“Comedy Central Is Corporate.” That’s what was on some mysterious billboards in Los Angeles and New York recently, without much else to go off other than a date. For most people they didn’t know what the billboards were advertising, but there were three guys who had the inside scoop: Matt Ingebretson, Jake Weisman, and Pat Bishop, the creators, stars, and director of Comedy Central’s most stylized and perhaps darkest show currently on the network. Corporate, which officially premieres on the January 17th date listed on the billboards. (Though you can watch the first four episodes online already.)
Ingebretson, Weisman, and Bishop met while navigating the LA standup and comedy scene. They came from different backgrounds, including office life like what inspired their new show about two employees trying to survive the harsh environments of corporate greed, but along the way discovered a harmonious relationship fueled by cynicism in the writing and grey tones in the directing that make Corporate look more like Mr. Robot than like Workaholics. They also hired a cinematographer who hadn’t “done a bunch of comedies before” and filled the role of the main boss with Lance Reddick, who had already been the most intimidating actor on The Wire, let alone on Comedy Central.
That helps separate Corporate from any other office comedies, which is exactly what the trio wanted.
How did the initial concept and pilot for Corporate first come together between you?
Matt Ingebretson: There were two different points of inspiration. One of them was jobs that I have had in the past working for large corporations, low-level positions. I think one thing that we tried to do is a lot of office comedies come from a place of the office being sort of goofy, a wacky boss, prankster environment, and our experiences working for companies like this is that they’re extremely soul-sucking, draining, deadening experiences, so we wanted to find the comedy in that.
Jake Weisman: And to sort of double-down on that, I think the inspiration is that there’s this sort of crazy malaise right now in America, where everyone is clinically depressed. We have everything in the world and we’re not happy with it – we’ve kind of hit the American dream and we’re just bored with it. I think that all of the office comedies that we’re seeing never depicted life in the way that we felt was reflective of what was actually going on. So we wanted to create a show that was based in depression, and how dreams haven’t been realized, and how adulthood is a nightmare, as opposed to the goofy things that occur when you’re at work. We just wanted to talk about that because that’s the feeling we got – that we’re promised that we can accomplish our dreams and even if you do, you just hate it anyway.
Matt: It might seem like a nightmare in the moment, but we find it hopeful to try and laugh at these things.
Corporate has a very distinct tone and style in the way that it is shot, especially when compared against other comedies. How did you accomplish that, or what were you specifically aiming for?
Pat Bishop (director): Our first inception of the idea is that it would not only be about different stuff than other office comedies, but look different – try to kind of feel bad but still have a good time watching it. We wanted it to have a dark look and treat it more like a drama, versus doing the default comedy look. We also hired a cinematographer who leaned that way and saw things similarly and wasn’t somebody who had done a bunch of comedies before. We tried to cast dramatic actors, like Lance Reddick, who was on The Wire, and Anne Dudek, who had been on Mad Men, to try to combine elements of drama and mix them in with a bunch of jokes and give it a more “serious” or “intense” tone.
Matt: A lot of that was built into the script, going back to the feeling towards offices and that they feel oppressive, and we wanted that to come across visually. Also, as a group, we often find ourselves tired of watching comedies that just set up two shots constantly and aren’t doing anything visually interesting. So we wanted to try to extend or go a little beyond that and make something more visually interesting.
Jake: We’re comedians who also love movies and want to make something that feels like a movie.
Pat: We want each episode to feel like a mini-movie. It has a similar aesthetic, but we do feel that each episode is its own thing, and it’s important to us because that’s what we love.
Based on timing and Comedy Central, some people may see it as a transition from Workaholics to Corporate. But there are distinct differences.
Jake: I mean, of course it’s come up because it’s white guys in an office, but we weren’t worried about it because we feel like it’s a completely different show. If people make sort of the lazy association that it is a workplace comedy, then that’s on them, but I think if they watch the show they’ll see it’s a different type of comedy. That show was great, but our show is talking about totally different things and is a totally different type of comedy. If anyone makes that association then they haven’t seen a minute of our show.
Matt: Comedy Central really supported a different vision and doing something different. They really understood from the start that we were gonna go in this cinematic, darker direction with it and very much supported us in doing that. They never tried to make it more like Workaholics. It was actually helpful for us to try something really different.
You released four episodes early. What was getting the feedback like? What have you learned from it so far?
Jake: To be completely honest, it’s just been really positive. Like “We can’t wait to see the rest!” And I think there’s sort of always an instinct to get feedback and tweak, but the feedback we’ve gotten is just like “Great job, guys. We loved it and relate to it. Please make more of them.”
Matt: For some people this show is too dark, and we always knew that that would be the case going into it. I’m sure that we will, and have and will continue to, alienate certain people who are confused as to why we are talking about such dark topics in such a cavalier way. But I think that kind of excites us, and we’re not interested in their viewership and they can go to hell.
Pat: We’re feeling lucky about it. It’s been pretty positive so far. If friends are lying to us that’s one thing, but online people are like: “This is my life. Thank you for making a show about it, you know what my life is like.”
How did the three of you get into comedy initially, respectively?
Jake: I started comedy when I was 26 because I was horribly depressed. I started doing comedy on a whim and I realized, almost like some sort of orientation, I was like “Oh, this is what I should have been doing.” I started doing a ton of standup, and met a bunch of people like Matt and Pat and started doing videos with them. I was doing videos and standup simultaneously. I came to LA to make movies and had no idea I’d end up in comedy, but it seemed like the perfect vessel after awhile.
