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The creators of Comedy Central’s Corporate dissect the failures of corporate life

“Robots are going to take over our jobs because that’s what corporations want. They want the work, without the personality.”

Matt Ingebretson (left), Aparna Nancherla, and Jake Weisman star in Corporate.
Comedy Central
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Comedy Central’s Corporate is a deep, dark dive into American corporate life that I found to be one of the most promising new comedies to debut in years. Set in the nondescript but completely soulless corporation Hampton DeVille, Corporate finds dark yet incredibly funny humor in the concept of just trying to survive within the sorts of corporate structures many of us work in every single day.

The series was co-created by Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman (with series director Pat Bishop), and Ingebretson and Weisman also star. That’s notable because before Corporate, the two were mostly known for making and starring in web videos. They mark just the latest example of online talent crossing over into the television mainstream (if you can call Corporate “mainstream”).

That meant I also wanted to have them on my podcast, I Think You’re Interesting, and they’ve joined me for the latest episode as we head into the end of Corporate’s first season. (The season finale will air Wednesday, March 14, and the series has already been renewed for a second season.) I wanted to find out how they’d channeled their sensibility into a TV show, and how their years working in corporate America had prepared them to make Corporate.

Ingebretson and Weisman have done a lot of thinking about what makes corporations tick and why they so often become horrible places to work. They’ve had their share of bad jobs, of course, but they also researched what it means to work at world-dominating corporations in the process of making the show, and they learned a lot. And yet as the people behind a TV show, both men are also running what amounts to a gigantic organization that employs a lot of people who need to do very specific jobs in a very specific time frame — just like a corporation.

I asked them about their insights into corporate culture and about their own experience as bosses. A lightly edited (for length and clarity) transcript of our conversation follows.

Todd VanDerWerff

What’s weird about the American corporation is it’s this very dehumanizing thing where you’re turned into a cog in the machine, and they’re literally like, “Okay, you need to do this much, and that justifies your cog-ness.” But then they’re also trying to make you feel like a human being. They’ll have group outings or go get tacos or whatever. You explore that disparity really well throughout the show, and I’m wondering, how do you feel about the idea of corporations as dehumanizing forces?

Comedy Central's 'Corporate'  Premiere Party
Jake Weisman and Matt Ingebretson.
Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Comedy Central

Jake Weisman

They definitely are. That’s why robots are going to take over our jobs, because that’s what corporations want. They want the work, without the personality. Humans are so complicated, and everyone’s in so much pain, but when you show up at work, you put on a suit, which is like pretending to be a person you aren’t, so you can just do this job and not have any of the parts that make you human enter into it.

I think that’s why we’re making fun of stock imagery in our title sequence, because it’s literal dehumanization. It’s humans pretending to be something they’re not and having emotions they’re not really having. I don’t even blame corporate America for doing this. The laws are on their side. So why would they care about people? It would only cut their gains.

I think it’s sort of horrifically funny how corporations are made of people, but ideally the person at the top would have nobody working for them. It would just be a bunch of robots handing them money. Why wouldn’t corporations do it if they can? The laws are all in their favor.

Matt Ingebretson

We talked to one person in an interview, where someone in the crowd who self-identified as a millennial ... she was asking about companies who are starting to have better work-life balance and stuff like that. But it’s a little embarrassing — the fact that they’re giving you better snacks is the idea they’re treating you better. They think of you as an animal. They’re just giving you different snacks to eat.

Jake Weisman

Aparna [Nancherla], who plays Grace on the show, says, “They’re just viruses who are getting smarter.”

But that’s why you need laws. The reason I’m liberal, even though I hate both parties so much, is because if corporations are given free rein, they’ll be bad. You have to stop them from being bad or they won’t be good. Corporations are the new nations. You can’t beat them. They’ve won the game. It’s impossible to beat them unless you blow them up.

Matt Ingebretson

The other reason that dehumanization happens is because there are people that are disconnected from everything that’s happening on the ground level making decisions about how those people should be behaving. The chain of command thing that happens when a company gets big enough always becomes problematic.

Most companies start out totally fine. Like McDonald’s was just a nice burger shop, and everyone got along and made hamburgers. And then suddenly they employ hundreds of thousands of people, and there’s no way to account for the best ways to handle all those people and make them feel like human beings, so you just turn them into machines.

Which they’re literally doing! McDonald’s will no longer have human beings in the near future.

Jake Weisman

Again, unless the laws stop it, it’s not going to stop.

Todd VanDerWerff

What has being, essentially, the bosses of a giant organization full of people who are supposed to do very specific things that need to get done at a certain time, what has that taught you about that mindset?

Jake Weisman

That I think they’re wrong. If you want to make money, maybe they’re not wrong. Maybe being brutal is good. But I’m thankful that I was a PA for a long time, and we’ve had shitty jobs, so I think the way we act on set is we should be a little more boss-like in the sense that, like, I’m apologizing to assistants. “I’m sorry. Can you get me coffee?” And they’re like, “It’s my job. Stop saying sorry.”

So I think we need to take more control and be like, “Yeah, we’re in charge of this company,” but I do think that if you’re nice to people, they wanna work more for you. If you make people feel like part of the team and like they’re all part of the creative process, which they are. On a film set, it’s a collaborative thing. It’s not us. We wrote it, but you need great props guys, you need great set decoration. You literally need all of them to be at the top of their game to make something great or you’re screwed. You need to make them all feel like they’re part of the art project. I do think at the end, that’s how you make a better product.

Do you make the most money? I don’t know, but everybody doesn’t feel like their lives are being wasted as much.

Matt Ingebretson

It is very easy, I think, and it’s a thing you have to battle against when you are put into positions of power over groups of people, which is that it’s so easy to be caught up in whatever you’re thinking or doing that you can accidentally ignore the needs of somebody else who looks up to you. You have to be vigilant every day to remind yourself that everybody around you is a human being.

It’s interesting in that sense, which is that if you’re a boss at a corporation, you’re not inherently evil, but you are put into a position where you can’t behave well or can’t be the best version of yourself without being rigorous about your behavior.

For much more with Weisman and Ingebretson, including their own memories of their terrible jobs, their thoughts on why the fact that we’re all going to die is funny, and their story of the three-year process to get Corporate on TV, listen to the full episode.

To hear more interviews with fascinating people from the world of arts and culture — from powerful showrunners to web series creators to documentary filmmakers — check out the I Think You’re Interesting archives.