Corporate, the anti-office satire returning for a third and final season on Comedy Central tonight, feels both like a message from the future and a relic.
Creators and co-stars Jake Weisman and Matt Ingebretson have crafted a comically bleak and barely absurd reality set at a proudly heartless multinational conglomerate called Hampton DeVille, which is one-part Amazon, one-part GE and one-part Delos, Inc. The show’s pitch-black outlook on the soul-crushing repetition of daily life, corporate greed and humanity’s tendency to gleefully continue in spite of it all now feels like a real-time feed from our own world. The one glaring difference: Corporate takes place almost entirely in an office building, which also makes it seem like a transmission from another era entirely, not a show that wrapped production right before the pandemic set in.
“I’m hoping there’s enough of a tone and a feeling that people who don’t work in nightmare corporate situations can just relate to it anyway,” Weisman tells Observer in an interview. “One of our goals with the show is to get people to stop working in an office and go live in the woods. So I think if anything, this will show them how horrible it was and that they should never go back.”
Weisman discussed his life in quarantine, the absurdities accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic, how the new season Corporate deals with the frenzied war for content, and turning his own depression into the show’s most honest and unique episode.
Note: This interview has very mild spoilers for the first two episodes of Corporate Season 3.
Observer: How have you been?
Jake Weisman: It’s such a weird time because everyone is both doing really poorly but also experiencing bizarre amounts of gratitude. Because if you’re not dead, you’re sort of like, “Well, I’m lucky,” but you’re experiencing unbelievable amounts of anxiety, depression and trauma. So it’s just bad, but then if you say you’re doing poorly, it’s accepted, but I think it’s a little gauche because you’re not a frontline worker. It’s just an interesting time, obviously, and I think I’m doing well and trying to deal with the gratitude while mostly just being depressed but also doing fine.
What’s funny is that I’ve just been exercising constantly and my hair looks like a Jewish imitation of Warren Beatty in the ‘70s. I look totally different and feel totally different than I ever have. So I’m doing okay, but the world is dying.
“We just think about the worst thing possible, and usually it comes true.” -Weisman on writing ‘Corporate’
The Season 2 finale finds Hampton Deville deciding to stoke up fears of an apocalypse through its media network to entice people into panic-buying years’ worth of supplies in its online stores. That feels… prescient now.
We’ve tried to write things in a prescient manner, but I don’t think it’s good for the world if we’re prescient. We just think about the worst thing possible, and usually it comes true. The thing we didn’t think about was the toilet paper, but it makes sense. People just continue to be sheep. I have like a secret store I’ve gone to for toilet paper since the beginning and I’ve only told two friends because it’s too good. It’s too good and they always have exactly what I want and there’s no one there.
After a few months people seemed to stop caring about the pandemic, it seems, if they ever did care at all. They just decided they’d had enough of wearing masks and staying inside, they stopped the panic shopping and just went back to their lives.
When an aberrant event occurs in society, it’s always fascinating when the overwhelming human nature that you observe in reaction isn’t your human nature. It’s like is this what most people do? I didn’t realize that’s like what a human is, so I guess I’m not a human because I’m not gonna do that.
I think the craziest thing to me is just the unwillingness to wear masks. It’s not an interesting thing I’m saying, but I’m just like, What are you talking about? Why do you think this is a restriction of your freedom? It’s giving you freedom—from disease. People were raised to believe that different things were liberty and I think that that is the fascinating thing, that people think it means you can’t tell me to wear a mask.
So much of your show is about going to a job you hate because you’re financially obligated to do so, which feels like the true absence of actual freedom and liberty.
I think there’s an urge for people who aren’t victims to feel like victims. It’s intoxicating, and I think people want to feel like they’re put upon because they can’t stand when someone more put-upon is talked about. Because everyone views their own issues as equivalent and you know, in one way that makes sense. You’re only in your brain and you only experience the world in your own movie. So it makes sense, but it’s sad.
The second episode of this season finally offers a view into Jake’s mental state and why he’s so cynical. Since childhood, Jake has had what seems to be clinical depression, which takes the form of a wiseass, semi-mutilated dog mascot following him around. This is by far the most personal the show has gotten.
I think we knew it was going to be the last season, so we definitely wanted to take bigger swings. We never want to repeat an episode in any way. This was something that I’d experienced in my life—I’ve had depression for a long time. Finally, after Season 2 was over, things came to a head and I realized that I’d just been running from something that was trying to save me.
I think that a lot of people, especially when you get into the repetitive behavior of working in an office… you don’t necessarily realize that you have serious problems with your personality and life. You’re like, this is just my life and in a way depression makes you think, I deserve this life and you try to find all sorts of conspiracy theories about medication to stop yourself from admitting to yourself that you have a problem.
“If you are depressed… it’s like having a huge weight on your body and you’re just used to dealing with it. The idea of feeling better is almost scarier than depression because at least you know the depression.”
It’s also incredibly difficult to disturb or change the life you’ve carefully arranged around the problem, especially as you try to keep a job and earn a living.
It’s hard for me to look at depression as anything other than funny, because that helped me get through so much. So we just wanted to try to articulate the thing that I went through, but also that a lot of my friends are going through where they clearly need medication, and they find any reason to not go on it. And I think it’s a pretty universal thing, especially when you have a job because most people are living paycheck to paycheck, and it’s just very hard to interrupt that to help yourself.
