Lance Reddick’s Comedy Journey Was Just Getting Started

Reddick on Comedy Central’s Corporate. Photo: Comedy Central

Before Lance Reddick played Christian Deville, the megalomaniacal CEO of the evil multinational corporation Hampton Deville on Comedy Central’s Corporate, from 2017 to 2020, he played a fascist Toys “R” Us manager in an incredible 2012 Funny or Die sketch titled “Toys R Me.” Reddick brought the same smoldering intensity to this sketch as he did to his acclaimed dramatic roles, as his character berated his employees about the length of their bathroom breaks and the appearance of their toy displays like a drill sergeant preparing soldiers for high-stakes battle. “This ain’t Toys ‘R’ Us, motherfuckers,” he said, a menacing grin creeping over his face. “This is Toys R Me!”

Years later, Reddick perfected this formula on Corporate. His imposing gravitas allowed him to sell Deville’s over-the-top psychopathy without ever having to wink at the absurdity and presented endless opportunities to subvert this image for comedic effect. Look no further than the scene in the show’s series finale, when Deville, in the midst of a tyrannical rant about his importance to the company, is undermined by an ill-timed accident. “There is no Hampton Deville without Christian Deville,” he says, ratcheting up the tension. “I put the roof over your heads. I put the clothes on your backs. I feed you scraps of bread like ducks in a pond. Quack! Quack!” By the time he reaches the quacks, he’s apoplectic and screaming. Moments later, he lets out an inadvertent fart and drops a heavy object on his foot, causing him to fall to the floor, crying, “Ow, my fucking foot and butt!”

When Reddick died on March 17, many of the tributes published about his legacy focused deservedly on his brilliance as a dramatic actor. But as he demonstrated during his time on Corporate, his considerable comedic gifts deserve equal recognition too. In a conversation shortly after Reddick’s death, Corporate co-creator and co-star Jake Weisman spoke about Reddick’s contribution to the show, the depth of his comedic talent, and how much he loved the genre.

How did you first hear about Lance’s passing?
One of the line producers on Corporate, Tina Densmore Bell, texted me and the show’s co-creators Matt [Ingebretson] and Pat [Bishop] at the same time. It didn’t really compute. It made no sense to me. I Googled it, and it was real. Everyone’s experienced someone dying, but with someone like that, who is just so incredibly talented and formidable, it just doesn’t ever feel like they’ll die anytime soon. It was a punch in the gut reading that text.

What do you remember about the process of casting Lance on Corporate
We wrote the show and it got green-lit, and then we were like, “Oh, fuck, this is a crazy-ass character. Who the fuck could pull this off?” We were just spitballing, and we thought of Lance Reddick, and we couldn’t argue ourselves out of it. To be completely honest, we thought there was no chance he would say yes.

The funny thing about this was, once we got to season two, he would often say, “Jake, I have to tell you something. When I first got this script, I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t get it at all. I called my agent and I said, ‘I’m gonna pass.’ And my agent said, ‘You’re wrong. It’s good. Read it again.’ So I read it again. And I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’” Then he’d say, “That’s a good agent.”

I think he used to tell us that because he felt it was almost like a happy accident. Once he got inside of it, he was really obsessed with it. He really loved shooting Corporate. When we were ending, he was very upset. He’d be like, “Is there any way you guys can try to get a fourth season somewhere?” I think it was a big wonderful left turn for him.

The fact that he didn’t get the material at first makes it extra-impressive how good he is. Was he just operating on raw instinct?
I think part of what he didn’t understand about the script is that he had never really worked at a corporation, and he didn’t realize that’s how things actually are. Part of what his agent said to him was, “You don’t understand. This is what it’s like!” He was shocked by it, because Lance was a really gentle guy. I don’t think he necessarily assumed the worst in people. But we had a three-hour meeting with him one day where we basically told him everything we were thinking about the character. And he did a lot of research, too. He read this book, Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?, which is written by a very rich Black man, and he was really trying to get into the mind-set by reading about sociopaths and psychopaths.

I still vividly remember the first scene he did. There was this really huge excitement like, Oh my God, Lance Reddick is gonna be here! There’s a scene in the Corporate pilot where he comes in the boardroom and he’s really pissed. He came in, and we were all sitting in the back of the room, the entire crew, watching. It’s hard to explain how good it was, because at that moment, I was like, My life’s about to change. I have an image of all of us sitting in the back of the boardroom and just clapping. We never did that for anyone else ever.

