The workplace as a comedy setting is industry standard. In fact, if you include “police station” or “hospital” in your definition of a workplace, then virtually every scripted show on television is set at a workplace. The workplace is generally depicted as a kind of second family in comedies — a place full of friends, frenemies, acquaintances, and potential love interests. The co-workers are a community, the workplace a setting for various hijinks.
If that depiction doesn’t ring true to your experience, you’ll love Comedy Central’s new show Corporate, in which the company is actively evil, supervisors can’t be trusted, and the workers are all cynical backstabbers and/or actively suicidal. Corporate, which released its first four episodes online in advance of the TV premiere January 17th, is a little like the anti-Workaholics or The Office, or a more overtly anti-capitalist Office Space. The main characters, Matt and Jake (played by creators Matt Ingbretson and Weisman), are friends, sort of. Their relationship is more of a shared trauma, a prison bond, than true friendship, and they haven’t developed ways to keep work from killing their soul like Jim and Pam or the Workaholics boys. The bigger question is whether this turn is a reflection of the times (has work actually gotten worse or has it always sucked?) or simply one of comedy’s periodic attempts at greater authenticity.
Not that Corporate feels like a screed. It’s hard to get away with preaching in a comedy, and Corporate doesn’t, poking fun at those with simplistic “answers” as much as it does the bosses (as in one memorable bit from an early episode involving a Banksy-esque street artist who turns out to be not quite what he seems). In comedy, the only question that really matters is “Is it funny?” And, at least judging by the first episodes, Corporate is.
Playing Jake and Matt’s boss at Hampton-Deville is the show’s only familiar face: Lance Reddick, best known as Cedric Daniels for The Wire. I spoke to Jake Weisman over the phone this week, about what it was like casting a prestige TV’s staple, and all the terrible jobs and decisions that inspired him on his way to creating the concept of Corporate.
Being that it’s a show about corporate sadness, you’re sort of begging to be asked about your worst corporate jobs, so that’s what I’m going to ask you first.
You know what’s funny is, it is about corporate sadness, but I also think it’s mainly just about jobs. Corporate is the hook and there is a political aspect to working with a corporation that’s bad, but even working in the film industry when I first moved out to LA is a very similar thing. Shit flows downhill, everywhere. I mean I’ve worked in a chandelier store, it’s the same feeling basically. There’s no good option for a job, everything is hell. Where you’re just like, “I would rather die than be at this job that pays all of my bills.”
But specifically, I did have one job where I was an assistant to a director and he was an older guy and he was a real asshole. One day he came and put his fake teeth on my desk and told me to call a dentist. It was a real power move.
Yeah he, like his teeth fell out and he put it on my desk, on a napkin and he’s like, “Call a dentist.”
But Matt worked a bunch of corporate jobs in entertainment and he sort of came up with the general idea for the idea of a show at a corporation. Most of the jobs I had were dumb little jobs that were under the umbrella of a corporation but in general just led me to thoughts of suicide.
I mean isn’t Hollywood just where the corporate world sends all their worst assholes to try to become producers and hang out with actresses and stuff?
Yeah for sure, and also one of the things we’re trying to get out with the show is that everything is a corporate job. Corporations have won. Even Uproxx to some degree, I’m sure, is corporate. No matter what the job, there’s like seven people in the world who are making all the money.
So you came out to LA to work on productions. Where did you come from and how early on was that in your life?
I’m from New York and I went to school in Nashville, Tennessee at Vanderbilt, and then I wanted to be an English major, but halfway through college I realized that fiction is way harder, it was way too hard for me to achieve well. So I took a random film class and I was like “Oh this is fun and less meaningful. So I will do that instead.”
And I started being obsessed with film and I had a cousin in the film industry so I just drove out here and got production assistant jobs kind of on a whim. I didn’t know what I was doing at all. But I was just working a bunch of different PA jobs, and then sort of had a personal assistant job to that director I was telling you about. And started working in post-production, and started failing upwards. Then when I was 26 I hated my life so much because I wasn’t really writing and that’s when I found comedy and started doing open mics all the time. And then from there, I was like, oh comedy is a great vessel to say what you want, to think, to create what you want to create. I never thought that I was necessarily funny until I started doing comedy. And then I realized comedy has an inherent structure to it. I started making sketches, and started doing standup and that led to pitching TV shows and all that stuff. But yeah I was just working all these horrible jobs like Office PA, Set PA, all sorts of different things. All those jobs are terrible.
What was the dumbest thing that you had to do as a set PA?
I worked on Clerks 2 and I had to clean up Jason Mewes’ room because he trashed it and it was down in Orange County and they would just party all the time. He turned his room into, like, a two-year-old’s room, like a two-year-old who does a lot of drugs. That was the dumbest thing ever. I had to clean up Jason Mewes’ drug-infected room. That was a f*cking nightmare. I feel like there was more stuff. Holy shit. Terrible job.