Matt: I went to UT Austin and started writing for their humor magazine called The Texas Travesty. Ended up running it my senior year there and also started doing standup and improv in Austin. I moved to LA right after college, and similar to Jake, did the standup scene, did comedy shows every night, and made videos on the weekend. My goal when I moved out here was to write for The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. So that was some time ago. But in the process of that I learned that I liked various aspects of making videos and TV shows and just writing, acting, and directing it.
Pat: Comedy is the main thing I’ve always been interested in, then I found myself in film school and found out how complicated it is to make films. And how to not fuck it up by the time it’s all the way done. So I learned everything I could, then when I came out to LA I did a lot of standup and was doing improv and all these different things – meeting people like Matt and Jake and performers – and found that I kind of know the comedy but also the technical and filmmaking side, and that was the niche that I could fill, the way I could work with people. So I stopped doing as much standup and performing myself and went more behind the camera and made a ton of stuff for many years. Jake and I were in a sketch group called Women and I also worked at Funny or Die for a while making videos. I think in terms of directing this show, it was just sort of the easiest and safest way to safeguard our vision, and to have Matt and Jake acting in it and me directing it is a very kind of cohesive, creative decision-making process.
Matt, this is an interesting time for you a little bit because Tommy Wiseau is big in the news right now. What was it like working with him on The Tommy Wi-Show?
Matt: Oh yeah. [laughs] When I moved to LA I knew about two people, and one of them was this guy Brock LaBorde, and him and Payman Benz, who is now a very talented TV director, were making a show with Tommy Wiseau called The Tommy Wi-Show. Brock was nice enough to let me help him punch up some episodes and write a few things and be on set with Tommy, which was a really wild visual experience for me, looking at that man for many hours of the day. I remember his muscles being so tight and so tight to his body, and I think his one request on set was a Red Bull and he required a straw. So all day on set he was just sipping Red Bull out of a straw. So I think that was a very pivotal experience for me. I witnessed that tableau for many hours a day in 2010.
Jake, what was your experience with The Eric Andre Show? Do you think that show could ever go “too far”?
Jake: I only wrote one day on The Eric Andre Show, and I know that I got one bit on. I always had a fascination with the idea of eating out a Georgia O’Keefe painting. So that made it on and I was really proud of that. But no, I don’t think you can go farther than Eric Andre can. I’m like a crazy person, but Eric is so much crazier, and it’s a pleasure to even have spent eight hours in a room with that genius. That room is the most interesting writing space. And that’s where I worked with Heather Anne Campbell for the first time, and she wrote on the first season of Corporate and is fantastic. It was a wild experience and I was like “Wow, I don’t know if I’m the craziest person I know anymore.” Which has always been the hardest thing for me to find.
From all those projects with Funny or Die, how did you learn the best ways to shoot what’s funny, Pat?
Pat: I think it’s just that practice tones your instincts. Funny or Die was great because they just wanted to make so many videos that they were like “Go out there and shoot a video!” every day. You’d just kinda try to step out, make mistakes, and the idea of only having one day and not enough money to shoot everything would kind of pull out a miracle in the editing room. It helped me shoot stuff that was sometimes mediocre that I’d have to figure my way into a good video in the editing room. I’ve never had enough time to shoot what I need to shoot, especially on Corporate, where we don’t have enough time. So you get to learn what’s essential, and anything that is less necessary you learn to strip away.
Matt: To piggyback on that, stripping away things, this show is 21.5 minutes long, and on some level that’s frustrating for us because there’s more story we want to tell or things that we have to cut for time reasons, but at the end of the day we did end up enjoying the challenge of that. We feel like most of the time everything is way too fucking long these days and everybody should cut half of what was in their original thing out of it, so we liked that.
Pat: In terms of the style of shooting, I’d lean towards: Take it seriously. Present it as a serious drama, and then when the character says something stupid it’ll be funny almost because the joke is how hard we worked to make it look good and then this is what we had the person say.
How was the process of getting Lance Reddick on board?
Matt: We had a lot of different ideas for casting and a lot of them felt a little more straightforward, and when Lance came up we saw this video that he did for Funny or Die, “Toys R Me.” We just got really excited about the idea of casting the person with the most gravitas and the most intensity in a Comedy Central show, and we were just really lucky to work with someone that talented.
Pat: He was really excited to have the chance to be funny, and not in the way where he’s “acting silly” or anything, but in the context of a comedy. I think it really stands out in a really funny way, and he’s such a talented and prepared actor that it was really inspiring to work with him, and he made Matt and Jake look like fucking amateurs.
Jake: He taught us how bad we are at acting.
Matt: We felt very foolish. But he’s also the most intense person on screen but off screen is one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. He’s a great listener and he’s extremely talented and politically minded and just gets it in a really cool way. He was really awesome to work with.
How does it feel to know you’re nearly to air after so much development time?
Pat: For me it’s been spread out over so long that there’s never any one moment where I can enjoy it or feel it as an accomplishment.
Jake: It’s a huge relief, because as a narcissist I assumed I would get hit by a car before it all happened. So it’s thrilling and it’s worth the wait, and I’m glad we had all this time so we could prepare ourselves emotionally for this insane wild ride.
Matt: I am not emotionally prepared. I am raw. I am a raw nerve right now and I eat a can of beans every single day. No, it’s all so very nice and I’m happy we made a TV show.
Corporate premieres on Comedy Central tomorrow night at 10:00pm.