Dark comedy and existentialism: Interview with ‘Corporate’ creators and stars

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Sharon Pan/Staff

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At the beginning of their comedic writing careers, Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman considered their corporate day jobs necessary evils. Though hellish, the gigs paid the bills, leaving space for stand-up performances at night. Years later, these monotonous and suffocating hours spent behind desks paid off in a most ironic fashion. This string of odd jobs served as the guiding lived experience for a script that landed them their 2018 narrative show on Comedy Central: “Corporate.”

Ingebretson and Weisman, co-writers and stars of “Corporate,” met in their early 20s at a series of small stand-up gigs in Eastside Los Angeles. Coming together with a shared experience in the brutal world of stand-up, the two bonded quickly. Teaming up with fellow stand-up comedian Pat Bishop, who would direct their subsequent projects leading to and including “Corporate,” Ingebretson and Weisman set off to write and create comedic skits. When they first pitched “Corporate” to Comedy Central, the team described the project as a series of sketches. The television channel, however, had a slightly different vision.

“They liked the tone and feel of it, so they were more interested in making a half-hour narrative show,” Ingebretson said in an interview with The Daily Californian.

Following two junior-executives-in-training, Matt (Matt Ingebretson) and Jake (Jake Weisman), “Corporate” explores the ruthless corporate world of fictitious conglomerate Hampton DeVille. Under the tyrannous authority of CEO Christian DeVille (Lance Reddick), Matt and Jake navigate an undoubtedly corrupt work environment. The lead characters, however, do not despair at the communal hopelessness of the corporation Hampton DeVille. Instead, the writers choose to pair the dark subject matter with a steady flow of dark, witty satire. The creators acknowledged the influential nature of a series of directors and films in their writing of nihilistic humor into “Corporate,” including the Coen brothers and P.T. Anderson, as well as “Network” (1976) and “Dr. Strangelove” (1964).

While the show’s central characters do share the first names of their actors, Ingebretson and Weisman do not aim to simply play themselves — their characters are more like loose caricatures. While the actors ascribe certain characteristics of their roles to their own personas, such as Jake’s cynicism and Matt’s impressionability, the characters exhibit their own extreme personalities.

“If I were like Jake Levinson, no one would talk to me,” Weisman quipped.

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Comedy Central / Courtesy

Ingebretson and Weisman describe the show as a realistic outlook on the corporate landscape. “We were trying to make a show that was more honest about what it feels like to be at work and to work in an office,” explained Weisman. “A lot of shows are really bubbly, and like you have this false optimism when you’re in the office, but every job we’ve had is just hell, so we were really trying to portray that.”

As such, the two writers hope to appeal to an audience able to relate to the monotony and occasionally stifling nature they associate with corporate jobs. “We do think that the people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who, you know, were promised that they could accomplish their dreams, and then spend their days sort of trapped — even if it’s good jobs — can find catharsis in the show,” Weisman noted. “But, honestly, we just think it’s really funny,” he added, speaking to the unrestrictive nature of the demographic of “Corporate.” We think that people will laugh.”

Yet Ingebretson and Weisman acknowledged that the show will not appeal to everyone. For some viewers, the unforgivingly blunt fashion in which “Corporate” approaches certain issues — including clinical depression, suicide and national warfare — may prove difficult to stomach. In response to such reactions, the writers explained their belief that true comedy makes a statement and thus never pleases all.

“We’re making something for people that is bold, (that) has a point of view, and people aren’t always entertained by a point of view. … So of course it will alienate people, but I think that’s a good thing, because I think most good things alienate some people. They don’t want to look at the truth,” asserted Weisman.

Ingebretson mirrored his co-writer’s sentiment. “At the end of the day, our sensibilities, I think, are specific, and if we tried to make something that was too broad, it would be a lie. It would be a dishonest portrayal of what we wanted to do and what our sensibilities are. And it also wouldn’t, I think, serve anybody.”

Ultimately, the two comedians consider “Corporate” to embody what they perceive as some of the greatest virtues of the art of comedy. As Weisman related, “I do think that one of the best things about comedy is that it can take all the horror you feel and then deflate it by realizing that other people feel that way. We all think about life and death, but we’re not really supposed to talk about it … because it’s definitely going to happen. So I do feel like dark comedy is really the most honest way to talk about life. Because it’s absurd we’re alive, it’s absurd we’re going to die. It’s absurd we feel all this pain. So all you can do is laugh.”

The cast of “Corporate” will participate in a panel Saturday Jan. 27 at SF Sketchfest.

Contact Ryan Tuozzolo at [email protected].

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