Several weeks ago, black billboards began sprouting up around L.A. with the cryptic and wryly self-deprecating message, “Comedy Central Is Corporate,” along with the date “1/17/18.” It’s an appropriately dark advertising campaign for the network’s pitch-black new comedy, Corporate, which premieres on Wednesday (although the first four episodes are available to stream on Comedy Central’s site).
It’s the brainchild of Pat Bishop, Jake Weisman, and Matt Ingebretson, three L.A.-based comedians who met on the indie standup circuit in 2010. Inspired, in part, by Ingebretson’s own “soul-crushing” experience working in corporate America, the series follows the tragic work lives of junior-executives-in-training at a massive, multinational corporation. It’s a welcome, sardonic takedown of cubicle culture, especially in an era when it feels like there’s little denying that capitalism has, indeed, won.
“What drew me to Corporate immediately was the dark, biting undertone, coupled with the surrealistic goofs. It sang to my nihilist heart,” says Aparna Nancherla (Crashing, Inside Amy Schumer), who plays the delightfully disgruntled HR lady.
Ingebretson, Weisman, and Bishop recruited a dream team of actors, many of whom came up in the indie stand-up scene. But the unexpected standout is The Wire’s Lance Reddick, who brings to Corporate’s blood-drinking CEO the same intensity he brought to the HBO drama’s Lt. Cedric Daniels.
“What we’re interested in is how the fuck did we get from living in the woods to working in these stupid offices with asbestos? Why are we wearing suits? Why are we hunched over in uncomfortable chairs getting arthritis in our wrists to make a really rich person richer?” muses Weisman, “I’m so incredibly lucky to be alive, but I’m miserable 24/7—especially nine to five.”
As research, the three comics also interviewed people with corporate jobs. “One connector between everyone is fear,” says Bishop, who directs in addition to writing and co-creating the series. “People are driven by the hierarchy; the decision making. People are acting just to not get in trouble, and to sort of get through the day.”
Far from an attempted replacement for Workaholics, the half-hour comedy pivots away from Comedy Central’s usual pep. Dim, halogen lighting attempts to illuminate the half-vacant Los Angeles Times building where it’s filmed. “Most comedies are kinda brightly lit…you wanna be there, hanging out with these fun people,” says Weisman. “We wanted to make a show where you don’t wanna be there.”
That’s not to say it’s ugly, though. The cinematic artistry also sets Corporate apart from its sitcom brethren. Director of photography Christophe Lanzenberg is a cut above, honoring work-life realities by embracing the situational doom and gloom. “The show plants some bold philosophical flags,” says Adam Lustick, who plays the guys’ cruel and power-obsessed direct boss, alongside Anne Dudek. “Adulthood is hell; humans are monsters; capitalism is a prison; life is pain—it’s Dilbert by way of David Fincher.”
Executive producer and showrunner Jake Fogelnest initially wasn’t sure the show would find a home at a network. “They’ll never pick it up,” he told the guys. “It’s too good.” To his surprise, Comedy Central was willing to take a chance on a show that takes risks and subverts expectations, thanks in part to the massive overhaul of traditional TV. “We wouldn’t have been able to have made this show a couple of years ago,” says Ingebretson, “The beauty of now is that some people will hate our show and that’s fine.” Bishop adds, “The media landscape has gotten more esoteric; and specific voices off the path of the mainstream can be heard and find their own audience,” says Bishop.
“But the real goal is to chase fame hardcore. We just wanna be superfamous,” says Ingebretson. Weisman agrees, “We only love billions of dollars.”
Corporate debuts on Comedy Central on Wed., Jan. 17 at 10 p.m., and you can stream the first four episodes here.
CORRECTION: This post as been updated to more accurately reflect Jake Fogelnest’s comments.
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