For your reading pleasure, please enjoy this excerpt from Backstory’s interview with Corporate co-creators and stars Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman from Backstory Issue 36 – out now exclusively for subscribers.
Chances are you’ve had that soul-sucking desk job where the main goal is simply to make it to 5 p.m. Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman are no different, except they’ve used their previous job experience as the inspiration for Corporate, the cult hit Comedy Central series currently in the middle of its second season. The two created the show with friend Pat Bishop after the trio met in the L.A. comedy scene and decided to merge their creative forces for both sketch comedy and short films. That got them on the radar at Comedy Central, where they pitched a show born of their experiences working tedious office gigs and a desire to comment on how large corporations are affecting the world at large. Sounds heavy? It can be, and as such, Corporate is anything but a normal comedy series. Rather, it chooses to find the light moments among the dark reality in which we live.
The show is run by all three of its creators, with Ingebretson and Weisman starring and Bishop directing every episode save for one in season two that Ingebretson helmed. So appropriately, the writing of season two kicked off with the trio holed up in a room together to come up with story ideas. “What works about our collaboration is when the three of us hang out, we eventually just start coming up with ideas through our conversations without even meaning to,” Ingebretson says. “Often that’s centered around basic things that are on our mind or bothering us or things we’ve read. We use those as jumping-off points.” They often go on story retreats to the mountains, staying in Airbnbs and hammering out their ideas. “We ask, ‘What are you constantly obsessed with in your life,’” Weisman says. “If it’s important in your life right now, then I bet people around our age are thinking about this, too, so let’s try and build stories to deal with it.”
Corporate’s first season was a success by almost any measure—Comedy Central renewed it after just two episodes had aired—but the writers still picked up a lot about how to improve the show. “When you make a season of television and it’s the first one you create, there’s no way you can know what you’re doing,” Weisman says. “You’re guessing because you’ve never done it before. I feel like we learned so much about the show—it may be a cliché, but we learned so much about the characters. So going into this season, we wanted to enrich the characters and do more character-based storytelling. Sometimes we come at stories from a political angle, but we still wanted to make sure to build those stories around the characters.” Season one was very much about Ingebretson’s and Weisman’s characters—creatively named Matt and Jake—with the rest of the players there in support of them. What the writers—and the viewers—realized is they created these phenomenal supporting characters that have come to deserve more of the spotlight: Kate (Anne Dudek) and John (Adam Lustick) as the executives directly above Matt and Jake who alternately serve as allies and adversaries to the duo; Grace (Aparna Nancherla), boss of HR and the pair’s sole office friend; and Christian DeVille (Lance Reddick), the possibly evil head of Hampton DeVille, the corporation that’s at the heart of the show. Thus, this season is much more of an ensemble effort, and that above anything else is why the show has taken such a major step forward. “Weirdly enough, that was always the intent of the show,” Ingebretson says. “But when you make a show with Comedy Central, there’s a priority placed on shows where there are one or two leads because that’s easier for them to market. So there were some of those structures in place, but we always wanted it to be an ensemble cast show.”
The writers plan much of the season on their own before convening their writers’ room. “We just don’t want to come in the room empty-handed,” Weisman says. “When you bring a bunch of stuff to the room, you know a lot of it will go away but you have to come in with hundreds of ideas to even kickstart the conversation. You throw out thousands of ideas in a room, and not that many get in. But it takes throwing all that stuff at the wall in order to get those 10 really good episodes. Our writers have their own ideas as well, and they serve as a barometer to let us know if the ideas we had between the three of us are any good.” Corporate is unique in that it doesn’t feature overarching plotlines. For the most part, each episode stands on its own, which the writers have found both good and bad. On one hand, there’s a creative freedom for each episode, but on the other, that freedom can be crippling when there aren’t long-standing plotlines to fall back on. “We try not to look at it as a positive or a negative, it’s just what we want to do with the show. We want to use the show as a trojan horse to talk about philosophical things or sociopolitical things we’re interested in. We don’t think something like romantic storylines are going to help us talk about what we want to talk about.”
One thing the series tackles head on in season two is gender politics in the workplace, as highlighted by an episode titled “Natural Beauty,” wherein Kate is taken off a male makeup project because of the “tone” she exhibits when talking to male coworkers. The episode brilliantly highlights the hypocrisy women face in an office environment, even when they’re in a position of power like Kate. The story was inspired by an experience Ingebretson’s girlfriend had at her job, so naturally he carried that into their writers’ room, which has as many women as men. “Every woman in there had a story where they were told their tone was wrong,” Ingebretson says. “None of the men had experienced that.” Diversifying their writers’ room with women and people of color was essential for the showrunners, and they don’t shrink from the exploration of serious workplace topics. And yet at its heart, Corporate is a comedy. “We’re three straight white guys as showrunners, and we wanted to talk about things like gender in season one but didn’t want to talk about it in a way that would ever be pandering or have the wrong message. We have no interest in that. It would be cowardly to not talk about the fact that men and women are sharing this uneven space in the corporate world to some degree, but we also want to talk about it in an interesting, funny angle.”
Not every episode delves into such a weighty milieu. A particularly brilliant one, “Thanks!” is built around the idea of exclamation points being the lynchpin that holds offices together. In the episode, Matt’s exclamation-point key breaks on his keyboard, so rather than being able to type false pleasantries to Kate and John, his written interactions with them come across as hostile. In this office—and likely legions of others—the difference between “Thanks!” and “Thanks.” speaks volumes. To Kate and John, a period amounts to an act of war. Weisman is quick to tip his hat to Corporate writer Langan Kingsley for the germ of the idea. “Writers are particularly sensitive people, and because we deal with words and punctuation, it’s on our minds all the time,” Weisman says. “This is one of those ideas that’s genius because everyone is thinking it and talking about it but no one’s put it on camera before. A large part of being funny is literally just articulating the things people are dealing with all the time. It’s so simple, but that’s why it’s brilliant. Almost every day, I put an exclamation point after a ‘thanks,’ and I never actually feel that way.”
To read the complete article in Issue 36 of Backstory, click HERE to subscribe or buy it as a single issue.
For more info about all the other articles in issue 36, view the Table of Contents.