Some days, being part of society just feels impossible. Every dangled carrot of beige office prestige juliennes away a piece of your soul. Every side project you commit woozy off-hours to seems destined for a desktop subfolder, gathering digital dust for eternity. And in your darkest hour, on your most hopeless day, the creators of Corporate would cup your face in their hands and whisper this universal truth: You’re trapped forever and you’re right to feel terrible about it.
Comedy Central’s latest scripted series mostly takes place inside an office, but has little in common with Office Space or The Office. Instead, it’s a matte-black satire about the emptiness of the American dream. Whether you more resemble the jaded junior executives at the center of the show, their disgruntled minions, or the soulless demigods at the top of the food chain, you’re equally complicit. And even if you purposely veer off on an independent-minded trajectory—Corporate explores several of these—all roads feed into the cartography of capitalism. The system is inescapable. The center cannot hold. You might as well have a laugh.
“It’s impossible to accept the realities of the world and live an okay life where you’re happy about it,” says co-creator and star Jake Weisman. “Part of the point of the show is that corporations infect every single part of our lives. They’ve won. They’re the new nations. And there’s nothing you can really do to beat them.”
Instead of beating a corporation, Weisman, along with co-creator and series director Pat Bishop and co-creator and star Matt Ingebretson, have embedded themselves in one–Comedy Central’s parent company, Viacom—and focused on cataloging the many ways it and others like it beat us every day.
The three met doing standup in Los Angeles about seven years ago. They quickly started making videos together, Bishop and Weisman as part of the sketch group Women and Ingebretson independently, although sometimes with the other two. After Ingebretson landed on Comedy Central’s Comics to Watch list in 2014, the network asked to hear any TV series pitches he might have. By that point, he and the others had already been kicking around ideas for Corporate.
Both the premise of the show and its bleak tone come from the creators’ job experience straight out of college. Ingebretson moved to LA with the goal of becoming a comedian, but in order to pay the bills, he ended up working a series of interchangeable corporate jobs in digital marketing, social media marketing, and copywriting, for some major entertainment companies.
“They were kinda just hellish jobs and they made me want to die,” he says.
Weisman held down several production jobs, and one at a chandelier store for a while. Pat Bishop’s first gig was with Funny or Die. One thing the show makes clear, though, is that regardless of whether you’re working for an independently owned boutique or at “Stockheed Barton” (the show’s not-even-thinly veiled Lockheed Martin stand-in), you’re still participating in the same system. Corporate takes a long-range overview of how interconnected everything is, in ways that recall a more joke-dense, less druggy The Wire. In the world of Corporate, as in life, people working shitty jobs to help make shitty products play a part in keeping their parent companies afloat, so they can influence politics and lobby for wars and generally make the word shittier. (“That got dark real fast,” is something you might find yourself saying about any episode of the show.)
Hampton Deville, the fictional corporation at the center of the show, is not only a shady monolithic conglomerate—it’s every kind of shady monolithic conglomerate. In the pilot episode, Hampton Deville dabbles in tech, although the creators decided to back off since that space has been aptly explored elsewhere. They decided it could also be one of those companies like Honeywell or General Electric, which have endless global reach. This way, Corporate can (and does) comment on just about any aspect of society as Hampton Deville absorbs an entertainment company, or teams up with a megachurch.
“It’s a company that’s insatiable and sort of represents the drive and unending greed that comes out of working in capitalist society,” says Ingebretson. “If it were the No. 1 company in the world, it wouldn’t be enough. They have to be bigger than No. 1.”
Corporate feels like a mega-timely show. Its raw anger, profound despair, and glib death wishes mirror the echo chamber of Twitter in the Trump era. However, the creators wrote the show’s entire first season before Donald Trump was elected president, tapping into an existential condition that has lurked in office hallways and beyond for time immemorial.
“We’re fairly certain it would have felt similarly of the moment even if Hillary had been elected because I think social media is just making everyone aware of how fucked up everything is,” Weisman says. “So it doesn’t matter that Trump is president. It’s more that whoever’s president is evil and that’s the world we live in right now.”
“We just happen to have the most evil president right now,” Ingebretson is quick to add. “So the show feels very apt right now but it would have probably felt that way regardless. It was easy when Obama was president to sort of skate by and feel like everything was taken care of, and then it flipped on us and a lot of people realized, ‘Oh fuck, everything was wrong all along.'”
What makes the show feel not just timely but ahead of its time, though, is that the creators also set their sights on anti-corporate posturing and #Resistance culture. Targeting both sides is something late night talk shows and Saturday Night Live struggle to accomplish, but Corporate handily pulls off even with a months-long production timeline. Bishop, Ingebretson, and Weisman were just finishing editing an episode that culminates in a protester music festival on the day that Kylie Jenner’s Pepsi-sponsored protest melted down the internet.
As much as the show lampoons corporations and the people who help them thrive and the people who fight against them, the creators accept their place within it all. In one episode, Weisman’s character memorably laments, “You spend years fighting corporations and then you realize, ‘I love southwestern egg rolls.'” The meta-textual kicker to that joke is that it’s actual product placement for Chili’s, which offers the above fried appetizer with avocado-ranch dipping sauce. Viacom is an enormous company and its shows are paid for in part with corporate tie-ins. Just because one of its shows happens to be about how corporations are terrible does not exempt it from that reality.
At first, the creators of the show were upset about having to shoehorn a Chili’s reference in somewhere. But as with all aspects of modern life, in the end, the corporation won.
“We essentially had to do what everyone does when they work for or do something that’s against their moral system, which is: lie to yourself,” Ingebretson says. “It’s extremely comfortable and tempting to participate in many of the worst parts of capitalism like excess consumption, so it’s only fitting that our show gets extra money to make that joke about a specific company.”
“Also,” Pat Bishop adds, “they wanted it to be baby back ribs instead of southwestern egg rolls but we said, ‘Fuck you, we’re artists.'”
Corporate airs on Comedy Central, Wednesdays at 10 p.m.