanted to see what we felt was missing,” Weisman said.
Misery loves company
But what also makes the show work is the strong friendship and chemistry between Matt and Jake (their characters go by the same names) as well as reluctant HR head Grace (the always hilarious Aparna Nancheria.) “They are in a prison cell together,” said Weisman. After all, when you hate your job or even one part of your job, it is a great fueler for friendships built on commiseration.
Ingebretson plays the more hopeful of all the characters, but he is repeatedly squashed by Weisman’s nihilistic perspective on life. For example, “Matt to Jake: You hate dogs, you wanna die, and you’re the person I feel closest to in this world.”
In Season 2, which will continue to be brilliantly shot and directed by Bishop, as the world’s nicest prison, we will see appearances by Kyra Sedgwick, Andy Richter, Sasheer Zamata and explore some fun topics such as gender politics in the office and trying to have a social life outside of work.
“There is an episode called “The Concert” all about how we are all too old to have fun outside of work anymore or how its impossible to navigate a full work life and a full social life,” said Weisman. Pretty sure everyone can relate to that (sometimes it is just better to stay home with your cats, right?)
What we get to see is more of the secondary characters on the show including Adam Lustick, Ann Dudek and Nancherla. There will also be a David Lynch-like expense report episode featuring Sedgwick burying a body in a graveyard at night (you know, a classic expense report outcome.)
What is interesting is that though they were once corporate cogs themselves Weisman, Ingebretson and Bishop are now at the helms of this show and also working for a very large corporation called Viacom. So what do they do to make sure their employees don’t feel as bad as their characters?
“The irony is not lost on us. If anything the show we’re making forces us to look at the way we manage and run our show, our business,” Ingebretson said. “If we didn’t treat our people well it would be truly hypocritical to make a show about how bad it is to work for terrible people. It causes a lot of self-reflection.” One would hope.
Corporate airs on Comedy Central on Tuesdays at 10:30 PM. Check out the Season 2 trailer here.