He was word-perfect. He had all the intonations down, and he completely understood the flow of the language and where the jokes were. He understood how to command a room like a CEO would on the first rehearsal. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life to watch it. Once we saw how well he was doing the dialogue, it became the most fun thing ever to write for him. You always want to find actors who make everyone think you’re a better writer than you are, and Lance was that times five.

How were you able to write for him once you saw what he was bringing to the character?
It’s a little hard to explain, but there was just a certain cadence and flow we adopted. I felt like we were writing for him to the syllable — and that was absolutely the right thing to do for him, because he thought about every syllable. Every fucking syllable.

There was a speech that Lance’s character gave in the opening episode of season two that I remember writing, and we were weeping with laughter because we knew how funny it would be. There was so much joy in the anticipation of knowing he was going to come to set and just give us the show of a lifetime. He was the most precise, most incredibly impressive performer, and he almost never needed notes.

Do you have a favorite line reading he did during his time on the show? 
There’s so many. The show was attempting to have some jokes that were in the vein of Dr. Strangelove — these sort of absurd oxymoronic paradoxes said very cleanly and seriously. There was one that was like, “Good news: There’s going to be several wars!” The more awful the thing we were talking about, the funnier his line reading was, because he was so certain about how important it was to destroy the world for profit. He could also be silly and break from his very specific pedigree. We threw some really absurd stuff at him, and honestly, the crazier we went, the more grounded it felt. There’s an episode, “Labor Day,” where he’s just stalking around with a sword and underwear. That might be his best episode, I think, because it showcases every side of that character. He could be loose; he could be intense. I think it’s a master class of comedic acting.

His singing in that episode is so funny.
Yeah, he was a major talent. He originally wanted to be a musician. He loved Sting and Billy Joel. That was his original plan, and then he sort of took a pivot into acting. But he was incredibly talented, musically. So, in the finale of season one, we wrote him playing piano and singing, because if you have Lance Reddick, have him sing and play piano.

How much do you think he appreciated the opportunity to play against type and show other sides of himself in this role? 
I don’t ever want to be like, “Look what we did for him.” But I know for a fact — because he was so generous about saying it — he loved it. Once he realized what it was after seeing the pilot, I think he was like, Oh, fuck, this is gonna be awesome! I think it was up there with the most fun he’s ever had on a show. He was a silly guy!

One of the problems with Hollywood is, you do something once and then they’re like, “Okay, let’s just cast them in that forever.” He said he acted in comedies all the time at Yale. But once he got cast in some serious shit, they never really thought about him for that. So I think he’d been waiting to do comedy for a really long time. I think he felt freer than he’d ever really felt. He said as much, at least. We laughed all the time. He did that amazing actor thing where they don’t blink. He would say the craziest shit you’d ever heard right to your face. I would have to bite my lip or bite my cheek trying not to laugh. That’s part of what is absolutely devastating: He would have done a lot more comedy, and we would have put him in more stuff. He had a much longer career in comedy to go.

Do you have any favorite off-camera memories with him you’re comfortable sharing?
That’s the tough thing — we were friends. I talked to him a few weeks ago, and that just makes it worse. We had a lot of talks sitting in the actors’ chairs, chatting about everything. He was so curious, and he was an incredible listener. Most comedians, including me, just fucking talk and talk and talk, but he really listened and thought about what you had to say.

I remember we were filming episode 208, “The Tragedy,” and he said to me, “Jake, I read the script, and quite frankly, it scared me!” He was very, very sensitive. He was always like, “Whoa, is that what’s going on in the world?” And then, over the pandemic, we would sometimes talk for a really long time. He was just so genuine, and so kind, and very giving. He didn’t take who he was too seriously.

I feel like in the last five years, he was having almost the most professional fun he ever had. He really opened up on social media and got sillier. He would do these quotes of the day and would show his dogs. I just remember him having more and more fun and laughing more and being goofier and just … He was so fucking awesome.

I don’t want him to be remembered as an unbelievable loss. I want him to be remembered as an incredibly special person who lifted up so many other people and really cared about the work and the world. But it’s definitely an unbelievable loss. I’m just glad that we got a decent amount of time to appreciate him. Although, in a way, I feel like he was almost just starting.

Lance Reddick’s Comedy Journey Was Just Getting Started