You need to feel like you’re protected. Because if you are depressed, you do feel like you’re being attacked by something you don’t really understand. And if your instinct is to try to not deal with it, it’s like having a huge weight on your body and you’re just used to dealing with it. There’s also a safety in depression because it’s like, well, life sucks, so it makes sense that it sucks, you know? This is such a cliché, but the idea of feeling better is almost scarier than depression because at least you know the depression. If you’re not feeling as bad, it’s like, well, then who am I?
Were you concerned about the episode, since you’re so closely associated with the character?
I didn’t think it was nerve-racking to talk about because I did stand up for a decade, and I was pretty open about depression and it felt therapeutic and helpful. There were few things that I was concerned about, though. One was that I tend to like darkness and I tend to find very dark things funny, but when people tune into Comedy Central, even to our show—and I don’t think we have that many fans—but they still don’t want to go as dark as I want to go, most of the time.
I was scared about that until we figured out the whole Matt Poppins angle [in which Matt Ingebretson plays a Mary Poppins-type character trying to help Jake] because in order to counteract the extreme darkness of the episode, we had to put in the silliest stuff we’ve ever put in. To make an episode about depression for this show, which is already a bit about depression, you have to do something really, really different. Everyone’s talking about depression now, but you have to do it in a unique way.
When you’ve had the extreme privilege of making a TV show for two seasons, if you’re doing it again, you don’t want to just do the same thing, you want to take swings. I think the most joy creatively is when you’re not sure if it will work. Once we figured out that we had to make half of the episode the silliest thing we’ve ever done, then it made a lot of sense.
“Once you get to make a TV show, it’s awesome. But it immediately becomes this extremely corporate experience. We’re trying to get something almost aggressively weird on air, and we’re making it for a corporation—now two corporations merged into one [Viacom and CBS] that are kind of cold, unfeeling and inhuman, right?”
The first episode of the season is about the rise of massive streaming services, the “content” gold rush, fan culture, and algorithms. Hampton DeVille has one of those new services, and execs are obsessed with data. You guys have a lot of creative freedom, obviously, so was this more a commentary on the industry or inspired by personal frustrations?
How do I be diplomatic here… There were a number of things. That way we got to make a TV show was by doing a ton of comedy and sketches and stand-up and writing for many years. And once you get to make a TV show, it’s awesome. But it immediately becomes this extremely corporate experience. The intersection of art and commerce is really almost inherently like a paradox. We’re trying to get something almost aggressively weird on air, and we’re making it for a corporation—now two corporations merged into one [Viacom and CBS] that are kind of cold, unfeeling and inhuman, right? It’s like the opposite of what we want to do, but we have to play the game. You just have to if you want to get it to an audience that you can’t get on your own social media pages.
So you have to be involved in all these corporate politics. For the last five years we’ve had endless—which I won’t talk specifically about yet, but maybe in a few years—just bullshit and nonsense I had access to meetings that I had only heard about being behind closed doors, and then I got to be behind those closed doors and learn how things are marketed and thought of [by executives]. I think the fact that we have to make something for this corporation that only cares about it enough to make them money, when we’re coming at it from a different place is inherently interesting. All these companies are racing to make content. They don’t call it art. They call it “content.”
The fact is that you’re trying to make art, but it will never actually be appreciated as art. It’s just being appreciated as ratings, like “Oh look, are they gonna get a guest star or what if it didn’t do well in the 18 to 49 market?” It’s just all those stupid and I think we just wanted to laugh about it because it’s it’s insane this career we’re trying to do. We’re trying to express human things, but it’s for an algorithm. I just think that’s hilarious. We wanted to do a sequel to Society Tomorrow [the spoof sci-fi show that the characters in Corporate obsess over] because we thought that’d be a funny thing, and because our show is actually ending, we thought it was funny to make a show about how shows never end.
Characters were furious about the original series finale to Society Tomorrow in the show and were trying to come up with better ideas, but no one really agreed with one another about what would work. It reminded me of the outrage after Game of Thrones and, more recently, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
I never watched Game of Thrones, but Matt and [co-creator] Pat [Bishop] did, and I think almost everyone in the writers room did. And it was so fascinating because they were so mad. And I was like, on one hand, I get it, because if something sucks, and you’ve been waiting all this time to see what’s happening, you’ve invested so many years of your life. I get it if they don’t stick the landing and you’re upset.
But then we were talking and I just found it so absurd how mad they were. They were mad, just truly furious. It sparked this idea because I was like, “You guys are so fucking stupid. What are you even talking about?” But then I was thinking about it and it wasn’t just stupidity because I was thinking about the Sopranos finale specifically. And I remember when I saw it for the first time, I thought it was possibly the most brilliant ending I’ve ever seen a TV show. But so many people hated it, while I thought it was literal genius.
I realized, it has nothing to do with the content of the ending. It has to do with the fact that it’s ending because it’s so sad. Nostalgia in general is just so devastating. It’s like, Oh my god, life is passing me by. You don’t realize that’s what you’re feeling, but you are. You’re like, This was so many years of my life. I was different when this started, and now it’s gone. Now I have to move on with my life. It’s so sad, and people don’t realize that they’re grieving.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.